Philadelphia

Ray Metzker

Dolan/Maxwell

In the 36 photographs from the “Earthly Delights” series, 1986–88, Ray Metzker is face to face with the landscape, with the thick of twisted branches where underbrush and overgrowth prevail. Primarily known as a photographer of cities—their architecture and people—Metzker lyrically addresses this rural subject with a new use of light, the element that has always been the strongest in his formal vocabulary. In nearly half of these photographs, light bears the greatest influence on the image and provides the viewer with an unexpected idea of the landscape. These woods are aglow. Even before the image can be clearly identified, the wash of light is pervasive enough to suggest that it might be what this woody growth is made of. Between the density of the landscape and the openness of the light, the paradox and poetry of this experience is revealed. The light has the power of something discovered and, in a sense, it is. Following the approach he initiated in “Feste di Foglie” (Foliage festival), 1985, a series of Italian landscapes, Metzker makes a clear departure from his earlier urban images, in which a highly contrasted black and white structure characterizes and often informs the chance encounters the artist is always seeking. Here light functions with autonomy, becoming a stage where the artist elaborates on his experience.

Using a limited set of elements, Metzker subtly works the landscape. Focus shifts throughout the images. In several photographs, the foreground is streaked with blurred marks of light, traces of leaves and branches, revealing an intricate plane of finely focused information. Sometimes the unfocused light of the front plane is uniformly spread out, like a delicate net that one can only penetrate through small slits of focused vision. In some works, the blurred and focused planes are divided horizontally and imply a duality of experience that one frame cannot usually hold. An idea of presence is evoked by certain images that single out a particular pattern, flatten the space, and illuminate the subtleties of texture. In several images, Metzker backs up from his subject, offers a more familiar and extended range of grays, keeps the focus consistent throughout, and magically silences the landscape. He often uses fine lines, as in a drawing, to hold together the actual, material world and his representation of it. One leaves the images with no memory of black.

In these photographs, Metzker reaffirms the pleasures of significant seeing. His work is rooted in the tension that binds perception to imagination. Here, metaphor does not have far to reach, but turns back on itself, thriving on the possibilities of the moment perceived.

—Ray Metzker