Former Bernheim Artist in Residence, Ray K. Metzker dies, at the age of 83

By Martha Slaughter

Photograph by Ruth Thorne-Thomsen
Photograph by Ruth Thorne-Thomsen

Ray K. Metzker was a daring and brilliant photographer who challenged the notions of black and white photography. Metzker was able to capture images of people on the urban streets of American cities and create photographs of “everyman” while doing so with the eye of an artist. He manipulated images, often creating abstraction and modernist motifs in his work. In the 1980’s he also turned his eye to landscapes and in 1989 spent part of the year photographing the forests of Bernheim. Challenged by their density and darkness he created images that were complex layers of pattern, depth and abstraction. Metzker said that his goal was “a unique way of seeing,” one in which “new eyes replaced the old.”

He was born in Milwaukee in 1931 and he studied photography starting at the age of twelve when he was given his first camera. He attended Beloit College in Wisconsin graduating with a fine arts degree in 1953. He was then drafted into the Army and stationed in Korea, where he taught photography and music appreciation. After his honorable discharge in 1956, he went to the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and studied there with the eminent modernist photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. He earned a master’s degree in 1959.

Metzker had more than 50 one-man exhibitions in major museums all over the world. His work is in more than 45 collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Museum of American Art in Washington and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Aperture published a significant monograph of his landscape work to coincide with the opening of an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2000 that traveled nationally.

Metzker’s group of eight black and white silver prints of the Bernheim landscape are part of the collection of over ninety works of fine art nature photographs produced while in residence at Bernheim and are on permanent loan to the Photographic Archives at the University of Louisville’s Special Collections. Other photographers in the collection include Dick Arentz, Barbara Bosworth, Christopher Burkett, Sandra De Sando, David Graham, Lynn Geesaman, Frank Hunter, Richard Lohman, and Nancy Lloyd. The photographs represent work accomplished during the 1980’s and 1990’s as artists in residence at Bernheim. Starting in the early 1990’s the program was expanded to include artists working in a variety of media.

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