Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joel Meyerowitz (born March 6, 1938) is a street photographer, portraitist and landscape photographer

Joel Meyerowitz (born March 6, 1938) is a street photographer, and portrait and landscape photographer. He began photographing in color in 1962 and was an early advocate of the use of color during a time when there was significant resistance to the idea of color photography as serious art. In the early 1970s he taught the first color course at the Cooper Union in New York City[ where many of today's renowned color photographers studied with him.
Life and career
Inspired by seeing Robert Frank at work, Meyerowitz quit his job as an art director at an advertising agency and took to the streets of New York City with a 35mm camera and black-and-white film, alongside Garry Winogrand, Tony Ray-Jones, Lee Friedlander, Tod Papageorge and Diane Arbus. He drew inspiration from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Eugène Atget — he has said "In the pantheon of greats there is Robert Frank and there is Atget." 
After alternating between black-and-white and color, Meyerowitz "permanently adopted color" in 1972,  well before John Szarkowski's promotion in 1976 of color photography in an exhibition of work by the then little-known William Eggleston. Meyerowitz also switched at this time to large format, often using an 8×10 camera to produce photographs of places and people.
Meyerowitz appeared extensively in the 2006 BBC Four documentary series The Genius of Photography.

Published works

Meyerowitz is the author of 16 books including Cape Light, considered a classic work of color photography.


Meyerowitz photographed the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, and was the only photographer allowed unrestricted access to its "ground zero" immediately following the attack] A number of these images have since been made into a book, Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive.

I CALL it the Zen bell,” the photographer Joel Meyerowitz was saying recently, sitting in the sunshine in his Upper West Side apartment and studio, describing a nagging compulsion to begin a long-term project about banks in the wake of the Great Recession. “I’m not getting any ding from anywhere else right now, and I keep hearing it ringing. So I’m going to pay attention.”
During a career that turns 50 this year Mr. Meyerowitz has heeded the oracular signal so many different ways, in so many places, that his work has often seemed to be the product of more than one person: Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where he made himself into a well-known street photographer in the early 1960s; Cape Cod, where his pictures of sky and artificial light helped crash the use of color into the black-and-white art photography world; Europe, where his cinematically complex urban scenes influenced a younger generation of photographers; ground zero after the Sept. 11 attacks, where he almost single-handedly created a pictorial archive of the recovery and cleanup.
The publication this month of “Taking My Time,” a heavy-duty two-volume retrospective book from Phaidon, puts these bodies of work in one place for the first time. And in weaving them together with scores of pictures never before published, it is likely to go a long way toward redefining the career of a groundbreaking artist who has had a tendency to fade into the background among his contemporaries.
If William Eggleston’s pictures pack the gothic punch of Flannery O’Connor, and Lee Friedlander’s, with their deadpan wit, look as if they were taken by Augie March, Mr. Meyerowitz’s have always seemed like William Maxwell short stories — beautifully made, deeply perceptive but often so understated as to risk being overlooked, or not looked at closely enough.
For those who recognize his name mostly because of “Cape Light,” the 1979 book that pioneered the use of color but whose scenes of summer cottages and ice cream shops are usually read through a haze of nostalgia, the retrospective book and a related two-part exhibition at the Howard Greenberg Gallery on East 57th Street in Manhattan will undoubtedly come as a surprise.
In many of his early street pictures, taken after Mr. Meyerowitz walked away from a good job at an advertising agency and began prowling Manhattan — often with Garry Winogrand, a fellow twenty-something also about to make a name for himself — America presents itself as a deceptively vertiginous place, teetering on the edge of late-’60s convulsion.
A pale woman in a 1963 photograph, her eyes clenched shut, holds a presciently paranoid handwritten sign: “Electronic parts as small as the head of a pin have been made. A camera could go through the hollow of a hollow needle. Soon, ‘Big Brother’ may be able to sit in front of his TV and see or hear.” In other pictures an all-American boy levels a toy pistol at a baby lying in a carriage; Jacqueline Kennedy’s head, on a television, hovers plaintively above a milling crowd; two toy train cars list to the side behind dilapidated houses on a barren Western landscape.
There’s nobody who was doing quite as dramatically as Meyerowitz that kind of guerrilla style of street photography that he carried from the ’60s into the color work of the ’70s and ’80s,” said Brian Wallis, the chief curator of the International Center of Photography. “I’ve never understood why he’s never quite gotten his due.”
He said that in varying ways he saw Mr. Meyerowitz’s influence on contemporary photography in the work of socially keen-eyed photographers like Paul Graham and Alec Soth. (Mr. Soth has written that he finds Mr. Meyerowitz’s work “unabashedly joyous,” which he surmised hasn’t helped his standing in the art world. “But it suits his vision,” he added.) But Mr. Wallis said he saw the influence even on photographers who have rejected, in part or whole, the tradition of in-the-moment photography and who compose images like painters: Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Gregory Crewdson.
Rineke Dijkstra, whose mesmerizing large-scale color portraiture was the subject of a retrospective that closed last month at the Guggenheim Museum, said that Mr. Meyerowitz’s work was a “real eye-opener” for her as a student in Amsterdam in the 1980s. Like many other young European photographers, she was still working in black-and-white, but Mr. Meyerowitz’s complex way with light in seemingly straightforward pictures of swimming pools and beaches helped her understand the power of color.
There was this beautiful silence with no people,” Ms. Dijkstra said by phone from Amsterdam. “It affected me.” She added that while Mr. Meyerowitz came of age toward the end of the great era of the street photographer, his pictures have always evinced a tension for her between the real and the ideal. “You can see that it is a moment,” she said of many of his best-known images. “But they also look like, in a way, he tried to compose reality somehow.”
Mr. Meyerowitz, 74, who has been around photography long enough to understand its inherent fictions as well as anyone, naturally takes such observations as compliments. But he said he has never seen himself as anything other than a member, still staunchly observant, of the “honor-what-you-see, the frame-is-the-frame generation.”
The thought for us was always: ‘How much could we absorb and embrace of a moment of existence that would disappear in an instant?’ ” he said. “And, ‘Could we really make it live as art?’ There was an almost moral dimension.”
The story of his formative years reads now like a trip through the pantheon. Mr. Meyerowitz, who was raised in a working-class family in the Bronx, was working as an art director at an advertising firm when he was assigned to accompany Robert Frank on a mundane commercial assignment. Mr. Frank had only recently published “The Americans,” which would go on to become one of the most important books in the history of photography. Mr. Meyerowitz knew nothing about him but remembers being stunned by the way he moved and used the camera, and what the camera got from so little. He said, “I thought, ‘My God, everything is so filled with anima.’ ”
He quit his job not long after. Piecing his financial life together by working as a building superintendent, he took a Pentax lent by his former boss (“He said to me: ‘You want to be a photographer? It’s a craft.’ ”) and began teaching himself to be a street photographer.
He met Winogrand — whose style had a decided effect on his own, though the influence ran both ways — when they were both on the subway on the way to visit their mothers in the Bronx. (Winogrand died in 1984.)
Mr. Meyerowitz studied with Alexey Brodovitch and Richard Avedon. In 1963, while shooting people watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade, he noticed an elegantly dressed man working the crowd too and realized it was Henri Cartier-Bresson. “He was weaving and dodging,” he said. “He looked like Jacques Tati.” He nervously asked him to coffee and the great photographer accepted.
The one thing I knew at that time was that I needed to be on the street,” said Mr. Meyerowitz, who, slim, tall and now strikingly bald, looks like a Tibetan monk and exudes a complementary air of almost Buddhist contentedness. (His large apartment and studio, decorated with photographs — including one of him by Avedon — is a model of organized efficiency.)
When I look back at who that kid was in the early 1960s, I was still painting, a kind of hard-edge abstraction,” he added. “But I was really hooked on an Ashcan-School-like view of real life, of the messiness and the complexity of it.”
The question of whether to shoot in color, a divisive one for art photographers at the time, many of whom saw color as hopelessly commercial, was never much of a question for him. He was carrying two cameras — one with black-and-white film and one with color — as early as 1965, and as soon as he was able to afford color darkroom equipment, he was shooting in color. “There were more elements at play,” he said. “The simple fact of the matter was that it just provided more information, and I wanted more information.”
By the mid-1970s he also began to grow restless with his own ideas about what good pictures meant. He started taking what he called field photographs, shots in which he tried to look beyond an obvious hook, a single locus of action — Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” — and instead shoot from much further back to encompass more complex scenes. He said: “I wanted a picture that didn’t say itself right away, that didn’t give itself up. But that’s always risky, because you work with this fear that in trying to get too much, maybe you’re not getting anything.”
The philosophy, which lends a remarkably contemporary feel to many of his 1970s and 1980s pictures, laid the groundwork for the pictures that he took with a wooden view camera over nine months in 2001 and 2002 at ground zero, which became the basis for“Aftermath,” an archive of recovery pictures, published in 2006. “I wasn’t interested in making a great picture or a good picture,” he said. “I only wanted to get as much of what was happening there as I could, because it was my responsibility to history. It was my one chance to understand something about the making of history.”
Working for two years on the retrospective book, he said, was his first attempt to understand his own history. “I wanted it to be like an autobiography, with not only the successes but also the dead ends,” he said, “the things I don’t know if I’ve understood yet.”
He has never stopped shooting on the street. “I always have a camera,” he said. “If I’m out, I’m out.” But for the last several years he has been at work on a much more esoteric kind of project: making pictures to illustrate the classical elements of earth, fire, water and air.
And let me tell you, a picture of dirt can be pretty damned dull,” he said. “I ask myself: ‘Is this insane? Is this another dead end or a way in?’ I’m still trying to find out.”

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