Ralph Eugene Meatyard: American Mystic

The legendary, mysterious photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925–72) lived in Lexington, Kentucky, working in a close-knit community of artists and writers while making his living as an optician. Ralph Eugene Meatyard: American Mystic, by esteemed art historian Alexander Nemerov, is a groundbreaking study of Meatyard’s work, creative thinking and sources of inspiration.

Given rare access to the personal library in which Meatyard had tellingly annotated works of fiction, poetry and other pages of personal significance, Nemerov examines the artist’s process of creating characters and staging dreamlike scenes. American Mystic also considers the artists and writers whose work influenced Meatyard, such as William Blake, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Thomas Merton.

Meatyard’s celebrated series The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater and many of his other photographs cast family members and friends in central roles, often masked and enacting symbolic dramas. Of these mystical works, Nemerov writes, “For Meatyard, a photograph is a careful or casual arrangement meant to produce a feeling it cannot name.”

Video: Alex Nemerov Reads from Ralph Eugene Meatyard: American Mystic