Ray K. Metzker was born in 1931 in Milwaukee and attended the Institute of Design, Chicago. The Institute of Design was a renowned school that had been dubbed the American bastion of the ‘New Bauhaus’. He became heir to the avant-garde photography that had developed in Europe in the 1920’s. His composites, multiple-exposures, superimposition of negatives, juxtapositions of multiple images, solarization and more. He was committed to the potential of black and white photography in not only shooting, but that extended to the darkroom. His mastery of light and shadow was used in the most avante-garde fashion.
The Deep End of the Art World
In the 1960’s American museums began showing interest in Metzker’s work. More than just as a master photographer. By 1967, the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave him his first one-man show. Retrospectives were organized in 1978 by the International Center of Photography in New York, and in 1984 by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Subsequent exhibits included the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, the International Museum of Photography, Rochester, and the National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.
As recognized as he was in the art world, outside that bubble he remained an esoteric artist that few knew, and never seemed to receive the name recognition he so rightly deserved. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Henry Art Museum in Seattle had a major retrospectives of his work in 2011.
Landing On The Rolleiflex
While he used quite a few cameras, from 4×5 to 35mm, he seemed to favor the Rolleiflex SL66 for a large part of his portfolio. He appeared very comfortable with the square format and deciding cropping, (or not cropping), from the contact sheets. While many feel he followed Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” philosophy, Metzker’s ability to reconstruct a scene to his liking was in fact his own, and the anti-thesis to that mind set.
Although he had a few books published, my favorite was “The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker“, available on Amazon. I suppose most agree, since it got 5 Stars. Ray Metzker died in 2014 at the age of 83.