By day Illinois local Ralph Eugene Meatyard was a calm, well liked and professional optician. He spent his entire working life as an optician, painstaking crafting custom lenses for his customers and testing their eyesight through a variety of visual cues and techniques.
Away from the confines of his office, Meatyard’s fascination with the eye and it’s potential to imagine found a new home through the medium of photography. He humbly described himself merely as a “dedicated amateur photographer” but in the years since his death in 1972 (he died of cancer aged 47) – his extensive body of photographic work has been critically acclaimed and universally admired.
His photographic journey began in the remote backwoods and small towns of Kentucky sometime in the 1950s. This bleak landscape and natural surrounds lent themselves perfectly to his haunting signature style. Enlisting the help of his family and close friends, Meatyard would place his subjects in all kinds of different environments – from desolate parklands to the bleak aesthetic of small-town suburbia.
But it’s the inclusion of his nightmarish masks that truly transforms his work from the conventional into the phantasmagorical. To some his work is undeniably disturbing to others it represents an exploration into the surreal and unknowable.
“Billboards in any art are the first things that one sees—the masks might be interpreted as billboards. Once you get past the billboard then you can see into the past (forest, etc.), the present, & the future. I feel that because of the “strange” that more attention is paid to backgrounds & that has been the essence of my photography forever.” – Ralph Eugene Meatyard
Via So Bad So Good