Ray K. Metzker (10 September 1931 – 9 October 2014) was an American photographer known chiefly for his bold, experimental B&W cityscapes and for his large "composites"
, assemblages of printed film strips and single frames. His work is held in various major public collections and is the subject of eight monographs. He received awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts and Royal Photographic Society.
Metzker was born in Milwaukee and lived in Philadelphia from the 1960s until his death. He was married to the photographer Ruth Thorne-Thomsen. He was a student of Harry Callahan
and Aaron Siskind
at the Institute of Design in Chicago
. He taught for many years at the Philadelphia College of Art and also taught at the University of New Mexico.
After graduate studies at the Institute of Design in Chicago, Metzker travelled extensively throughout Europe in 1960-61, where he had two epiphanies: that "light"
would be his primary subject, and that he would seek synthesis and complexity over simplicity. Metzker often said the artist begins his explorations by embracing what he doesn't know.
After a career that spanned five decades and saw him pioneer a new and singular visual idiom, Ray K. Metzker has been recognized as one of the great masters of American photography. Characterized by composites, multiple-exposures, solarization, the superimposition of negatives, and the juxtaposition of images, Metzker’s work pushed the boundaries of what seemed formally possible in black and white photography.
Metzker enrolled at the Institute of Design, Chicago in 1956, a school which at that time was being referred to as the New Bauhaus, where he studied with fellow modernist photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. After obtaining a master’s degree from the Institute in 1959, Metzker’s work began to garner increasing attention and critical regard, first and foremost from Edward Steichen
, who, at that time, was the curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art
, New York. Metzker’s first solo show would happen at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967.
Retrospectives of his work were organized in 1978 by the International Center of Photography
in New York and in 1984 by the Museum of Fine Arts
in Houston, a show which then traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
, the Art Institute of Chicago
, the Philadelphia Museum of Art
, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, the International Museum of Photography, Rochester, and the National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC. In 2011 a major career retrospective of Metzker’s work was organized by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, which traveled to the The J. Paul Getty Museum
in Los Angeles and the Henry Art Museum in Seattle.
Ray K. Metzker died in October of 2014, at 83 years of age, in the city of Philadelphia.
Source: Howard Greenberg Gallery
Metzker has dedicated his career to exploring the formal potentials of black-and-white photography, but they are not his exclusive concern. "When you look at the multiples, you are aware of patterning and so forth,"
he says, "but there is still identifiable subject matter; frequently there are people there; there is a rhythm to those people."
Metzker's 1959 thesis project, My Camera and I in the Loop
, takes downtown Chicago as its subject, but renders it in experiments that tell more about photography than they do about the city. The pictures from this project were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago (1959-1960), and included in the issue of Aperture devoted to the students and professors of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (1961).
Ray Metzker's images question the nature of the photograph and photographic "reality." Through cropping, multiple imagery, and other formal inventions, his work explores options for transforming the vocabulary of the photograph. Untitled
from 1969 illustrates the simple method of manipulating objective information through juxtaposition: two distinct women on the beach enter into a yin-yang relationship of line and gesture. The photograph is part of a series of pictures made from 1968 to 1975 of beach-goers in New Jersey. "The more fashion conscious probably go to other beaches, but what Atlantic City has – and what attracted me to it – is diversity,"
Metzker said. Of the content of the pictures and his working method, Metzker added, "What appears in the pictures was the subject's decision, not mine. I took what they presented – delicate moments – unadorned and unglamorous, yet tender and exquisite."
Metzker used a 1975 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship to pull the series together as Sand Creatures
, later published as a book in 1979. There are no diptychs in the book, though the woman in sunglasses at the bottom of Untitled
(1969) is included as a solo picture.
In a July 1992 letter, Metzker wrote the following about two untitled Sand Creatures
pictures from 1969: "The photograph of the double image is from the series entitled Couplets and predates the single image by a number of years. Both pictures were made at beaches along the New Jersey coast: the couplet at Atlantic City, the single frame at Cape May. With both, my camera was an Olympus half-frame, a small amateurish piece of equipment that let me move about freely. The choice of the camera was essential to the development of the series."
Source: Museum of Contemporary Photography