Ray Metzker, Chicago, 1957

Ray Metzker, Chicago, 1957

Sarah Moroz, for The Economist, writes:

"Metzker grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1930s and 1940s. His mother gave him his first camera when he was 12, and he began experimenting with a Kodak developing kit, combing Life and Look magazines for inspiration. He completed a fine-arts degree in 1953, then enrolled at the Institute of Design in Chicago. His teachers there didn’t just influence his style, which became simple and streamlined: as Metzker later put it, 'They made photography a noble endeavour.'

At the time, photography was starting to be regarded as a fine art, thanks in large part to 'The Family of Man,' a groundbreaking exhibition staged in 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Though Metzker was several years too late for “The Family of Man”, he still attracted the attention of the photographer who organised it, Edward Steichen, who bought ten of his prints in 1959. That same year, Metzker’s images were included in a group show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and in a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago; in 1967, MoMA gave him his first one-man exhibition there. Five years before, he moved to Philadelphia, where he taught photography at the Philadelphia College of Art for many years. The city became his home, and frequent subject, until he died in 2014.

For Metzker, photography was a calling, a way of life. He did not regard it as a profession; he never took on commercial work. It was a stance that gave him the freedom to experiment. This is how William Ewing, a curator who worked with Metzker, described him: 'Rare is the photographer who can strike as skilful a balance between formal brilliance and a tender gaze for the world…as Metzker does.'"