Ray K. Metzker, black & light
One of the great photographers of the modern era, Ray K. Metzker (1931-2014), who started photography at 12 after his mother gave him his first camera and studied it with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, is known for repeatedly reinventing his approach to the medium throughout his life. He is considered a master of light, shadow, and line whose work pushed the limits of what seemed formally possible in black and white photography. Curator William A. Ewing describes Metzker’s work as possessing, “a delicacy, and a childlike sense of wonder,” while his “formalist rigor prevents him from succumbing to a facile sentimentality.”
At the moment, Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York presents a new exhibition entitled “Ray K. Metzker: Black & Light”. The gallery announced their primary representation of Metzker’s estate last year, and this inaugural exhibition of his photographs will survey more than 50 works, many of which are well known and others recently discovered in the artist’s archive, which will be on public view for the first time.
The show surveys his early street photography from Chicago in the 1950s and Philadelphia in the 1960s, images from an extended trip to Europe in 1960-61, photographs from the series Pictus Interruptus from 1976-1980, work from his series City Whispers from the early 1980s, and examples from his collage series Whimsy and Arrestation.
Metzker challenged prevailing notions of what was possible with black and white photography, creating his own unique visual vocabulary. His densely shadowed cityscapes, made mostly in Chicago and in Philadelphia, where he lived and worked from 1962 until the end of his life, transform the ordinary into bold patterns of light. His later series City Whispers from the early 1980s reverberates with a sense of urban isolation. With his Composites series, Metzker used assemblages of printed film strips, which Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography, at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, noted marked “a major conceptual innovation in creative photography.”
Conceived while working in Greece, Pictus Interruptus tested photography’s boundaries: Metzker would disrupt the camera’s view of land- and cityscapes with ordinary objects such as a piece of paper or a paper clip, thus creating inexplicable abstractions. In addition, the exhibition will include Metzker’s collage works, one-of-a-kind pieces that underscore his reputation as a “darkroom alchemist.”
“Invention and play work together,” stated Metzker describing his methodology. “When it is finally time to invent, I am soaring.”