Meatyard, a self-taught photographer who was an optician by trade, made this photographic series in the two years prior to his death at age 46. He conceived of the series as a “photographic poem” with a deliberate sequence and captions, which form a loose narrative. A selection from this suite of work will be on view in the gallery’s project space and will be the second Ralph Eugene Meatyard exhibition at the gallery.
Meatyard purchased his first camera in 1950 to document moments of family life and his casual interest in photography quickly turned to a passion. For the next twenty-two years, Meatyard spent his weekends touring the countryside around his suburban Lexington, Kentucky home with his wife and three children, Michael, Christopher and Melissa. His family became his primary subject as he captured them playing alongside streams, frolicking through fields, and exploring abandoned barns. These ostensibly familiar photographs, however, are anything but. Here is a child cavorting through a meadow while wearing a grotesque rubber mask; there lies a decapitated doll resting beside a bucolic rolling stream. Meatyard approached his images with a dark humor that leaves their viewers with a lingering unease. Suffused with a sense of the uncanny through his sharp usage of the macabre, Meatyard’s photographs present a phantasmagoric dream and the body of work he left behind has influenced generations of subsequent artists.
“The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater” focuses on Meatyard’s wife, Madelyn, as she dons a witch mask to become the character Lucybelle Crater. Madelyn appears in each image alongside a rotating cast of characters portrayed by Meatyard’s friends, neighbors, and children. Also dubbed Lucybelle Crater, they wear a second mask: the semi-transparent face of a very old man. The subjects’ postures mimic ordinary family snapshots as they pose with arms slung around each other’s shoulders, stand stiffly on front porches, or stoop to a child’s height, but with their features obscured by the masks, they morph into inscrutable and unearthly figures. Meatyard cribbed the name Lucybelle Crater, and modified it slightly, from the Flannery O’Connor short story, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”