Ralph Eugene Meatyard is a marginal figure in the history of post-World War II photography. He took up the practice in the early 1950s, maturing his creative vision until his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 47. This marginal status is due in part to the kind of photographs he made, which are difficult to categorize or to make sense of. “I will never make an accidental photograph,” he once said, noting his distance from documentary photography, the more respected genre of his day. His images are always staged compositions of family and friends or of simple objects. He presents haunting images that sit somewhere between realism and imagination. Meatyard positioned his subjects in stark interiors, lush forests, abandoned homes, and overgrown cemeteries, settings he went searching for around his home in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s small show of a little more than 40 works… More…

What makes up the history of a city? Is it the linear timeline — the who invaded when; the who led which group into victory or destruction; the list of intellectuals, emperors, madmen, musicians, scientists, orators who came through and left their mark? Maybe it’s the physical landscape, the rivers that create trade and wealth, the mountains that provide security and shelter. And what does that history add up to — if you learn enough about a city’s history, will you finally understand what makes the city what it is, will you capture its essence on the page?

Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash. 424 pages. Princeton University Press. $29.95. Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin by Alexandra Richie. 1,168 pages. Basic Books. George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter. 528 pages. Knopf…. More…