The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design


The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design

From a J. Paul Getty Museum Press Release:

Ray K. Metzker (American, born 1931) is one of the most dedicated and influential American photographers of the last half-century. His photographs strike a distinctive balance between formal brilliance, optical innovation, and a deep human regard for the objective world. The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design, on view at the Getty Center September 25, 2012–February 24, 2013, offers a comprehensive overview of Metzker’s five-decade career, while also providing examples of work by instructors and fellow students at the Institute of Design in Chicago, where Metzker studied from 1956 to 1959.

Organized in collaboration with Keith F. Davis, senior curator of photography at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, the exhibition is curated by Virginia Heckert, curator of photographs, and Arpad Kovacs, assistant curator of photographs, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition features nearly 200 photographs, including approximately 80 from the holdings of The Nelson-Atkins Museum.

The Institute of Design
Revered for an energetic atmosphere of experimentation, Chicago’s Institute of Design (ID) opened in the fall of 1937 under the name New Bauhaus, with avant-garde artist and educator László Moholy-Nagy at the helm. Modeled after the German Bauhaus (1919–1933), the school’s program integrated art, architecture and design, with photography quickly becoming an integral component of the curriculum. The ID was noted for fostering an environment of inquisitiveness and investigation that encouraged students to develop a distinctive style under the guidance of a faculty of well-known artists and designers.

Ray K. Metzker
Dynamically composed, Metzker’s luminous black-and-white photographs feature subjects ranging from urban cityscapes to nature, all demonstrating the inventive potential of the photographic process. While a student at the ID, Metzker was mentored by renowned photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. His curiosity led to experiments with high contrast, selective focus, and multiple images.

Metzker’s thesis project for the ID, a study of Chicago’s business district, or Loop, displayed many of these techniques. One image, a multiple exposure of commuters ascending a sun-bathed staircase, prefigures the novel Composites that he began to make in 1964.

Whether documenting everyday life in an urban environment or exploring the natural landscapes, Metzker’s photographs often incorporate elements of abstraction. A longtime resident of Philadelphia, Metzker taught at the Philadelphia College of Art for many years. His frequent focus on Philadelphia and other cityscapes has yielded iconic images of automobiles, commuters, streets, sidewalks, and architectural facades. “Metzker’s love of the photographic process has produced a rich body of work that suggests a vulnerability underlying the human condition,” explains Virginia Heckert, curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “With highlights and shadows pushed to extremes and multiple frames combined in innovative ways, his photographs create a graceful choreography of human interaction against urban settings.”

Metzker titles and groups his images based on their location or technique. The exhibition features Metzker’s most significant bodies of work, including Chicago (1956–59), Europe (1960–61), Early Philadelphia (1961–64), Double Frames and Couplets (1964–69), Composites (1964–84), Sand Creatures (1968–77), Pictus Interruptus (1971–80), City Whispers (1980–83), Landscapes (1985–96), and Late Philadelphia (1996–2009).

The facts:
The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design
September 25, 2012 – February 24, 2013
J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1687
Phone: 310 440-7330

Photo above:
Valencia, 1961

All photographs copyright the artist.

Frankfurt, 1961

Mexico, 1972