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Meatyard

Ralph Eugene Meatyard Text from Judith Keller, in "Ralph Eugene Meatyard 55" (2002)

Meatyard's creation or 'authoring' of pictures went on all year, usually on Sundays. For him, the art of photography was in constructing the subject and making the exposure. Each picture was a performance, each was deliberately conceived, and represented something about the photographer's own life. He would take his collection of county road maps and set out along Kentucky's country lanes in search of a distinguished but deserted home or a wooded site. Some, if not 511, of his children would be with him, ready to serve as models if the right setting (or stage) were found. In his trunk would be props in the form of rejected dolls and doll parts, mirrors and mirror fragments, masks (some of homemade papier mache), hangers for use in impromptu still life and sculpture and perhaps a dead bird or rubber chicken. Or he might decide to arrange objects from his refuse collection on the driveway next to his house, or visit the Lexington cemetery so that he had access to a backdrop of rough stone and disfigured monuments.

Printing, however, was a concentrated process, more in the nature of an annual ritual, that took place at home once a year. The makeshift darkroom was contrived in a bedroom. Water had to be brought in. And most of the carefully constructed lessons of Adams' Zone System, devised to help every photographer make readable negatives and then obtain prints with the full range of greys, were ignored. Meatyard worked intensely for several weeks, selecting images to be printed from the thousands of negatives created over the previous twelve months. The background music was always jazz; the proceedings were spontaneous and intuitive. The photographer's wife Madelyn was, when available, the invited critic. The approved prints sometimes contained dense blacks and only slivers of white, sometimes the surface contained every shade of grey, with stone looking exactly the colour of stone, and black being as rare as a genuine white. Inspired by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie on the hi fi, he managed to render beautiful, evocative prints from negatives that were often underexposed...


 


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