A general term used to encompass trends in photography from roughly 1910-1950 when photographers began to produce works with a sharp focus and an emphasis on formal qualities, exploiting, rather than obscuring, the camera as an essentially mechanical and technological tool. Also referred to as Modernist Photography, this approach abandoned the Pictorialist mode that had dominated the medium for over 50 years throughout the United States, Latin America, Africa, and Europe. Critic Sadakichi Hartmann’s 1904 “Plea for a Straight Photography” heralded this new approach, rejecting the artistic manipulations, soft focus, and painterly quality of Pictorialism and praising the straightforward, unadulterated images of modern life in the work of artists such as Alfred Stieglitz. Innovators like Paul Strand and Edward Weston would further expand the artistic capabilities and techniques of photography, helping to establish it as an independent art form.
Ray Metzker was born in 1931 in Milwaukee and attended the Institute of Design, Chicago--a renowned school that had a few years earlier been dubbed the New Bauhaus-- from 1956 to 1959. He was thus an heir to the avant-garde photography that had developed in Europe in the 1920's. Early in his career, his work was marked by unusual intensity. Composites, multiple-exposure, superimposition of negatives, juxtapositions of two images, solarization and other formal means were part and parcel of his vocabulary. He was committed to discovering the potential of black and white photography during the shooting and the printing, and has shown consummate skill in each stage of the photographic process. Ray Metzker's unique and continually evolving mastery of light, shadow and line transform the ordinary in the realm of pure visual delight.