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Musée de l'Elysée Presents Ray K. Metzker Retrospective
Ray K. Metzker, Washington DC, 1964 © Ray K. Metzker.


LAUSANNE.-Musée de l'Elysée presents Ray K. Metzker Retrospective on view through January 6, 2008. Ray K. Metzker is recognized as one of the great masters of American photography, a virtuoso who has pursued his chosen medium passionately for fifty years. Even early in his career, Metzker’s work was marked by unusual intensity. Drawing inspiration from the things around him, he was acutely perceptive in any environment. This retrospective at the Musée de l’Elysée reveals the full extent of a body of work still relatively unknown from the European public. Over 200 vintage prints are being shown in Europe for the first time. The exhibition, which also provides the opportunity to take stock of the historical significance of Metzker’s work, was organized in close collaboration with the photographer himself and the Laurence Miller Gallery in New York.

Major American museums began showing an interest in Metzker’s work in the 1960s. Cementing his reputation as a master photographer, the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave him his first big one-man show in 1967. Retrospectives were organized in 1978 by the International Center of Photography in New York, and, in 1984, by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The Houston exhibit was subsequently shown in several other major American cities. Metzker himself has lost none of his enthusiasm for photography, which he continues to explore full force.

Born in 1931 in Milwaukee (Wisconsin), Ray K. Metzker attended the Institute of Design, Chicago – a renowned school that had a few years earlier been dubbed the New Bauhaus – from 1956 to 1959. He was thus an heir to the avant-garde photography that had developed in Europe in the 1920s. Composites, multiple-exposure, superposition of negatives, juxtaposition of two images, solarization and other formal means were part and parcel of Metzker’s vocabulary. Since his youth, Metzker was committed to discovering the potential of black and white photography during the shooting and the printing. He has shown consummate skill in each stage of the photographic process.

HIS WORK - In Metzker’s photographs, ordinary sights take on a sculptural feel: passersby, lost in thought, are captured by his lens like motifs against the vast and somber backdrops of city streets. A wall flooded with light, a piercing ray of sun, grass parched from the summer heat: urban spaces have inspired the photographer throughout his long career – Chicago in the early days, but mainly Philadelphia, which appears again and again. When he photographed people at the beach in Atlantic City (Sand Creatures), Metzker was drawn by their unconstrained body postures. Daily life in all its forms offered Metzker a pretext for photographic discovery.

To earn his living, Metzker taught photography at various schools, an occupation that left him with relatively great amounts of free time to travel around the United States and Europe. Each one of his trips fed his work by opening up new avenues for experimentation. In the 1960s, in an attempt to push back the limits of the photographic medium, he created images based on multiple exposure or joining two negatives together into a single image (couplets, double frames, composites). In 1970, when he was teaching at the University of New Mexico, the quality of the light, unlike anything he had known in Philadelphia, was the source of a whole new vocabulary for Metzker. Several years later, in Greece, he began work on a new series, Pictus Interruptus, in which he deliberately blocked out parts of the extraordinary – but anticipated – landscape. In the early 1980s, back in Philadelphia, he turned his focus to human figures emerging from urban environments that remain dark despite the sunlight. His discovery, on a trip to Italy in 1985, of the photographic effects of strong light on vegetation – nuanced tones of white and gray, completely different from the deep blacks of the city – opened his work up to landscape, and the movement of nature, and fueled his interest for the following fifteen years.





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