Unreal Nature

February 25, 2015

That Stir and Infect Human Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… every doll is a small flash of light.

This is from Eugenia Parry’s essay ‘Forager’ in Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Dolls and Masks (2011):

… The photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard are mystery plays. Background was all important to his theaters. He established it first. It was more than an aesthetic concern. A chosen site had to have secret associations. Wendell Berry saw “an imagined darkness … the darkness of an original condition.” To this condition the photographer added symbolic objects — mirrors, mannequins, debris — and the ritual gestures of his actors.

His company featured his wife Madelyn, daughter Melissa, and sons Michael and Christopher. They posed in forlorn places and didn’t play themselves. He made sure of this …

[ … ]


… Like magic charms, dolls know. They act on human feelings and actions and spiritually change them.

In Meatyard’s photographs, every doll is a small flash of light.Transformation waiting to happen. A divine force within the doll “reminds us, tells us, sees ahead of us.” A tiny doll’s arm on a rotten plank is an omen. A naked doll propped in the corner of a crumbling room is an idol. A staring doll lying legs apart on a human-sized bed may be a reason to call the police.

The poet Charles Simic found the head of a doll on a beach and approached it not as a toy but as an icon. The saints in religious icons may look stationary, but their furrowed brows suggest they have been captured en route somewhere between earth and heaven. They are thresholds, invitations to change. Staring at the sightless eyes of the doll head, Simic thought he’d confronted a force, an oracle, and asked it impertinent questions.

Whose demon are you,
Whose god? I asked
Of the painted mouth
Half buried in the sand

… The fissure between the mundane and the always-present archetypal forces that stir and infect human experience is standard Meatyard.


I’m not doing this series of posts on Meatyard (over the last few Wednesdays and for the next few Wednesdays to come) because I think he’s one of our greatest photographers. I find only some of his pictures to be really successful. Quite a few that make me cringe. It’s what he’s was aspiring to do that I think is good.




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