Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s The Unforeseen Wilderness
Dates: August 6, 2021 – February 13, 2022
Events: Keith Carter keynote speech September 24, 6 pm
The Unforeseen Wilderness celebrates the recent acquisition by the Speed Art Museum of a remarkable portfolio of 56 photographs depicting Kentucky’s own Red River Gorge. In 1962, the Army Corps of Engineers received approval from Congress to dam the Red River in east-central Kentucky in an effort to control decades-long flooding in the area. In response, the University of Kentucky commissioned poet and essayist Wendel Berry to write a book advocating the preservation of the Gorge in its natural state and engaged Lexington photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard to produce photographs to accompany the text. Meatyard’s photographs, one of the first photographic attempts at environmental conservation in the American South, played a vital role in the decades-long effort to preserve the Gorge. Unlike the artist’s signature depictions of blurred forms, eerie dolls, and children wearing strange masks, Meatyard’s photographs capture a mystery borne of the natural
landscape, where trees and rocks are engulfed in saturated shadows. He foregoes trite vista views of the Gorge in favor of capturing the beauty of the landscape from a hiker’s perspective. He invites us to discover the intimate details of nature that can only be experienced at close range, whether it is a patch of lichen growing on the side of a tree or the way light plays on the surface of a spider web.