Step and Repeat

Looking for style in some very unexpected places.

Ray K Metzker

When Ray K. Metzker died earlier this month, at 83,“One and Only,” the show of his photographs now on view at the Laurence Miller Gallery became a memorial exhibition. Since the show includes one-of-a kind pieces made over the broad span of his career, between 1956 and 2007, it’s a perfect way to remember him. Metzker, who worked primarily on the street in Chicago and Philadelphia, studied early on with two modernist masters, Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, and was just as restless and rigorous as they were. Many of his pictures were puzzles—composites and collages that built one image out of many and transformed seemingly “straight” shots into pattern-like abstractions. One of the most striking pieces in the Miller show is a grid of 154 tiny prints of individual pedestrians caught unaware while passing under a railing whose stripe-like shadows add another element of graphic diversion. Metzker never stopped experimenting, teasing remarkable, largely abstract images out of darkroom workouts with solarization, multiple exposure, camera-less light drawings, and various photogram techniques. Many of his images are based on repetition and variation, including the one I’ve chosen here, a triptych of radically cropped figures in coats, made in Philadelphia around 2007. Emerging into light from dark shadows, the subjects’ faces are cut off or obscured, focusing attention on their garments, which stand out in just the sort of luxurious detail a fashion editor lives for.

Through October 25 at Laurence Miller Gallery, 20 West 57th Street, 212-397-3930.