The ideal function of educational institutions in art and design – or any education institution for that matter – is the free exchange and fermentation of ideas. When an institution serves this purpose truly, often the history of art can be changed forever. The graduate programme at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s served as a hotbed of creative exchange, an energetic atmosphere of experimentation for artists passing through the institution. A unique style of photographic capture emerged from the influences within – and upon – its walls.

American born, in 1931, Ray K. Metzker studied here from 1956 to 1959 and his five-decade career has exhibited enduring breadth and influence. On view at the Getty Center until February 24, ‘The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design’, curated by Virginia Heckert, provides an overview of Metzker’s extensive career serves as a window into a larger academic and creative exchange afoot. The exhibition includes the photographs of Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind and other instructors as well as Metzker’s fellow students at Chicago’s ID A total of 200 photographs are on display.

Metzker’s photographs are black and white, strikingly graphic, architectural and nearly abstract. But they are also touchingly human. His 1959 thesis project at the ID, entitled My Camera and I in the Loop, takes Chicago’s business district as its subject. One image, a multiple exposure of commuters ascending a sun-bathed staircase, prefigures the novel composites that he began to make in 1964. His signature techniques are cropping, multiple-exposure, superimposition of negatives, juxtapositions of two images, solarisation and other formal inventions.

The roots of Metzker’s style are traced to his mentors, renowned photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind who are collectors’ favourites in their own right and, arguably larger names across the fine art photography buying circuit. Metzker’s work stands out from his fellow students because he, “fully absorbed the tenets of innovative experimentation, close looking, and sustained inquiry of a single idea that were encouraged in the Master's program at the ID.”

Heckert further describes, “What is remarkable is that these attitudes continued to inform him over a five-decade long career, as he shifted his interest from the urban environment to the landscape, from simple images to complex images, and back again throughout the years.”

The work of Ray Metzker is part of the product and posterity established in Chicago at this unique time in history, expressing a line of aesthetic thinking that informs art, architecture and design today.

The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design
September 25, 2012 – February 24, 2013
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049
T. +1 (310) 440-7300

The Metzker Market

Keith Davis, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, who partnered with the Getty in organising the exhibition, indicates in the preface of its accompanying book ‘The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker’ (Yale University Press, 2012), that Metzker's career coincided with the rise of a photography market that enabled him, unlike photographers of the generation before to support himself through the sale of prints.

At auction, the sale of his photographs ranges from a few thousand dollars to $10,000 for individual prints, with a record set for his composite Tall Grove of Nudes (1966), which was offered through Sotheby's New York in April 2012 with an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 and a final hammer price of $122,500.


“His most fertile period occurred in the mid-1960s, when he grew tired of he single image and experimented with double-frame and multiple-frame images, most notably his ambitious Composites of 1964-67, exhibited in a one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967 – just eight years after he completed his Master's degree – these images were ambitious in size and scale, but also in the way that they challenged viewers to interact with them, rewarding close viewing with passages of real world documentation and viewing from further away with a rhythmic sense of composition and pattern.”
- Virginia Heckert, Curator of ‘The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker and the Institute of Design’