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Joel Meyerowitz

American Photographer and Filmmaker

Joel Meyerowitz Photo

Born: 6 March, 1938 - The Bronx, New York

"We think of photography as pictures. And it is. But I think of photography as ideas. And do the pictures sustain your ideas or are they just good pictures? I want to have an experience in the world that is a deepening experience that makes me feel alive and awake and conscious."

Summary of Joel Meyerowitz

Though he belongs to the very top tier of modern American photographers, it could be said that Joel Meyerowitz came to be known initially almost by chance. Meyerowitz took to the streets of New York (with a borrowed camera) unaware that the preference amongst the new generation of art photographers was for black and white images. Though he was not averse to using monochrome (at the start of his career at least) he began by using color film blissfully unaware of this somewhat stuffy preconception. Indeed, though following in the "happenchance" style of Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and the like, Meyerowitz had, albeit unwittingly perhaps, initiated a transformation in attitudes towards color street photography. Moving into the 1970s he diversified by taking up large format photography. His best-selling (with over some 100,000 copies sold) 1978 book Cape Light became in fact a benchmark text for the artistic possibilities of large plate color photography.

As a native of New York, Meyerowitz had been especially affected by the 9/11 attacks, and was the only photographer granted unrestricted access to Ground Zero. He embarked on a Ground Zero archival project, using a combination of large plated and 35mm formats, for The Museum of the City of New York. The project produced over 5,000 photographs (400 of which appeared in Aftermath: The World Trade Centre Archive in 2006). Latterly, Meyerowitz has spent more time in his second home in Tuscany where he has undertaken a still lifes series focusing on the "lives" of objects from the studios of Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi.

Key Ideas

Though Meyerowitz cannot be confined to a single photographic genre, he remains best known for forging new ground in 1960s New York Street Photography. Meyerowitz takes his place along-side the other greats - namely Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander - but it was through his commitment to color that he brought his own unique stamp to the genre.
Meyerowitz demonstrated the Street Photographer's instinct for capturing spontaneous moments of movement and human interaction through his early series of photographs (some of which were monochrome). Meyerowitz spoke of his street photography in erotic terms, suggesting that his own take of American life in the early 1960s was about "The heat of the gazes between people, the charged mystery that arises from capturing chance moments on the fly."
Meyerowitz elected color as his dedicated medium in the mid-1970s. He also moved from a handheld 35mm camera to a large-format view camera. This shift in emphasis changed his photographic technique by introducing a slower, meditative approach to his work. The combination of the two (color and large format) allowed Meyerowitz to attune his eye to the changing light and subtleties of his surroundings to spectacular artistic effect. This change in direction was announced with the publication of Cape Light, undeniably one of the most important photobooks of the late 20th century.
In later years, Meyerowitz has turned to still life photography. In his most significant series, Meyerowitz visited the studios of Morandi and Cezanne where he used his camera to document the artists' tools which are imbued with the spirit of their great owners. It is no coincidence that Meyerowitz was drawn to these greats as all three men shared a devotion to the beauty of color and light.
Joel Meyerowitz Photo

Joel Meyerowitz was born in the Bronx, New York City in 1938, to working class Jewish immigrant parents from Hungary and Russia. Even in his formative years, Meyerowitz was aware of his heritage and the idea that he could see his homeland from the position of an outsider. As he recalled later: "My sensitivities and sympathies, my cultural and moral stance, were informed through a kind of Jewish passport - a way of looking at the world and seeing characteristics, qualities, sentiments and emotions touched by a Jewish sympathy."

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