The project explores the subject through photographing his Meeks’ teenage daughter, who is preparing to leave home for university
American photographer Raymond Meeks is well versed in the art of capturing an essence of that which is visually hidden. His last book, Ciprian Honey Cathedral (Mack), is a poetic consideration of sensitive observations, juxtaposing the intimacy and human form of his partner, and the fragility of the unkept domestic dwelling called home. Place, environment and lover, interweave to conjure a profound sense of everyday reality with documentary photographs that convey rather than tell. Meeks’ photographs are much more a sensibility than a description with a nuanced expression that defines the work. Tables, chairs and walls are imbued with an emptiness as well as the trace of presence.
Meeks oftens photographs nature, fruit, undergrowth, and disfigured trees. He describes that it is “the essence of a thing (place, person, experience) that I’m after – its residue more so than the thing itself.” The photographer explains that as his work evolves, he more often seeks unfamiliar and unrecognisable subjects. “It’s as if, now, I’m far less interested in making a picture of something in the world that can be named. If I can name it, then it already exists and my picture of it is less urgent. I photograph nature because I’m continually astonished by it and want to spend time observing, studying, giving attention to what nature gives back twofold as I invest in this observation.”
Not all of Meeks’ work depicts nature, however. Among the images of tree branches, landscapes and sky, we do in fact find architecture and portraits of his teenage daughter. “In terms of integrating pictures that reflect nature, it’s almost a purely intuitive and accidental journey, at times, random,” he explains. “Nature acts as more of a mimetic device than as a metaphor, echoing forms, gestures, or an ethos that is reflected upon in a correlated image. I’m trying to create suspension and often to broaden and extend a visual narrative. This relationship can both affirm what’s happening in a sequence or throw everything into chaos. It can keep the overall story from resolving too neatly around one central theme. But it can also satisfy by affirming beauty as the central motivation behind why I make pictures.”
Meeks’ projects are born from his own personal experience, of a failed marriage, and a questioning of what constitutes the notion of traditional ideas of ‘home’. Meeks is “someone who is haunted by an insatiable curiosity with regard to domestic living, the construct of home, what makes a home, how it’s inhabited and in turn how it inhabits us.” His latest book, Somersault, also published by Mack, is once again an intimate portrayal set in the immediacy of the home environment. This time, however, Meeks’ concern is directed towards his teenage daughter who is on the brink of leaving home to study at university.
“The essence of a thing (place, person, experience) that I’m after – its residue more so than the thing itself.”
Meeks first photographed his daughter at the age of seven, “out of curiosity and as an investigation, because I wanted to spend time with her and to hopefully get to know more of the young woman she was becoming,” he explains. The photographs in Somersault combine to show a certain apprehensive moment in the process of letting go, when a grown child enters into the real world of unfamiliarity and the parents adjust towards the heightened sense of the passing of time. In the book, Meeks writes that his daughter, “continues to be somewhat of a mystery, as many of those I love remain elusive in terms of understanding.”
Meeks’ photography is hopeful, tinged with a profound melancholy, and devoid of cynicism. A celebration of life, lyrically expressed. Indeed when I suggest this to him he replies that what, “you’ve just centred upon, in essence, is who I am as a human being and what I hope my work can accurately depict and express. If I’m true to this, then my photography and the books I construct can’t help but be a reflection and extension of it.”
Michael Grieve has been a contributing writer and photographer for the British Journal of Photography since 2011. He has an MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster, graduating in 1997, and then began working on assignments as a reportage and portrait photographer for publications. In 2008 he began writing about photography and was the deputy editor of 1000 Words Contemporary Photography Magazine. In 2011 he began teaching and was a senior lecturer in photography at Nottingham Trent University and now teaches documentary photography at Ostkreuzschule fur Fotografie in Berlin. He is the founder/director of Art Foto Mode, a project that organises photography workshops internationally. Currently based in Athens and Berlin.