Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tom was grateful that we weren't pious … Gene photographed.

Photograph of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard
Early winter 1967, reading from Notes for Cables to the Ace, then called "Edifying Cables"
"Ralph Eugene Meatyard met Thomas Merton on January 17, 1967, at the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. The day was bright and cold. The next day Merton wrote his friend Bob Lax that he had been visited by "three kings from Lexington," as Michael Mott records in his biography. Tom's letters to Lax were always madcap and full of private jokes, so that why we were cast as the Magi must remain a mystery. We brought no gifts, we came in Gene's car, but we were decidedly remote in religion: Gene, I think, was a lapsed Methodist; Jonathan Williams, a very lapsed Episcopalian; and I, a Baptist who would figure in Tom's judgment as the only real pagan he had ever met. 
Tom was grateful that we weren't pious. His life was bedeviled by people who had read a third of The Seven Story Mountain and wanted to say they had met him. … 
… Tom served us goat cheese made at the abbey, packets of salted peanuts, and jiggers of bourbon. Jonathan asked at this Epicurean meal what Tom was writing. He was writing what came to be Section 35 of Cables to the Ace. Would we like to hear some of it? ... 
… My notes say: Gene photographed as we talked. For the rest of their friendship, up until Tom's departure for the East, Gene photographed."

- from "Tom and Gene", by Guy Davenport, Father Louie, Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard.


  1. Interesting composition for the photo - Merton on the edges of light.

  2. It seems that Meatyard experimented and played, making many photographs to find what he might see; reminds me of what Gary Winogrand said, something to the effect that "I photograph to see what something looks like photographed". There's nothing about piety here, more about wonder and an openness to surprise.

    1. also seems to me that MEatyard was very attuned to the visual. I read that he would deliberately "shake" the camera, or not look while he was pressing the shutter. As if he wanted to be surprised at what the camera could capture. Which is just what you are saying. Kind of like the way Merton pulled those blades of ink-dipped grass across paper. He never knew what would end up on the paper.


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