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The lives of others by Meg McKenzie Ryan



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Friday, 1 March 2024 to Sunday, 31 March 2024

All About Photo is pleased to present 'The Lives of Others' by Meg McKenzie Ryan

Part of the exclusive online showroom developed by All About Photo, this exhibition is on view for the month of March 2024 and includes twenty photographs from the series ‘The Lives of Others’

The Lives of Others

Producing a round photograph can be a little troubling for some viewers. People are not used to that shape. Please let us explain how that shape happened.

There are photographers who focus closely on the person or people they are shooting, such as Richard Avedon, a great photographer. Since he used a large format camera, and he made large prints, every detail is quite clear. He used a plain white background. Freckled faces, a spot on a shirt from a recent meal, wrinkles, etc. contribute to the fascination viewers can experience.

However, Meg is trying for something different.

Meg shoots an 8" x 10" format field camera. Instead of using a lens for an 8" x 10" camera, she uses a 4" x 5" lens. Since the small lens doesn't cover the entire sheet of film, and the lens is round, the resulting images are round and very wide angle.

The reason for this choice is she wanted to try to understand the culture. She believes that people are at least partially influenced by their environment. Small things such as a roll of toilet paper sitting on a television in an otherwise perfectly neat living room says the bathroom is not under the same roof. Children crowd around a shoot watching the action, but they become part of the action. Mothers supervise the shoot which also makes them part of the action since they are at the edge of the photos.

Meg chose to shoot in the poorer neighborhoods of Mexicali, Mexico, the capital city of the state of Baja California. With over a million residents, the possibilities were enormous. Residents hardships were visible. Meg lived a few miles north of the Mexicali border in the lower desert of California, USA. The summers there last roughly seven months, and daytime temperatures during several of those months are almost always over 115 degrees F. Nights get down to 90-plus degrees F. In addition, major earthquake faults run through the area, and roughly every ten years or so, a large earthquake hits causing some buildings to crack or even crumble.

Meg would drive to a neighborhood in Mexicali, stop near some action going on, take her fully-open camera (bellows pulled out), and ask if it would be OK if she shot a picture. People never turned her down. Meg's Spanish was very limited, and this made it easy to let people choose who and/or what would be in the picture. Babies were a common choice. Dads hugging their sons. Friends smiling. A much-loved dog was a priority of one young boy.

The photos edges are just as important as the central subject. This is where mothers would stand, arms crossed (sometimes sternly), supervising. Children not chosen by their parents to be in the photo are standing nearby watching. Major cracks in the stucco of some homes, or wood shoring up a patio or home, beds just inside the front door, are all interesting and contribute to the overall photo. The excessive heat in the summer was the hardest time of year for Mexicali residents. Some, not all, had swamp or evaporative coolers which helped a little, especially if it wasn't humid.

The details make the photos rich with information and meaning. And they require a good long look to experience the full impact of them. Hopefully viewers will take a good long look.

Artist ( Description ): 

Los Angeles resident Meg McKenzie Ryan married young, before graduating from college. Her husband's job involved flying to Hong Kong, so one day Meg surprised him by flying there. Asking friends what she should shop for there, buying a camera was the unanimous suggestion. So that's what happened.

She didn't know how to use it, so she enrolled in a not-for-credit class at the University of California, Los Angeles. Jerry McMillan was her instructor there and later at California State University, Northridge where she earned her Bachelor in photography.

In the early 70s, McMillan was active in the Los Angeles art scene, and he was particularly interested (it seemed) in helping photography to be recognized as an art form. Non-traditional subjects and alternative presentations were encouraged. I was game.

Then, Meg remarried and moved to Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, and then to neighboring Lome, Togo where her daughter was born. The culture there was incredibly different than her Los Angeles home. Religion, work and working conditions, poverty, homes, clothing, food, etc. were all new. It was a lot to digest, and more than she was prepared to face with her camera.

Next, the young family moved to Bloomington, Indiana where Meg was able to study for a Masters degree in photography. Jeff Wolin was her primary instructor, and he was shooting an 8" x 10" field camera, so Meg decided to acquire one. Mostly she shot landscapes at the time. Wolin, on the other hand, was shooting beautiful shots of the rock quarries around Bloomington, and later did a project on Holocaust survivors and later still on homelessness.

Moving again to the lower desert of California (city of El Centro), Meg landed a full-time photography job at the local daily newspaper. It was excellent experience for the young and somewhat shy photographer because she learned to shoot pictures of people. And this was the start of her project featured here, The lives of others.

Her home was just ten miles north of the Mexicali, Mexico border town and capital of the state of Baja California, Mexico. It was easy (at the time) to cross the border, find the poorer neighborhoods, and ask to shoot their pictures.

It's no accident that her photography became more documentary-like at its heart. The newspaper work and living in such a foreign place as West Africa pulled her in that direction. And at some point she realized that photos of people interested her the most.

The work was wonderful, rewarding, and rich with experience and learning. Meg hopes you'll take time to look at the photos here.

Venue ( Address ): 


All About Photo , San Diego

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