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…