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Unknown Territory: Photographs by Ray K. Metzker, 1957-1983

October 19, 1985–January 5, 1986

The work of Ray Metzker, a distinguished contemporary photographer long associated with Philadelphia, has been concentrated into over a dozen extended series of images, each radically different from one another. He has worked primarily in urban areas, drawn to ordinary people going about their day-to-day business. The resulting observations of a cool, sophisticated eye reveal a sensitivity to both wryness and sweetness in human gestures. Sand Creatures, photographed at the New Jersey shore, express Metzker's most intimate observations of humanity. The reclining figures, asleep amid their possessions and entangled with their companions, are caught in what the artist describes as "delicate moments--unadorned and unglamorous, yet tender and exquisite." Images from the "Philadelphia" series, where people are seen only in silhouette or disappear altogether, are regarded by the artist as a climax in his pursuit of minimal but evocative spaces. In such series as "Double Frame" and "Pictus Interruptus," which Metzker calls his "studio" work, he is most concerned with purely formal relationships. Constant experiments with technical aspects--focus, exposure, negative format, depth of field, optical perspective, and frame--have produced a body of haunting, sometimes indecipherable, images intended to reflect the dissonance of urban living. In his most recent series, "City Whispers," the artist has returned to direct observation. The people are isolated, fragmented, and often faceless. The jumpy bright lights and movement around them seem to emphasize their isolation. Metzker constantly synthesizes and transforms the commonplace to create new visual territory for the viewer to explore. His approach to photography is perhaps best explained by a statement he once made: "Art is man's action on commonplace material. Strong work startles us. We recognize the ingredients, but we can hardly believe the result." This exhibition, the artist's first major retrospective, includes nearly 200 images, representing 11 major series, on loan from collections throughout the U.S.


The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston


Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
Art Institute of Chicago
Philadelphia Museum of Art
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
George Eastman House, Rochester, New York
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

Main Building


The Pew Memorial Trust


Martha Chahroudi

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