Tag Archives: Lexington Camera Club

Arts

Psychology of Image: “Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Stages for Being” at the University of Kentucky Art Museum 

Black-and-white images of leafless trees in cold forests, masked figures in suburban neighborhoods standing next to ambivalent children, family portraits taken in the rubble of abandoned homes – these are the haunting scenes captured by photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard. In Stages for Being, the University of Kentucky Art Museum has put together a series of photographs by Meatyard that best represent his unique vision. Meatyard’s work is comprised of images of children, families, abandoned homes, and stark landscapes through which he explores how the outer world works as a stage on which imagination and inner life act.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard was born in Normal, Illinois in May of 1925 and raised in the neighboring town of Bloomington. After serving in the navy in World War II, he entered college where he briefly studied dentistry before deciding to become an optician. Shortly after marrying, he and his wife moved to Lexington in 1950. Here he worked as an optician, raised a family, and spent the rest of his life.

It’s in Lexington that Meatyard became involved with the Lexington Camera Club; a group of Kentucky creatives and intellectuals active from 1954-1974. Meatyard also maintained friendships with photographers such as Van Deren Coke and Minor White, and writers such as Wendell Berry and Guy Davenport. These figures would have a lasting impact on Meatyard’s work. 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard,” Untitled”, 1962, gelatin silver photograph. ©The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

Stages for Being is a broad survey of the photography of Ralph Meatyard. Working with many pieces that have never been on exhibit before, the curator has organized the works not by chronology, but by subject matter. The exhibit fills the entire second floor of the Museum, a space normally reserved for the permanent collection. There’s a brief introduction to the life and works of Meatyard, and from there the photographs are divided into five categories: Masks, Interiors, Dolls, Nature, and Exteriors. This grouping doesn’t show the evolution of Meatyard’s work so much as it demonstrates how he used space and subject matter to explore various themes. It also demonstrates Meatyard’s consistency.

Within a twenty-year period, Meatyard developed his style. He didn’t do this simply through print size and camera model, but through his use of light, shadow, and composition. A Meatyard photograph can be distinguished by intense shadow offset by bright whites, as well as their theatrical and surreal nature. 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard, “Untitled”, circa 1967-68, gelatin silver photograph. ©The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

A discussion of Meatyard would be incomplete without looking at one of his Masked pieces. In these images, Meatyard would pose members of his family in various settings (often abandoned homes, or country landscapes) and have the subject(s) wear a mask. These masks were often grotesque, gargoyle-like versions of an old man or woman’s face. The masks are unnerving. The wearer’s identity is concealed, and the photograph is no longer a simple portrait or group photo. By donning the mask, the wearer becomes the mask. On some level the viwer is aware that there’s an identity behind this mask, but through Meatyard’s lens, the mask is the person.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard, “Lucybelle Crater and Peanut Farmer Friend from Port Royal, Ky., Lucybelle Crater”, 1969-71, gelatin silver photograph. ©The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

In Lucybelle Crater and Peanut Farmer Friend from Port Royal, Ky., Lucybelle Crater (1969-71), a man and woman sit outside of an open building with a large tray of peanuts placed before them. The woman Lucybelle Crater sits on a bench to the right of the man. Her arms are crossed and she’s wearing a skirt with a collared shirt and wool sweater. Her face is concealed behind the mask of a deformed old woman, a mask that can be found in many of Meatyard’s images. To her left sits the peanut farmer from Port Royal. He’s a whole head lower than Lucybelle, seemingly sitting on the floor. His face is hard to read, not because he’s wearing a mask, but because he’s wearing a ball cap and sitting in the shadow of the building. Lucybelle sits slightly forward of him, just enough that she’s clearly visible. The peanut table before the sitters is the brightest part in this scene, sitting directly in the sunlight.

Similar to other works in the exhibit, the table acts as a divider of the frame and distances the viewer from our two subjects. Meatyard often uses objects to divide and bisect his photos; a wall might separate two individuals, a tree branch might obstruct a landscape, windows act as barriers between viewer and subject. 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard, “Lucybelle Crater and her 12-year-old daughter Lucybelle Crater”, 1969-71, gelatin silver photograph. ©The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

This photo is part of a larger series: The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater. The photo is reminiscent of photographs in old family albums. Like pictures of people we’re related to but whose identity is lost. Using masks, Meatyard is commenting on issues of identity and image. On one level, the mask functions as a way to hide. Hidden one masks vulnerability. By masking one of the subjects, they take on a more relaxed, solid role in the scene. The masked person appears to truly be “a part” of the photograph. They ground the work. Their identity is firm and unchanging. An unmasked person must construct their identity without an aid. Unmasked, identity fluctuates. How does a photographer capture the mask as not just object, but idea? 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard,” Untitled”, 1967, gelatin silver photograph. ©The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

Issues of identity are also explored in interior photographs in similar ways. The interior of a home often conjures up feelings of warmth, family, and place. It’s in the home that we first construct our identity. In the family home, the identity of mother, father, and child are perhaps the most solid roles we ever have. Using his own family as subject, Meatyard explores the concept of “family.” In Untitled (circa 1967) a young Mother and her two children (a boy and a girl) are shown standing in an abandoned house. The boy is around five and the girl around three. They’re all dressed in clothing typical of the sixties; the mother wearing a long skirt with a white blouse, the boy wearing a white button-up with dark pants, and the youngest wearing a little girl’s dress. Each figure stands in isolation, without acknowledgement of each other. The mother stands in the very back of the frame, with her eyes and face looking away from her children. If not for her light clothes, she would disappear into the shadows of the room. The little girl stands in the middle ground, with her hands tucked behind her and her body completely fontal.  She’s the only person in the image to acknowledge the camera. In the foreground, standing in front a door that separates him from the others is the little boy. He’s not even in the same room as his family. The door that separates him divides the frame evenly in two, further distancing us from the mother and daughter. The boy’s face is blurred, as if he was shaking his head at the moment the photo was taken. Meatyard hasn’t photographed a family, but three individuals united by the implication that a woman in a picture with two young children must be a family. In this scene, they are divorced from their roles, and stand as three independent persons. 

This image offers multiple avenues of analysis. The separation of the boy from his mother and sister examines gender dynamics, while the distancing of the mother from her two children raises questions surrounding motherhood and independence. But what unites these interpretations is identity. Meatyard, like many of his contemporaries, had an interest in Zen Buddhism. Its minimal aesthetic and mindful approach to life, coupled with its teachings on self and identity clearly informed his practice. Zen Buddhism asks us to quietly observe the world around us, and in the process, revelations about our own self will become apparent. In this observing, we begin to discover the deeper part of ourselves that is beneath the role of mother or father or spouse or child. This is what Meatyard is getting at through his photos; an exploration of personhood that runs deeper than familial or societal roles. 

On one of the panels at the exhibit, Meatyard’s work is compared to Ansel Adams. I was struck by the comparison that while Adams photographed nature as a subject that elicits in the viewer an emotional response, Meatyard photographed nature as a stage onto which our emotions act. This is what Stages for Being explores. In his photographs, we consider the different stages on which our being acts. Meatyard’s photography reminds us of the masks we wear, the parts we play, and the identities we take on.

Stages for Being is on view at the University of Kentucky Art Museum until December 9, 2018. This exhibition should not be missed. Admission is free, and the exhibit is a rare chance for the audience to get a quiet, intimate experience with works that haven’t been shown until this viewing.

Aaron Reynolds is an Art History and Visual Studies major at the University of Kentucky. He’s fascinated by the function of art and design as tools for communication

Arts

Guy Mendes: Unframed Play

If you know Guy Mendes, you may know some of the things I am about to share. If you are familiar with one of his three publications – Local Light: an anthology of 100 years of photographs made in Kentucky, (1976), Light at Hand (1986), or 40/40  40 Years, 40 Portraits (2010), the same might be true.

You also may have run across reference to the man’s genius in Yale University Press’ new catalog that accompanies an exhibition of the same name at the Cincinnati Art Museum: Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community: 1954-1974 (2016). Guy Mendes’ life’s work is being framed in many ways.

But the life of a creative person is never static and we who publish stories about them are always limited by the confines of our medium. Whether it be an essay, a book, a catalog, a video, or even an exhibition, we know too well that singular frames often cut short the contributions of artists who work in multiple disciplines as did Guy and many of his colleagues while working as members of the Lexington Camera Club.

When that frame is broken, when no preconceived notions are placed around creative thought and experimentation is encouraged, that’s when things start to happen. Guy Mendes admits that he learned this from his mentors, particularly Ralph Eugene Meatyard, in the Lexington Camera Club. Play. Search. Make something new.

This free-wheeling mindset was a far cry from Guy’s work as a journalist for both the Kentucky Kernel and later the underground paper known as the blue-tail fly (1969-71). Both publications were deeply immersed in the issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and covering campus protests against the Vietnam War. The deaths of student protestors at Kent State in Ohio occurred during this period. Not playful stuff.

Guy Mendes has had work published in The New York Times, Mother Jones, Playboy, Smithsonian Magazine, Aperture, and Newsweek. His photographs are in collections that include The International Center for Photography, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the High Museum, and Aperture Gallery, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, and many other local institutions. His career includes the production of numerous documentaries while working for nearly thirty-five years at KET. His life’s work needs nothing more than a straightening on the nail every now and then. Right?

Wrong. He still loves hours of play in the dark room. So, within the confines of this frame and along with Part I: For Guy Mendes, It’s What You See, it is our hope that UnderMain is able to introduce a little something new, then ‘get it souped, get it dried, and print it’ – a phrase Guy uses for the reportorial mode of production. We have invited Guy to play with us and send along a couple of new images before the end of the show at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Something that we can add here for your enjoyment.

Kentucky Renaissance, The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community: 1954-1974 is on view through the end of December.  If you have not seen this show, we encourage you to go. Also, see Hunter Kissel’s new narrative titled, Kentucky Insurgence.

What intrigues me most about the exhibition and catalog – both authored by Brian Sholis, then Curator of Photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum – is Brian’s observation about what happens when creatives work closely together as they did during the years of The Lexington Camera Club. Brian calls it genius that emerged in that time. Not only did photographers encourage and challenge one another, but they also played with new ideas, ideas that came often from writers in the region such as Wendell Berry, Guy Davenport, Thomas Merton, and James Baker Hall.

Such collaboration was of particular interest to Guy Mendes as a very young photographer and writer. Falling into the soup that birthed the Camera Club altered his vision forever – the talent and ideology of not only photographers and writers, but of sculptors, printmakers and multiple small presses like Gravesend Press, Gnomon Press, and The Jargon Society. Numerous contributions merged ‘words with pictures’ in a way that jelled for Mendes as a young photographer and writer.

Here are a couple of clips with Guy discussing what he refers to as the ‘cross-pollination,’ particularly with writers in the region, what was going on between members of the Lexington Camera Club.

Guy Mendes learned a great deal from his mentors, beginning with his introduction to Wendell Berry (see Part I) while he was working as a journalist for the Kentucky Kernel. Later, in 1971, Guy served as an apprentice to James Baker Hall and was thereby connected to writers like Gurney Norman, Ed McClanahan, and Bobbie Ann Mason, all of whom benefitted from a strong literary presence in Lexington, Kentucky at the time.

A keen awareness of what was taking place on the national level in photography grew, much of which was learned by attending lectures and visiting national exhibitions in New York and Chicago. According to Guy, photography was just coming into its own with movement in earlier decades prompted by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Ruth Bernhard.

Mendes also recalls the influence of Jonathan Williams, who had attended Black Mountain College and studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind –  ‘a hotbed of modern art in the hills of North Carolina.’ Williams was highly influential in connecting club members to this national scene in photography.

Today, with all the years of experience behind him, Guy Mendes recalls with great fondness the years of 1968-70 when he drove the countryside with Meatyard and Bob May – it was a time when he learned the value of play. He learned to search, but never with preconceived notions and while that play may have revealed the ‘uncanny’ or things that for some may even seem ‘dark’, that play was freeing. His recollection of that time is here:

UnderMain would like to thank Guy and KET for assisting us with presentation of a special insight into those times. In 1974, Guy Mendes, Martha Chute, and Stanley Maya created this film on Ralph Eugene Meatyard 1925-1972. The voices are those of Guy Davenport, Bob May, and Minor White.

Guy currently shows with: The Ann Tower Gallery and Institute 193 in Lexington, and POEM 88 in Atlanta and his website is: www.guymendes.com.

Arts

How Art Connects

It has been nearly four decades since Kate Savage first arrived from England to take up residence in the Bluegrass State. The innovator behind Art Connects, Savage has made it her personal mission to help artists from all artistic disciplines to come together, collaborate, and discover more opportunities to share resources and expand artistic awareness.  She has a passionate love for all art forms, and sees her role as one of a facilitator.

“My father worked for an American oil company back in the ‘50s and I grew up in the Middle East. When I was five, we moved to Bahrain which then was “home” for thirty years.  I attended London University where I majored in English with a minor in Art History.  I moved to Lexington in 1977, after marrying a Lexingtonian I had met and dated in London,” Savage recalled.  “My love of different cultures, my admiration for anyone who could create anything, my curiosity about the ways to communicate through words, performance, visual expression, even silence that speaks volumes, has been a life-long fascination for me.” 

It was not long after her move to Lexington that Kate opened her own catering company, Bleu Ribbon Hospitality.  Over time an upscale gourmet food shop, Scarborough Fare, grew out of her catering business, and operated for many years on Romany Road. “The origins were in a commercial kitchen on Maxwell Street,” she recalled, “But as the business expanded we moved to the Romany Road location alongside Suggins and Wheeler’s Pharmacy, both iconic landmarks for serious Lexingtonians. For me, working with food became an outlet for creative expression”.

In 2008 she sold her food business to the owners of Suggins.  Looking for other ways to stay involved Kate saw a community need and decided to invest her efforts in helping the many different artistic genres in new and creative ways. Thus, Art Connects was conceived.

"Market Street" - Enrique Gonzalez

“Market Street” – Enrique Gonzalez

“Art Connects started about a year-and-a-half ago by originally introducing the Talk and Tour Series.  These were lectures that were paired with an exhibition within driving distance, be it at the Speed, Taft or Cincinnati Art Museum, that subsequently were followed up with tours.  The next of this ongoing Talk and Tour Series: Talk a Walk on the Wild Side, will begin with the “Talk” segment on Nov. 15 at the Main Branch of the Lexington Public Library and continue with the follow-up Tour on the 17th of the Cincinnati Art Museum.  This Talk and Tour Series will explore the current exhibition: Kentucky Renaissance: Lexington Camera Club and Its Community. 1954-1974 that includes works by such well-known photo-artists as Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Guy Mendes and James Baker Hall as well as the concurrent exhibition:  Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth, that opened on October 15th and will run until January 8th 2017.  Guy Mendes, one of the youngest members of the Lexington Camera Club whose work is included in the photography exhibition, along with Ann Tower, the owner of Ann Tower Gallery who for many years was the art critic for the Lexington Herald-Leader, will be co-Talk and Tour hosts.  

The next program that Art Connects introduced, Paint the Town, has become an established annual event held in June. It is the revitalization of a similar but bygone event started by Gallery B. “This event is held for Plein Aire artists,” said Savage.  “These are artists who work outside their studio in the ‘fresh air’, like van Gogh and Monet.  For the last couple of years as many as 50 artists have participated, coming from as far afield as Bowling Green and Cincinnati.  They set up their easels within an eight-block designated area of downtown and paint from 8am-2pm. Works are then turned in – often still wet – curated, hung and judged anonymously as Best in Show,  2nd and 3rd Place, as well as a People’s Choice.  Cash prizes are awarded by the guest judge at the Opening Reception held that same evening. The works remain on exhibition through the July Gallery Hop and are for sale,” she said. 

"Yellow House" - Robert Sanford - Best of Show 2015

“Yellow House” – Robert Sanford – Best of Show 2015

Paint the Town focuses on a particular group of painters and the community is encouraged to come to downtown Lexington, stroll the streets and observe as art is made.  “It’s astonishing how much talent there is right here in our Bluegrass backyard, and I marvel at what can be produced in just six hours,” said Savage.

"Church Street" - Bill Fletcher - Best in Show 2016

“Church Street” – Bill Fletcher – Best in Show 2016

Also engaging Savage’s energy is the Art Connects Mobile Gallery.  This is another mutually beneficial program that connects artists with opportunities to exhibit their work outside the mainstream venue of a gallery show.  Savage takes original artwork by local artists into corporate spaces, and rotates the work every three months.  Turning business and office walls into mini galleries and creating a curiosity and a conversation.  This is a subscription service, but to date all participants have renewed their annual subscriptions.

"Meditation Meadow" by Jana Kappeler, exhibited at Hilliard Lyons

“Meditation Meadow” by Jana Kappeler, exhibited at Hilliard Lyons

“Work accumulating against a studio wall is of little benefit to the artist.” Kate said.  “It’s so fun when I show up with replacement art to see the excitement and interest generated.  This is a program that is really helping to stimulate an interest in art for people who previously probably didn’t bother notice or reflect on what was hanging on the walls.”

Collaborations and partnerships are key elements of Art Connects efforts.  Through a sponsorship from Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, who expressed an interest in collaborating with a non-profit’s endeavor, Art Connects sent out a Call to Fayette Co. High School Artists.   Students were invited to produce a “Kentucky December Holiday” themed artwork.  More than 40 students representing every High School in Fayette County responded with Letters of Intent.  Works have been submitted and will be evaluated anonymously by a seven-panel group. Cash prizes will be awarded to the three winners at the Wells Fargo Holiday Party in December.  “This is philanthropy working” said Savage, “I give to you and you turn around and give to someone else.”

Savage’s efforts to facilitate networking among various artistic disciplines responded to an identified need. The Kentucky Arts Council’s extensive statewide 2014 Creative Industry Report included data from a survey that asked individuals across Kentucky where they saw gaps and needs in services and support. Opportunities to network with other artists rated among the top five priorities.  “So I started what are now the Art Connects Networking Lunches,” Savage said. “The initial series of three was this past Spring and we have just wrapped up the Series for this Fall.” 

Networking luncheon - Melissa Hall

Networking luncheon – Melissa Hall

The Networking Luncheons  ($25 including lunch) are open to the public. “Alice Gray Stites, the Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming for  all 21c Museum Hotels, was the first guest speaker a week before the 21c Hotel Museum in Lexington opened. It was a sell out and set the bench-mark high,” Savage said. “Others have featured Joel Pett and Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon. Well-known Metropolitan Opera tenor, Gregory Turay with Tedrin Blair Lindsay as piano accompanist were the November presenters and they, needless to say, ended the series on a high note!”

Savage’s work is driven by a desire to discover new ways to bring people – artists and communities – together in collaboration, corroboration and cooperation. “There’s no reason why we can’t work together and support each other across the artistic disciplines. It keeps me busy; I do my own website and social media, newsletters, solicitations and I love the all of it.   My personal philosophy is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’” 

(Featured image at top of page: “Gratz Park” by Heather Tackett)