Meatyard appears to me to offer this challenge to the viewer: Is what you see (in a photograph) the reality of 'the things as they appear' or is the reality that appears (in the photo) evidence that nothing is what it appears?
Meatyard who was widely read took the writings of the ironic Ambrose Bierce's definition of "romance" as: "Fiction that owes no allegiance to the God of Things as They Are." Wendell Berry, Meatyard's collaborator for a number of years said of him "Meatyard..is always seeing or catching a trace of the presence of something that I have missed, or he turns my visions against my reason, or he requires my belief to venture off in the direction of the incredible. Sooner or later he's going to produce evidence that you are not what you think you are."
Both of these quotations seem to echo each other in that a "romance" in Bierce's view (and by association maybe Meatyard's also) is a romantic view of a situation - in this case the view presented to the viewer - that doesn't rely on truth as depicted, but rather the fiction the develops in the mind of the viewer to the association of the component parts (or the props as staged). The latter part of Berry's quote suggest something rather similar, that maybe what you see as a viewer in one of Meatyard's images, is compromised by who you are, by what narrative you bring to the fixed image and so Meatyard questions both the viewers comprehension of the image as a piece of truth and the images projection of the truth to the viewer.
Born in Normal Illinois, Meatyard had a fairly normal life, apart from his art. After a few minor hiccups in his academic and early professional life he set up as a optician in Lexington, Kentucky. A family man who originally brought a camera to take pictures of his first born child, within a few years he stopped taking pictures of his children - as subjects of family pictures - and focussed all his photography on his 'art", often using his family members as models. It seems ironic to me that Meatyard, an optician, used photography as a medium.
Meatyard's photography was informed not only by the slightly surreal texts, similar to Bierce, but also the European surrealists. He was also unafraid to depict his views on the contemporary political unease surrounding the integration of African American into mainstream American society, as well as the traditional north/south divide, that he felt acutely, living as he did in Lexington. The lower shot depicts a short term exercise in "non-focus" photography, where he deliberately introduced out of focus images and camera movement - though this genre seems somewhat unfulfilled in his oeuvre.
I was distantly aware of Meatyard's work, but was recommended to look further into it by my tutor. I am glad he did so, though I think I will need to study a great deal more to get to understand some of the visual language that Meatyard employed. More work needed.