Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Georgetown Street

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In the early 1950s, Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Van Deren Coke set out to photograph all the people, homes, and businesses on Georgetown Street in Lexington. Together they made 150 images and exhibited thirty of them in the Lexington Camera Club’s annual show in November 1956. The results are sometimes joyful, sometimes disturbing.  

“These are the people, the places, no derision shown,” Meatyard wrote in an exhibition statement. “There is no squalor, but rather the moments when these people are at peace with themselves. It is not distorted to show the depths, as were the W.P.A. Farm Security Photographs. It is personal with a sense of appreciation for the peaceful in the world. We have only one story to tell and it is that these people are like you and me.”  

Before the Newtown Pike extension, Georgetown Street ran from what is now New Circle Road to Short Street downtown and was a primarily African American neighborhood. Just as Georgetown Street has transformed over the years, so has our thinking about documentary photography and the impulse to use the camera to expose social injustice, often without the consent of its subjects. This exhibition examines the context in which two white photographers chose a lower income neighborhood occupied by people of color for a project intended to celebrate its residents.  

Thanks to the Ralph Eugene Meatyard Estate, whose gift of twenty photographs is at the center of this exhibition.  

Image: Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled from the series Georgetown Street, circa 1955-56, gelatin silver print. Collection of the UK Art Museum, gift of the Ralph Eugene Meatyard Estate. 

Exhibition sponsored by VisitLex.

Created 08/08/2022
Last Updated 01/11/2023