Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925–1972) lived in Lexington, Kentucky, where he made his living as an optician while creating an impressive and enigmatic body of photographs. Meatyard’s creative circle included mystics and poets, such as Thomas Merton and Guy Davenport, as well as the photographers Cranston Ritchie and Van Deren Coke, who were mentors and fellow members of the Lexington Camera Club. Meatyard’s work spanned many genres and experimented with new means of expression, from dreamlike portraits—often set in abandoned places—to multiple exposures, motion-blur, and other methods of photographic abstraction. He also collaborated with his friend Wendell Berry on the 1971 book The Unforeseen Wilderness, for which Meatyard contributed photographs of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. Meatyard’s final series, The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater, are cryptic double portraits of friends and family members wearing masks and enacting symbolic dramas.
Museum exhibitions of the artist’s work have been presented at The Art Institute of Chicago; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; the de Young Museum, San Francisco; The International Center of Photography, New York; Cincinnati Museum of Art, Ohio; the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson; and Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas. His works are held in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, SFMOMA, J. Paul Getty Museum, The Eastman Museum, and Yale University Art Gallery, among others. Monographs include American Mystic, Dolls and Masks, A Fourfold Vision, and The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater and Other Figurative Photographs.