In a series made two years before his untimely death at age 46, Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-72) focused on his wife. Wearing a witch mask, Medelyn Meatyard, who died in 2016 at age 89, takes on the fictional character Lucybelle Crater, the protagonist of The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater. In each image Madelyn is shown next to disparate characters, all curiously named Lucybelle Crater, played by the Meatyard’s friends, neighbors and children.
Madelyn’s companions don a second mask: the semi-transparent face of an old man. It can be difficult to see it’s the same mask in each image. Sometimes sunglasses are worn, and always, the body shape and clothing of the person behind the old man is strikingly different. Still, the various bodies manage to become one with the macabre mask in their own way, each complementing the ghoulish and goofy nature of Madelyn’s character.
“The subjects’ postures mimic ordinary family snapshots as they pose with arms slung around each other’s shoulders, stand stiffly on front porches, or stoop to a child’s height, but with their features obscured by the masks, they morph into inscrutable and unearthly figures,” reads the press release. Meatyard “conceived of the series as a ‘photographic poem’ with a deliberate sequence and captions, which form a loose narrative.”
A selection from The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater is on view at the DC Moore Gallery in New York.
This series was not the first time the self-taught Meatyard photographed his family. An optician by trade, he bought a camera in 1950 to document family moments, quickly falling in love with the medium. For the next two decades, Meatyard spent his weekends traveling through Kentucky with his wife and children, making images of them that would seemingly fit inside a typical family photo album. Yet, like Lucybelle Crater, the photos are infused with a dark humor that became a hallmark of Meatyard’s influential work.
The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater opened at the DC Moore Gallery on January 4, 2018, and will be on view through February 3, 2018. The opening reception is tonight, January 11, 6-8pm, at 535 West 22nd Street, New York, NY, 10011.
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