Unreal Nature

February 11, 2015

In the Midst of Everyday Reality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… he turns my vision against my reason.

This is the “Note” by Wendell Berry found in Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1970):

Association for several years with the work of Gene Meatyard has become one of my crucial experiences. It has kept me involved — and willing to be involved — in a sort of fundamental disturbance like an earthquake, unsettling, for sure, but at the same time giving evidence that something lively is going on in the world. Looking at his pictures, I am aware that my basic assumptions about reality are being tampered with. I am being nudged, forcibly and a bit gleefully, by the possibility that what we have taken to be reality is a mere social convention, going out of date. I turn from the photographs to my surroundings, feeling that what I see is not all that is there.

More than that of any other artist I know, this work alerts me to the fact that we have arrived here at this moment by ways that are mostly unknown to us. The configuration of the images in many of these pictures has clearly been produced by a plot as elaborate as that of any novel, but the plot is not in evidence. It is not withheld deliberately; we are not dealing with a trick of “suspense,” but with real mystery. The plot is not given because the photographer does not know what it is any more than we do. I think that he is able to produce such vivid images of how our experience is because he accedes so absolutely to the mystery of why.

And then there are the persistent images of ghosts and gnomes, of ascensions, of “little people” in gardens and forests. And these images appear, not in the surroundings of myth or religion, which wold permit us to deal with them by classifying them; they take their places with supreme naturalness in the midst of everyday reality. As matter-of-factly as in any newspaper picture, a woman strides out of a wall in a deserted house, carrying a shopping bag in her hand. Was the photographer there by pre-arrangement? Or by chance?

He is always seeing or catching a trace of the presence of something that I have missed. Or he turns my vision against my reason. Or he requires my belief to venture off in the direction of the incredible. Like the Book of Job, his work documents a portion of the endless spiritual journey that begins with the acceptance that the creation exceeds perception. These pictures invite us to live on the verge of surprise, where fear accompanies delight.

A walk in the fields with Gene Meatyard, for one who is already familiar with his work, always follows along such a verge: you are burdened with the suspicion that he is seeing something else. And the suspicion is usually confirmed by the photographs. The company of such a man keeps your eyes open. It is as if an alarm is ready to go off somewhere nearby. Sooner or later he is apt to produce evidence that you are not where you think you are.

Meatyard_1963
by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, 1963

-Julie

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