Ralph Eugene Meatyard easily fits into my top favorite 5 photographers of all time, so it's difficult for me not to make a post comprised solely of his pictures, just because there are so many great ones to choose from.
In his lifetime, Meatyard was an established optometrist in Lexington, Kentucky, married with three children, president of the P.T.A., and coach of the basketball team. This wholesome family man image at first appears incompatible with the darkly atmospheric photographs he took in his free time during the weekends. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that it's precisely this seemingly picturesque lifestyle that informs Meatyard's unique artistic vision.
Meatyard reveled in theatricality: his photographs were clearly staged, often employing images of family members and friends in monster masks posing in abandoned mansions and farmhouses or picket-fenced backyards, actors in a southern-gothic drama about those living in the suburban sprawl. The most obvious example of this is his magnum opus, The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater, a photo-series of grotesque masked figures strolling through suburbia, inhabiting the ordinary, everyday world as if even in their abnormality they belonged.
Meatyard's work seems to use this juxtaposition of the placid with the peculiar to make a comment not so much on suburbia itself but rather the interior dramas of those who live in it, metaphysical contemplations on American identity -- what it is to be other, to be similar, to be young or to grow old... These questions of selfhood are never clearly answered. At the same time that Meatyard opens the viewer's eyes to these haunting self-interrogations, so too he clouds their eyes.
Meatyard, like other artistic greats (particularly those featured on this blog, ha ha ha), died young before he hit it big. While he was alive, he never really received recognition outside of the photography world, and found himself disappointed that he never made a significant impact on any large-scale audiences. Rather than mourn the sort of tragic implications of such unrecognized talent, I'll just post some more photos.