Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ralph Eugene Meatyard by curator, Janie Welker

May 15 is the 90th anniversary of the birth of photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972), a fearless experimenter and maker of often mysterious and sometimes achingly beautiful images. Although he was a native of Normal, Illinois, we in Lexington claim him for our own: it was during his years with the Lexington Camera Club, from 1954 until his death from cancer in 1972, that he developed the work that has earned him international acclaim.

Meatyard moved here in 1950 to work as an optician at Tinder-Krauss-Tinder and bought a camera the same year. Van Deren Coke, who would later become more prominent as a curator than a practitioner of photography, was his mentor at the Lexington Camera Club. When Coke left to pursue his career, Meatyard took on his role as teacher and mentor to others. Camera club members not only showed their own work, but invited prominent photographers of the day to exhibit work and speak to the group, keeping abreast of contemporary trends.

Meatyard is known for using blurred motion and multiple exposures, seeking out dilapidated houses and barns in rural Kentucky as settings, and using family and friends as models. In the mid-1950s he became interested in Zen philosophy and his work focused less on recording the physical world than inner realities. He staged scenes, often featuring his children, sometimes concealing their identity with masks. He wanted to encourage people to create their own interpretations of his work, which the writer Guy Davenport once described as “charming stories that have never been written.”

The Art Museum is currently exhibiting two of Meatyard’s photographs from the Georgetown Street project, an early experiment in street photography he made with Van Deren Coke, in the exhibition Other Streets: Photographs from the Collection, on view through July 26, 2015.
RALPH EUGENE MEATYARD, Untitled, 1955-56,
gelatin silver print, collection of The Art Museum at UK

Romance of Ambrose Bierce#3,
1964 (printed 1974), gelatin silver print,
collection of The Art Museum at UK

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