Ray Metzker: Shadow Catcher

By Jean Dykstra, August 30, 2013

Ray Metzker, 63 HG-17: Philadelphia, 1963

Shadow Catcher, an intimate exhibition of 18 silver-gelatin prints by Ray Metzker at Andrew Smith Gallery, provides ample evidence of a photographer truly attuned to the spectrum of tonalities in black-and-white photography. Not only is Metzker’s technical prowess on display, but so are his keen sensibilities toward decisive moments – à la Cartier-Bresson – and the beauty of design and abstraction. Then again, one shouldn’t expect anything less from a photographer who studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind at the Chicago Institute of Design.

One especially satisfying grouping in the show is a trio of images featuring cars: Chicago, 1958; 64CT-17: Philadelphia, 1963; and 63AX-26:Philadelphia, 1963. The latter is a closely cropped, perspectival view of a dark sedan shrouded in a black void. The image, photographed from the rear right wheel well angled toward the car’s front end, is but one example of the way Metzker’s aesthetic has everything to do with the geometrics of industrial fitted forms. Chicago, also a severely cropped image, pairs a car in profile side-by-side with the tail end of a bus in a nondescript, darkened space. Here, Metzker offers overlapping shapes behind a frontal grid of crossed metal posts that condense and flatten inferred space.

Ray Metzker, 63 AX-26: Philadelphia, 1963

The exhibit, which includes two of his composite pieces, takes much from Metzker’s Chicago Loop series (1956-1959) and his Philadelphia portfolio (1962-1964), giving the show an urban bent replete with architectural forms and chance pedestrians. But one image of a sailor dressed in white and standing alone on a sidewalk – 63 HG-17: Philadelphia, 1963 – could easily be seen as a Pierrot figure marooned on a bare, unlit stage.