Ray K. Metzker, op zoek naar syntheses

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Walter Gropius zag zijn tekeningen en constructies en nodigde hem uit om in het pas gestichte Bauhaus in Weimar les te geven.
Die ontdekking was de in Hongarije geboren kunstenaar Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Hij gaf er vijf jaar les, ontwikkelde verschillende stijlen met diverse materialen waarin zeker kenmerken van het expressionisme en het Russiche constructivisme zijn terug te vinden.
Hij vlucht voor het opkomende nazisme, komt eerst in Amsterdam terecht dan in Londen en vertrekt tenslotte naar Amerika waar hij in Chicago ‘the New Bauhaus’ sticht, later gekend als Institute of design of the Illinois Institute of Technoglogy, de eerste Amerikaanse school die zich op het Bauhaus programma baseerde.
Het was een school waar ook een afdeling fotografie bestond en grote namen als Aaron Siskind en Harry Callahan les gaven.

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De school was gekend voor haar avant-garde belangstelling en gaf leerlingen zin voor experimenteren en het gebruiken van diverse materialen in diverse formaten.
En daar zal de in Milwaukee (1931 geboren) Ray K. Metzker zijn opleiding starten en er met een thesis My camera and I in the Loop afstuderen en onmiddellijk de belangstelling krijgen van diverse musea en curatoren.

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De aandacht voor ‘basic elements’ zou je kunnen terugvinden in de diverse stijlvormen die vanuit het Bauhaus en het Contructivisme vertrokken.
Die basis-elementen vond hij niet dadeijk in de foto-journalistiek maar wel in het opbouwen van een eigen visueel alfabet waarin vorm, licht en schaduw de werkelijkheid terugbrachten naar enkele elementaire kernen die meer door hun constructie- en lichtsspel een samengebald beeld vormden en het verhalende terugbrachten naar de eenvoud van de compositie. (ik dacht aan een soort mentale overzichtelijkheid!) en in plaats van het narrative een kijk op de elementaire de constructie (al dan niet gewild of gemanipuleerd) van een werkelijkheid gaven.

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In die reductie naar de elementaire delen zit dan ook het ambiguë van het Bauhaus en haar uitlopers tot in het design waarin wel eens eens de soberheid een tekort aan warmte moet camoufleren, of waarin de vormelijkheid het haalt op de veelheid die een kenteken is van pogingen om onszelf te herkennen in wat ons omringt. Anderzijds is de durver die het ‘weglaten’ hanteert om bij de kern te kunnen komen een welkome inspiratiebron om ons te ontdoen van de waan van het ogenblik en te behouden wat in ons bestaan essenties duidelijk maakt.

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“Where photography has been primarily a process of selection and extraction, I wish to investigate the possibilities of synthesis…I intend the elements to be presented for simultaneous viewing…like a mosaic or mural.”

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Throughout his career Metzker photographed exclusively in black and white, utilising assertive high contrast and bold use of form and line. Increasingly experimental in his approach, in the 1960s Metzker began working on his Composite series in which he treated the entire roll of film as a single concept.
In the early 1980s, Metzker retired from full time teaching in Philadelphia, and began part-time teaching in Chicago and dividing his time between the two cities, returning to photograph life unfolding on the streets around him. Evolving from Metzker’s life lived in two American metropolises, his series City Whispers forms a complex mediation on modern urban living.

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Isn’t art the need to hold, to make visible, what we believe or wish to believe? The elusive search, the frustration of incompleteness or inadequacy, the failed attempt at seeing, catching, recognizing, knowing something that points and reveals the nature or essence of our being–this attempt is an act by the artists: art is the message of that act.

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In contrast to many serial photographers influenced by the photo-essay à la Life magazine, Mr. Metzker does not tell simple stories. His photographic series purposefully avoid traditional narrative and mere description. Instead of narrative, Mr. Metzker prefers analogy. Instead of description, he prefers visual fragmentation. As Metzker said, “You have to break something down in order to have the parts synthesize. If something’s complete, there is no need to synthesize–it’s finished. In journalism the photograph is of an event, whereas in my later work, the photograph is the event.” (Omar Willey, The Seatle Star 2013)

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Photography has been a slave to realism since its origins. Much as comics remain bound to linear narrative, photography often remains the thrall of mere representation. Metzker himself started out by doing realistic street photography, very much in the vein of his teacher, Harry Callahan. However, Metzker has never shown any desire merely to reproduce objects or moments. For him, “Unnecessary detail is the death of a lot of photographs. The viewer can see and get involved with every pebble, but the experience is only inventory-taking. No work is left for the imagination.” In contrast to this, Metzker’s street photography eliminates all unnecessary detail. (ibidem)

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http://www.seattlestar.net/2013/12/the-earthly-delights-of-ray-k-metzker/

http://www.laurencemillergallery.com/artists/ray-metzker/featured-works?view=thumbnails

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“Photographers are victims of paradox,” Mr. Metzker once said, “tracking the impermanent to make it permanent.”
He once said his goal was “a unique way of seeing,” one in which “new eyes replaced the old.” To critics, it was a goal achieved.

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Ray’s studio walls were covered with found objects, many of which did not make it into his work but clearly influenced it. He was a flaneur, roaming with and without his camera. To walk the streets of Philadelphia with Ray was to see them anew. He’d notice a new business or renovation underway and recall what was there previously. He would marvel at some architectural detail and suddenly stare at a shaft of light falling across a façade.

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http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/metzker/metzker.html

‘Why one picture stands out among many others is always a mystery. In the beginning the subject is never quite known, but in the course of working something shows up on the film or in the print that speaks to me. I can never predict when this will happen. However, when it does there is an excitement—there is the ecstasy of recognition. And this is one of the things that keeps me going.’

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‘I never wanted to make portraits—to photograph celebrities, beautiful people, beautiful landscapes, beautiful buildings, or people in distressing situations…. I have always been interested in everyman—average, ordinary people in everyday situations’

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After graduate school and a stint in the military, Ray traveled in Europe for more than a year, taking walks and pictures, developing his film in makeshift “darkrooms” in hotels and pensions. When I asked him how he would work during that sojourn, he said simply, “One day I would walk out the door and turn to the left; the next day I would turn to the right.” (Tom Goodman Broadstreet Review 2014)

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Some thing or quality of light or forms had caught his attention on one of his walks, and he went out the next day with them in mind. He didn’t have a specific picture planned, just these qualities that made pictures worth taking . . . and looking at. This approach was the key to what made Metzker an artist of importance and what made his work challenging. He understood that the artist begins his exploration by admitting what he doesn’t know. Then he sets out to try and discover meanings.
(Tom Goodman Broadstreet Review 2014)

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