One of the great photographers of the modern era, Ray K. Metzker (1931-2014), 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 black and white photography.
Metzker challenged prevailing notions of what was formally possible in the medium, 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 as Keith F. Davis, senior curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, noted, marked “a major conceptual innovation in creative photography.”
Conceived while Metzker was 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, creating inexplicable abstractions.
“Invention and play work together,” Metzker said, in describing his methodology. “When it is finally time to invent, I am soaring.”
Ray K. Metzker was born in 1931 in Milwaukee, Wis. Photography became his passion, after his mother gave him his first camera when he was 12. In 1953, he graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin with a fine arts degree. He earned a master’s degree in 1959 at the Institute of Design in Chicago (which at that time was being referred to as the New Bauhaus, and was considered one of the most important photography programs in the United States), where he studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. He taught for many years at the Philadelphia College of Art and also at the University of New Mexico. The Museum of Modern Art in New York gave him his first solo exhibition in 1967.
In a career of more than 60 years, Metzker had more than 50 solo exhibitions at major museums around the world and was the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship. His work is in the collections of more than 40 institutions and is the subject of more than 10 monographs. Among the institutions whose collections include his work are the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American Art — Smithsonian, Washington D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Art Institute of Chicago; Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City; Cleveland Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; and the Albertina in Vienna.
Ray K. Metzker: Black & Light exhibition at the Howard Greenberg Gallery opens Jan. 10 and runs through March 2, 2019, and 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.
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