Ray Metzker (b. 1931) used to be a little too "outside" for my taste, like Sun Ra or Anthony Braxton. (Plus, I wasn't interested in his printing style, when I had a professional interest in such things.) As time has gone by, his influences—the Chicago school, you might call it, Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, with some of the formerly radical street photographers such as Lisette Model and Louis Faurer thrown in—have become much more clearly revealed, and Metzker, as black-and-white has plummeted out of fashion and the old gatekeepers whose ramparts he sneaked past have been whisked toward irrelevancy, has dated rather too quickly.
The process has made his work seem both more brilliant, in my judgment, and more important. He is a superlative, original, questing, endlessly inventive shooter, a photographer's photographer—derivative in some ways, but greater even than some of his influences, taking their suggestions and finding further richness in it, like Hendrix playing the blues.
The curator Keith F. Davis, who is responsible for this book and the show it accompanies, is similarly one of photography's quiet treasures. He "gets" photography, which cannot be said for all the major curators right now. The book is The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker, published just a couple of months ago by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. (Here's the U.K. link.)
I think Metzker's stature will increase as time passes. If it doesn't, Keith Davis has at least done a very persuasive job of explaining, and showing, why it should. He has made some very fine contributions to the photography lover's bookshelf. And this might even be the best. It is a glorious book, stuffed with masterpieces dynamic and brilliant. Not only is it the ideal Meztker retrospective, it's an exemplary photographic monograph, with a substantial, insightful text and superb plates, presented in a robust but no-nonsense, no-pretenses manner.
I can't put the darn thing down. It has re-ignited my faith in photography since it arrived.
P.S. This is the first post I've built at my new standing desk. Do any of you Mac experts out there know how to control the brightness of the screen on a mirrored display? The control on the iMac only works for the iMac display, not the mirrored display.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
David: "Yeah, excellent, Mike. For the first part of this post you built, I thought you were going to take Ray K. to task. The guy's work is brilliant. Nice to see one of my all-time favorites on the TOP pages. Huge influence and someone whose work continues to blow my mind. The photo you featured here is one of my favorites, it's like an opera."
struan: "Ray Metzker's Landscapes book has been a huge influence for me. As with many of my favourite landscape artists, he is best 'known' for other work, but his mix of formal rigour and free association is a heady one. That he breaks so many of the ossified rules of B&W photography, and breaks them so well, is just a bonus."
Keith F. Davis: "Mike: I've just discovered this piece, and very much appreciate your kind comments on the Metzker book. Thank you. I first saw Ray's work in something like 1971 and was deeply impressed at the time—but it all looks even better now, in hindsight. I genuinely love the way he has loved photography over all these decades."