Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ralph Eugene Meatyard

Ahh, halloween is just around the corner, and what better artist to discuss than Ralph Eugene Meatyard. First of all, what I want to know, is how did this poor man's family genealogy gift him.. or curse him.. with such a last name? Meatyard? Really? That sounds like a name made up in a bad fiction novel.. Alas, there it is, real, not in a fiction novel. Maybe his name determined the kind of photography and art he would be destined for. One can only speculate.

Robert Eugene Meatyard, has a series of photographs that consist of people with mask, often doing very normal things.

The children are not doing anything special.. They are simply sitting, with mask on. Yet the un natural look the mask give the children does not scare me. It just makes me laugh. The simple act of putting on a mask makes the children ( and in other images, adults ) just look silly. I wonder if it is just because in American culture, this is something we are accustomed to seeing. Every year, Halloween rolls around and millions of children and adults dress up, often sporting similar faces. If this was taken to a different culture... Would this be scary? Should it be? I'm not sure, but either way, from the knowledge and exposure to this holiday, I get a sense of playfulness with these images.
Seeing the more developed human form wearing mask, adds an additional sense of play. I also enjoy the small detail in this photo, of the slingshot, a child's play toy in the boys back pocket. The difference between this photo and the others too, is the change to color. For some reason adding the element of color to this series also adds a lighter feel to the image. I'm also not sure if this is because film photography specifically black and white is done so little now, that any time it is done, I am programmed to believe there was more artistic intention behind it.. This seems like almost a silly notion, but so often that is how we view film photography especially black and white. It's serious, it's educated, informed. What a load of trash that is. To think that a work of art has less meaning because of it's medium is nonsense. Yet, that is exactly what I got upon seeing the difference from black and white to color. The image still appears to be film.. Just colored film.

This photograph is one of my two favorite ones from this series. My first reaction was, "Aw, how cute the monster couple is in lovvveeeee ". And then I laughed. The adults wearing these mask make me happy. I guess it is because these mask do give a sense of play to me. So to see the two adults wearing them and exchanging signs of affection, leave me to believe they are being goofy with one another. Enjoying each others company in a childlike fashion. Being a child is healthy. It's exciting when childhood creeps into our all too serious adult role.

I enjoy many of his photo's.. But this series just seems appropriate for the season. Enjoy the weather, play in it, and enjoy art in all of it's forms. Be light in heart.


  1. I find some irony, or perhaps convenience that you write about Meatyard after exploring Maggie Taylor. There is truly an interesting comparison to be made. Yes, Meatyards masks are intended to be whimsical, perhaps grotesque, but what else might they symbolize? It is often said we put on a mask every time we walk out the door, or have our picture taken, or.... But what about the masks on the children? Are these kids imitating the adults around them...perhaps absorbing the monster like aspects? Or maybe, the masks symbolize one's own shadow nature. As you can see, there is a serious side too.

    I think your other point about color versus B&W is insightful. The "once removed" quality of B&W in some ways does lend it a (perhaps) artistic privilege. Color must struggle even more against our expectations of "photo reality". But it is possible to make color photos read as "art"... although its perhaps harder to do so formally. I also agree with your notion about the medium making art as being, as you put it, "crap".

  2. I don't think that the photo's symbolize that the people are putting on mask as they walk out of their door. True, we do that, which is why there is a cliche saying that accompanies such photographic ideas.. However, I feel that if he felt people were using mask, I do not think that he would give them monster mask to use in order to portray their other self.. Unless he thought they were awful humans.. Which I doubt, considering the pleasant bond obvious in the photos of some of the adult couples embracing in gentle ways. I think that the mask on the children, is comical because they are such serious mask, on such innocent children. I think they are fun on adults, because typically adults throw the child versions of themselves ( the ones that can still play ) out when they begin their adult roles and responsibilities.

    And it is trash, about the medium that is.. A medium does not determine the photographic quality.. However, I think being in an art environment all the time, for those that do this constantly, we begin to be trained to believe that false notion.. I want to look at the photograph.. Not the medium.. I want to look at the meaning in the image, not the meaning of the camera style.