Ralph Eugene Meatyard: The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater

Lucybelle Crater and 20 year old son’s 3 year old son, also her 3 year old grandson Lucybelle Crater, 1970-72
gelatin silver print, 7-3/4 x 7-3/4 inches

Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition Ralph Eugene Meatyard: The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater, from September 5 through November 2, 2002.

RALPH EUGENE MEATYARD was born in Normal, Illinois in 1925 and lived in Lexington, Kentucky, where he made his living as an optician. Working outside of the photographic mainstream, his imagery consisted largely of symbolic dramas, set in ordinary, often abandoned places and enacted mostly by his own family. Taken as a whole, his photographs seem to embody a belief that revelation does not depend on sight.

One of seven kids of Mertonian friend, 1970-72
gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches (sheet) [20.3 x 25.4 cm]

The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater is Meatyard’s swan song and was produced primarily during the two years before his death of cancer in 1972. 

Lucybelle Crater and her regular mother Lucybelle Crater, 1970-72
gelatin silver print, 11-1/2 x 9-5/8 inches (mount) [29.2 x 22.9 cm]

The series consists of 64 portraits of “Lucybelle Crater”, a name adapted by Meatyard from a character in a Flannery O’Connor short story.  In each picture, “Lucybelle” is played by Meatyard’s wife Madelyn wearing a dime-store hag’s mask, paired with various family members and friends in a transparent second mask that had an aging effect on its wearers. The sequence and structure of the series is that of anyone’s family album, beginning with immediate family and extending out to other relations and finally to a larger circle of friends. Meatyard clearly intended that the identity of each person need not be known to the viewer of this work, for he gave every character the same name — Lucybelle Crater.  In the final image of this series, made shortly before his death, Meatyard and his wife traded clothes and masks, having returned to the garden where the first photo had been realized.

The long out-of-print book of the “Lucybelle” photographs has had an enormous influence and near-legendary reputation since its posthumous publication in 1974.  This will be the first exhibition of the complete vintage set of The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater.

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