Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2014 (November 4, 2014)

In Remembrance: Ray K. Metzker'53

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November 3, 2014

In Remembrance: Ray K. Metzker'53 

The world lost an American master of modern photography when Ray K. Metzker died in Philadelphia on Oct. 9, 2014, at 83.

Known for pushing the boundaries of photography—including experimenting with assemblages and making one image from an entire roll of film—Metzker was a versatile artist who was also renowned for his black-and-white photographs of pedestrians moving through urban landscapes. He later took on nature as his subject and, during one period, broke up his subjects by using an object to block part of his camera lens. The latter project, which he called “Pictus Interruptus,” had the effect of rendering reality into an abstraction and earned him the first of two Guggenheim Fellowships.

Laurence Miller, owner of a New York gallery that represents Metzker’s work, told The New York Times about the photographer’s unrelenting interest in exploring photography’s possibilities. “Everything led to another thing, led to another thing, led to another thing,” Miller told the Times.

Over his career, Metzker was the subject of more than 50 solo art exhibitions, including at the Museum of Modern Art and recently at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and his photography is in more than 40 collections. He taught in the photography and film department of the Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts, for decades.

Metzker grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., then came to Beloit, where he took a job as a student worker in the college’s publicity office. In covering college events from 1951 to 1953, he captured stunningly original photographs of Beloit’s athletes, dancers, and theatre performances, among other things. After declaring an art major, he was influenced by a number of Beloit College faculty members, including Franklin Boggs, Clark Fitz-Gerald, and John Rembert.

He earned a master’s degree from Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology, studying with some of the great art photographers of the time, including Harry Callahan, who became one of his mentors.

Survivors include his wife, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, also a highly regarded photographer, and a brother.

To see an online exhibit of Metzker’s early Beloit College work, go to the Archives pages of Beloit’s website:

Metzker photog
Ray Metzker made this photograph and many others that elevated ordinary campus
subjects to fine art while he was still a student working in Beloit’s publicity department.
This classic Metzker photo shows the dance troupe Orchesis in the early 1950s.



  • November 12 2014 at 4:06 am
    Jim Schaefer, '70

    This is sad and timely news. Ray Metzker and Harry Callahan will be the subjects of the final segment of the course in American Photography that I'm teaching this semester at Georgetown. I was captivated by Metzker's multiple-image photographs when I first encountered them long ago in a course taught by Michael Simon. My appreciation of his work has only grown as I came to teach photo history myself. He seems to have shared with the earliest photographic pioneers a sheer fascination with the world around him. Combining that with the technical inventiveness of Man Ray and other Modernists, he developed a unique style that I think of as a sort of clear-eyed Midwestern surrealism. He showed us that the world, as it is, is stranger than anything we could possibly imagine.

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