By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Born in Normal, Ill., in 1925, Frank Eugene Meatyard seemed destined to live up to the name of his birthplace. A seemingly ordinary American, almost exceptionally so, Meatyard served for his country in the U.S. Navy. He married once and procreated (three other Meatyards, to be exact). A family man, he also served as president of the Parent-Teacher Association and baseball coach. He worked in his own small business in Lexington, Ky., the adopted city where he would live until his death in 1972.
Yet something more lies under the surface of even the most seemingly ordinary men.
It all started when Meatyard picked up his first camera to chart the growth of his first-born son. What started off as mere fatherly pride morphed into a photographic career so prolific that it heralded the work of other post-modernist artists such as Cindy Sherman and Greg Crewdson.
Described as melancholy, surreal and disturbing, Meatyard's works were the product of both his extensive reading (he was well read in philosophy, history and art theory) and his meticulously controlled shots. Though he exerted strong control over his work - dictating models' poses, for example - there was also room for improvisation in his method, according to Britt Salvesen, curator for the Center for Creative Photography.
"Meatyard's work is unique in 20th-century photography in its unconventionality and its embrace of ideas - both philosophical and corporeal," Salvesen said. "Meatyard transformed reality into something imaginative and strange. Masks, dilapidated architecture, awkward poses, reflective surfaces, all these elements and more interact in carefully staged and provocative scenes."
Often using people he was familiar with, Meatyard would change people into something strange through the use of five-and-dime store masks, mostly grotesque in nature, in even the most mundane of situations.
An optometrist by trade, Meatyard was largely a self-taught photographer who relished his status as an "amateur." By remaining an amateur he felt more inclined to follow his imagination, rather than bow down to the whims of the art world, Salvesen said.
His extended "Romances" series represents Meatyard's essential photographic and philosophical ideas, according to Salvesen.
Other samples of his work in the new exhibit at the CCP include a documentary project of the black neighborhood of Georgetown Street in Lexington. "Zen Twigs," which will also be a part of the exhibit, is a series from the 1960s, when Meatyard became more involved in the experimental aspects of the camera.
In all, the Meatyard exhibition promises to showcase his approach to reality, a disquieting and somewhat unsettling exploration into the ordinary aspects of life that have become so ubiquitous that it takes a different approach to truly see what's in front of us.
"The pictures are very suggestive, but the stories they tell are mysterious, giving us a glimpse into the light and dark aspects of nature, including human nature. Meatyard's work is very relevant to artists and to other viewers today," Salvesen said.
Not too shabby for a guy from Normal.
Come see the most comprehensive exhibition of Ralph Eugene Meatyard's work tomorrow at the Center for Creative Photography. The exhibit will remain on display until Jan. 9. Entrance is free, but donations are encouraged.