View Full Version : Discuss a Ralph Eugene Meatyard Photograph

04-07-2007, 11:56 AM
Meatyard is one of my favorite photographers, and since it's been a little quiet here, I figure it's time to discuss his work. I think he's best well know for his series of masked figures he titled the family photographs of Lucybell Krater or some such. I prefer the work he made of his kids in decaying houses and buildings in the Kentucky countryside.

The first link is to a specific photograph. This kid is flying somehow without flying. I love it! Second link is to some more thumbnails.

Your thoughts on his work?



04-07-2007, 12:03 PM
I love Meatyard.
His work is a cross between Diane Arbus and Sally Mann: weird, sureal, sometimes disturbing posed photographs of his immediate family.

04-07-2007, 12:30 PM
I had never heard of him until now. I don't think I have missed a lot. I may be too conventional but most seem a little fuzzy to me and whatever he is trying to convey fails to reach me.

Not for me


Lee Shively
04-07-2007, 01:50 PM
Meatyard was one of my early photographer heros. He died about the same time I became interested in photography. I've read a lot about him and his work and several critques of his work but it's been some time ago and my memory is fuzzy. Much of his photography concerned identity, hence the mentioned masks used in numerous of his pictures. His Lucybelle Crater photo series is the best example of this but it also appears in many of his other photographs. If I remember correctly, he offered very few hints of his personal motivations in making his enigmatic photos.

Speaking of being conventional, Meatyard lived a relatively conventional life as a fairly conservative Southern optician and pursued photography in a local camera club. He became influential in photography despite being physically isolated from any major cultural center. And despite the "artsiness" of his photographs, he was apparently low-key and unpretentions.

I like most of his pictures that I have seen. They are all open to interpretation by the viewer.

04-07-2007, 01:55 PM
Thanks! Never heard of him either. (But then I don't know a lot of photographers.) But I like this a lot. A lot of the current work is too much in your face to make me want to look closer.
oops have to get back to agitate my semai-stand!

04-07-2007, 04:26 PM
I've always loved his work, thanks Suzanne for posting these.

To me his work is not so much about the stark reality and documentary of his subjects (as with Arbus and also Sally Mann) but more to do with inner landscapes and dreams. He somehow challenges (or invites) us to make projections and then asks why we should do so.. and why we need to analyse anything anyway. A lot of his work I find beautiful, or amusing, in quite a simple way (in the best sense) it gives you a jolt of surprise, a pleasure at the unexpected. I really like that.

04-07-2007, 04:50 PM
I had never heard of him until now. I don't think I have missed a lot. I may be too conventional but most seem a little fuzzy to me and whatever he is trying to convey fails to reach me.

Not for me


I wouldn't dismiss his work too quickly based on web scans. See if your library can get a copy of ICP's Ralph Eugene Meatyard book. His prints are small and just wonderful little bizarre worlds that are probably best appreciated in person, or at the very least, through a book.

04-07-2007, 08:06 PM
I enjoy his work - although of the second link - I found the first photo to be, well...blurry.

But I really liked the "stick man - twig". That is an eye for the "unusual from the usual" that I wish I had. Oh, how many times I've shot macros like that but never found a "dancing stick man" like he did!

I'm going back into the woods behind the house tomorrow and see if I can find one! ;)

Thanks, Suzanne.

04-08-2007, 06:46 AM
I enjoy his work - although of the second link - I found the first photo to be, well...blurry.

It's also odd that the boy doesn't seem to have any arms.

I don't mean to be sarcastic (really!:) ) - but isn't that the whole point?

Sometimes we need to look beyond what's conventionally 'unacceptable' (I say that with extreme caution) - Is that really so very hard? (I begin to think, sometimes, that it is...)

Jim Chinn
04-08-2007, 10:25 AM
I have seen to the first image before and have always liked it. The key to that image for me is the blurring of the arms in movment and the graphic of paint(?) and the open pipe/conduit above his head. That part of the image looks like a pair of wings or an abstract bird. It is a compelling combination of something static and something moving. That graphic element I think lets the viewer subconsciously project the idea of flying onto the boy. Also gives me a feeling of simple joy and whimsy in play.

Perhaps Meatyard saw the samething in the wall and asked the boy to wave his arms. Still makes it a good photograph.

Tony Egan
04-08-2007, 11:04 AM
I was lucky enough to be in NY a few years ago while a Meatyard exhibition was on at ICP. I was quite affected by his work. Moved, disturbed, challenged, rewarded - many of the feelings art is capable of extracting. I went around the walls several times trying to figure out what was going on inside and underneath his work. I am still pondering!

04-08-2007, 11:35 AM
Hi Suzanne, Thanks for posting this. I have liked Meatyard's work a lot ever since I first discovered it only a few years ago. I agree with a previous comment that most of his work somehow relates to identity. There is another one he did of his extended family that I think he called "Family Portrait" that I have always found haunting and thrilling in its simple genius. Thanks again for reminding me, I am going to the Library again.

04-08-2007, 03:43 PM
Someone once said to me (in relation to drawing, but I think it applies broadly) that becoming a Real Artist was learning to do deliberately the things you initially did as mistakes.

Meatyard, perhaps because of his experience as an optician, was keenly aware of perception and of the potential for meaningful perception far from the "correct" rules-based norms of typical photography. He was willing to push at the boundaries and discover what they might mean.

Like Winogrand he seems to have been keenly interested in finding out what things looked like in photographs. The picture is not the thing.

Ultimately, all you have is the picture, in which Lucybelle Crater is as flesh-and-blood as anyone.


Bill Mitchell
04-08-2007, 11:41 PM
The work of Meatyard, Clarance John Laughton, and others doing similar non-realistic photography bother me. Not because I think that it's bad, but there's enough of it around to convince me that there must be a valid point of view which I don't understand it, and in fact means nothing to me either visually or intellectually. (This is different from the work of Whitkin, which I do not want to understand on any level.)

08-30-2007, 11:22 AM
I think to want and try to understand images specifically ones created from within is akin to Ahab chasing the great white whale. One really can never understand and if you become obsessed with knowing or understanding it will likely end in disaster. Meatyard like many other artists and non-artists may not be looking for anything but rather atempting to articulate what they already know or feel. When you see your attemps eithen in a frame or as a poem, painting, etc you can't help but do it some more.

Gay Larson
08-30-2007, 01:32 PM
I also did not know about this photographer but I find his work very interesting, warranting a closer look. I do love the boy by the window, but I have a thing for windows. I generally don't know how to appreciate images that are out of focus unless there is a obvious reason such as the boy flying. The first image on the second link which is a scene from a forest that is completely out of focus escapes me. Thanks for keeping this series going as it has really taught me a lot.

jd callow
08-30-2007, 02:51 PM
it is interesting stuff. I'm not sure how much thinking needs to be done when looking at his stuff, so here is my first impression. The flapping boy seems to force the viewer to compare the somewhat accidental bird like creation to the child or vis versa -- yet in most of his images it is the people who are unstable/out of focus and the setting that is more concrete so I think we’re asked, or at least I am driven to see the wall first and the child 2nd. The masks take the people who are often in context and common out of context and not so common. The general discontent of viewing the people/children in masks is an interesting response. The trees are suffering from camera shake and are possibly out of focus. Like the other objects, blurry, shaken trees are not what we expect -- trees are solid not shaken. When I view the photographs I try to penetrate the masks and see the grocers as grocers etc... If they had no masks I might not look so hard at the people. I'll need to look and think on this some more. Good choice Suzanne.