Untitled (detail), ca. 1960–1962. Gelatin silver print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, John Pritzker Fund, 2011.4.1

Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Dolls and Masks

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Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925 – 1972) is not one of the most familiar names in photographic history, but his impact on the field, belatedly recognized, is significant. An optician in Lexington, Kentucky, Meatyard sustained a lifelong interest in visual perception. Well read and deeply connected to a circle of poets and philosophers, he made photographs rich in literary allusion. In his last decade, Meatyard kept returning to the tropes of dolls and masks, often photographing his children posed in abandoned houses and landscapes in the environs of his home.

These pictures put an uncanny spin on family photography, exploring the contrasts between youth and age, childhood and mortality, intimacy and unknowability, sharing and hiding. Drawn from the photographer’s estate, and including three prints recently acquired by the Fine Arts Museums, this exhibition of almost 60 photographs examines dolls and masks across different bodies of work as a window onto this enigmatic photographer’s larger practice.


The exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago. Support for the exhibition is provided by the Pritzker Fund for Photography.

Currently on view