Meet Meatyard

October 30, 2011

Ralph Eugene Meatyard [1925 – 1972] is an artist whose legacy on this earth is a pretty weird collection of photographic art works.  I like to call artists like him “Proto-Goths”, artists that were Goth before Goth was a subculture.  From what I understand, he just had particular interests, different from those of most other people.  He was not trying to to be creepy for creepy’s sake.  He just had an affinity for masks, broken bits of dolls, weedy and overgrown woodsy places and derelict buildings.  In life, Meatyard often interspersed his composed artistic photographs with the more ordinary portraits in family albums

Meatyard was not a conventional career artist.  He was an optician in Lexington, Kentucky and had a large family.  He used his children and wife as actors in his photographs and hung out with an artistic photography club, honing his skills.  He had a huge burst of creative output in the 1960s.  Many of the works were untitled.  Meatyard was looking to create scenes rather than capture them and once stated “I will never make an accidental photograph!” 

I was able to see the show of Meatyard’s work at MAIC before it closed.  Part of the exhibition literature stated that Meatyard was “exploring contrasts between youth and age, childhood and mortality, intimacy and unknowability”. The works were all black and white silver gelatin prints in a small seven and a half inch square format.  Better than the online images, seeing them in person was nice because they all had uniform tones and hues of a deep, inky black.  The MAIC show had further described aspects of his work:

“In his last decade, Meatyard kept returning to the tropes of dolls and masks, often photographing his children posed in abandoned houses and landscapes. These pictures put an uncanny spin on family photographs, exploring the contrasts between youth and age, childhood and mortality, intimacy and unknowability, sharing and hiding. For Meatyard, dolls represented a physical human presence, whether employed in a scene alongside people or instead of people. He used masks to universalize his sitters rather than make portraits of individuals. Masks reflect the faces we all put on for the camera; indeed, Meatyard’s last project before his untimely death was The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater, a project based on the common snapshot album but featuring friends and family all wearing masks.”

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