Ralph Eugene Meatyard, “Lucybelle Crater and her P.O. brother Lucybelle Crater,” 1970-72.
Ralph Eugene Meatyard, The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater, 1970-72.
Meatyard used masks, to acknowledge the incapacity and inadequacy of the portrait convention as a means of psychological disclosure. (Durden, 2014, p.66).
His project, The Family album of Lucybelle Crater, 1970-72, was made in the last years of his life, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The photo all include his wife wearing a grotesque mask with two protruding teeth and the other figure or figures are friends, family wearing a transparent plastic mask of an old man. Meatyard felt that the clear mask was a portrait to its wearer in forty years time, a portrait of the future. (Durden, 2014, p.66). Once the location had been chosen his sitters were given very little instruction as to poses or what to wear.
Durden suggests that: It is possible to see the mask as a metaphor for the way family snapshots tend to mask their subjects, highlighting snapshot photography’s standardised artifice. Yet much as these pictures might be seen to disrupt family album conventions, they nevertheless draw upon the emotive and affective potential of the genre. The point lies in the discrepancy between the masks and the poignant personal context of the project, which represents a dying photographer’s final gathering of all those who are close and dear to him. (Durden, 2014, p.66).
Marianne Hirsch suggested the project points to: ‘the limitation of family photography, that which it cannot record to tell’….By hiding their subjects, masks make the portraits generic, engaging viewers in a scene of recognition and connection, in as much as the interiors and locations of suburban culture in a small part of Kentucky in the 1970s can be a point of collective recognition.
The critic A.D. Coleman gives Meatyard’s pictures an existential slant, claiming their ‘themes the essential otherness and shifting personae of people, even those to whom one is closest’. But the context of Meatyard’s illness and the social grouping suggest something else. There is an intimacy here, something close and private that is never disclosed and remains incommunicable. (Durden, 2014, p.66).
Ralph Eugene Meatyard, “Romance (N.) from Ambrose Bierce #3,” 1962.