There is a Ralph Eugene Meatyard exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago which is not to be missed. I was first introduced to Meatyards work when I started out exploring photography. I have plenty of broken dolls and masks that I too have collected and photographed but they never had the power of Meatyard's work. I found the photographs haunting and disturbing, offering up some truths about the human condition.
I work in several different groups of pictures which act on and with each other – ranging from several abstracted manners to a form for the surreal. I have been called a preacher – but in reality, I’m more generally philosophical. I have never made an abstracted photograph without content. An educated background of Zen influences all of my photographs.
— Ralph Eugene Meatyard, 1961
from the wall text at Art Institute show...
At the Lexington Camera Club, where Meatyard first seriously studied photography, his mentor Van Deren Coke urged students to "start in your own backyard." Later Meatyard recalled the value of this advice. "This backyard business was carried into our own work. Van believed that we could make most of our pictures around our own homes. In making any photograph, Van suggested, it was enough to find the appropriate background, be honest, and put anything you wanted to in front of it. I have found that this is still the best way, with an excursion afield from time to time."
Extract from the preface, by James Rhem of the Photo Poche
"In short, Meatyard's work challenged most of the cultural and aesthetic conventions of his time and did not fit in with the dominant notions of the kind of art photography could and should be. His work sprang from the beauty of ideas rather than ideas of the beautiful. Wide reading in literature (especially poetry) and philosophy (especially Zen) stimulated his imagination. While others roamed the streets searching for America and truth, Meatyard haunted the world of inner experience, continually posing unsettling questions about our emotional realities through his pictures. Once again, however, he inhabited this world quite differently from other photographers exploring inner experience at the time. Meatyard's "mirror" (as John Szarkowski used the term) was not narcissistic. It looked back reflectively on the dreams and terrors of metaphysical questions, not private arguments of faith or doubt."