Ralph Eugene Meatyard

Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition Ralph Eugene Meatyard from May 5 through July 1, 2005.

The photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972) defy convention. They have been called visionary, surrealistic, and meditative. Fascinated by the uncanniness of ordinary life, Meatyard made mysterious staged images using his friends and family—often involving masks and abandoned spaces—that are familiar and disturbing at the same time.

From 1953 until his untimely death in 1972, Ralph Eugene Meatyard explored what he called the “photographic.” Shortly into his photographic life, Meatyard began experimenting with the technical and formal attributes of the camera. Using long exposures to record light reflecting off water, extreme focus for his “no-focus” images, and low depth of field for his “Zen twigs” series Meatyard defied traditional photographic means.  By 1960, he was regularly making photographs of his three children in abandoned rural Kentucky mansions and in the forests surrounding them. Highly imaginative, even surrealistic, the photographs evoke a world not normally acknowledged with the human eye. They suggest the complex emotions associated with childhood, intimacy, loss, and destruction. These images, which form the largest component of the exhibition, are what Guy Davenport has called “charming short stories that have never been written.”

Meatyard was born in Normal, Illinois in 1925 and moved to Lexington in 1950, after serving in the U.S. Navy and studying at Williams College and Illinois Wesleyan University. Meatyard spent most of his life in Lexington, where he worked as an optician at his shop Eyeglasses of Kentucky and photographed in his spare time. In 1956, summer workshops at Indiana University brought him in contact with such influential photographers as Henry Holmes Smith, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White. These interactions, alongside his deep friendships with Thomas Merton, Guy Davenport and other thinkers and literati of Lexington, paved the way for Meatyard to launch his own photographic vision. Solo and group exhibitions soon followed across the country. His prodigious career ended in 1972 when he died of cancer.

RALPH EUGENE MEATYARD is presented concurrently with the exhibition Obsessions of the Oculist.

Untitled, ca. 1968 – 72, gelatin-silver print