By Keith F. Davis
Hall Family Foundation/Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Distributed by Yale University Press
New Haven, Conn., 2012
Ray Metzker’53—heralded recently as “the last great modern photographer” in Slate Magazine’s photo blog Behold—is best known for his groundbreaking photographs of urban scenes, and his explorations of contrast, symmetry, light and shadow, and composite prints. The prolific photographer, born and raised in Milwaukee, has been making photographs ever since his mother gave him a camera at the age of 12.
Metzker’s impressive body of work led Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Director Julian Zugazagoitia to say that it “exemplifies the greatest achievements of modern American photography.” Zugazagoitia, who wrote the foreword for The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker, a retrospective of the artist’s work, went on to describe the Beloit graduate’s photographs as “at once technically pristine, daringly experimental, and entirely original.”
The retrospective was published in conjunction with an exhibition of Metzker’s work, which originated at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo., in 2011 and has since made its way to Los Angeles and Seattle.
Along with page upon page of Metzker’s starkly beautiful black-and-white prints, the book details his early development and biography, including his seminal time as a fine art student at Beloit College. It was at Beloit that he studied under legendary art faculty member Franklin Boggs and worked for the campus news service, shooting photographs of everything from theatrical performances to sporting events. Beloit College Archivist Fred Burwell’86 receives a nod in the acknowledgements for his role in aiding research for the book.
While Metzker’s work alone sets him apart, it also forms an integral piece of the history of photography, especially in pioneering the use of multiple-image prints in the 1960s.
“Metzker’s work,” writes Davis, “is absolutely central to this history.”