Ralph Eugene Meatyard


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Photographer. Known for visionary fictions, he created a body of challenging, experimental, and emotionally resonant work while remaining independent of mainstream currents. He was born in Normal, Illinois, and served in the U.S. Navy before settling permanently in Lexington, Kentucky. There he worked as an optician and took up photography as a sideline around 1950. The development of his personal approach benefited from interests in philosophy and literature, as well as the examples of Minor White and Aaron Siskind, among others. In countering prevailing currents of formalist and documentary photography, his work presaged the nonpurist tendencies of later decades. Often he used such techniques as out-of-focus effects or double exposures to suggest the instability of reality. For his most notable series, Romances, he employed a straight photographic technique to record staged or posed scenes of ambiguous or bizarre character. Often his actors were children. Halloween masks, a favorite device for drawing attention to artifice, frequently blurred distinctions between fantasy and commonplace experience. In a final major project, posthumously published as The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater (1974), he subverted the family snapshot with an atmosphere of foreboding. Showing his own family wearing masks of aged faces, the collection speaks to his longstanding preoccupation with the inevitable progress of life toward death.

Subjects: Art.

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