Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s The Unforeseen Wilderness celebrates the recent acquisition of a remarkable portfolio of 56 photographs depicting Kentucky’s own Red River Gorge.
In 1967, the Army Corps of Engineers received approval from Congress to dam the Red River in east-central Kentucky in an effort to control decades-long flooding in the area. In response, the University Press of Kentucky commissioned poet and essayist Wendell Berry to write a book advocating the preservation of the Gorge in its natural state and engaged Lexington photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard to produce photographs to accompany the text. Meatyard’s photographs, one of the first photographic attempts at environmental conservation in the American South, played a vital role in the decades-long effort to preserve the Gorge.
Unlike the artist’s signature depictions of blurred forms, eerie dolls, and children wearing strange masks, Meatyard’s photographs for Unforeseen Wilderness capture a mystery borne of the natural landscape, where trees and rocks are engulfed in saturated shadows. He foregoes trite vista views of the Gorge in favor of capturing the beauty of the landscape from a hiker’s perspective. He invites us to discover the intimate details of nature that can only be experienced at close range, whether it’s a patch of lichen growing on the side of a tree or the way light plays on the surface of a spider web.