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Photographers learn to accept the gifts that come their way because surely life produces moments crazier than we can conceive,” Joel Meyerowitz

In 1962 Joel Meyerowitz was working in New York as an art director when he was given the opportunity to sit in on an advertising photo shoot with Robert Frank. At the time he had no idea who Frank was, but the way the older man worked with his camera seamlessly integrating himself into the scene sparked something in Meyerowitz’s imagination.

From that moment Meyerowitz devoted himself to photography turning his sagacious gaze to the streets, finding irony and humour in everyday moments. His early work was propelled by a frenetic dynamism, but this gave way to a more considered approach as he began to learn more about his craft. Again it was Frank who coached Meyerowitz albeit remotely. Immersing himself in Frank’s iconic The Americans, “this deep, dark poem about America” as Meyerowitz described Frank’s book, launched him on a journey that would occupy him for most of the sixties.  

During this period Meyerowitz travelled extensively throughout the US and also Europe using black and white photography “to study my photographs more intimately than one could study a colour slide”. Yet his passion for colour, seen in his breakthrough book ‘Cape Light’ that was first published in 1979, saw him become an innovator in the field.

This new publication from Phaidon, “Joel Meyerowitz,” is a pocket-sized book that features some of Meyerowitz’s earliest colour work. There is also a selection of black and white photographs. This collection of images spans nearly five decades with the majority situated in the sixties. It is a mini history of Meyerowitz’s oeuvre, yet despite its size the scope is undoubtedly satisfying and gives a sound insight into one of the masters of the genre.

But what sets this book apart is that each image is accompanied by a comment from Meyerowitz:

New York City, 1962 – “A girl in a red dress in an arcade window tenderly grooms a curl in her boyfriend’s pompadour, perhaps the way she used to curl the hair of her dolls when she was a little girl. In the beginning it took all my courage to raise the camera and look in on a scene of intimacy, but there was a plate glass window between us, and it afforded me the protection I needed to study him and to see the tender beauty of her gesture, before disappearing into the night to look for other moments to photograph.”  

Five More Found, New York City, 26 October, 2001: “I saw men running hard over the hill of twisted, knife-edged steel, running in the dark. I ran after them, and as I came to the crest and looked down into the pit of the South Tower I saw this scene. It needed nothing from me but my attention. It played itself out in near classical terms – some viewers even see a resemblance to Rembrandt’s Night Watch – uniformed men massed in the centre around the glowing, golden light. A fireman had just come out of the wreckage into the light and in grave tones said that the bodies of five firemen had been found – the stairwell they were in had flown nearly 100 yards from the North Tower. How to describe the barely visible but deeply felt response to the word? The recoil, the blow to the chest that seemed to crumple their hard-coated bodies, the silence that fell over them. More than anything else, it was the silence I saw”.

These personal anecdotes transform this book from a collection of random images to one that provides true insight not only into Meyerowitz’s capacity as a photographer, but also as a chronicler of his time. His words, which at times are almost poetic, allow a glimpse into the mind behind the eye, confirming the authority street photography can possess when eruditely executed.

Joel Meyerowitz
by Colin Westerbeck
Published by Phaidon Press


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Joel Meyerowitz

 Joel Meyerowitz est né le 6 mars 1938 dans le Bronx, New York.

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Viewers probably already know some of the photographs from Joel Meyerowitz' European trips, like the one shot in a Paris street, where a man lies on the ground outside a subway entrance (Paris, France, 1967). Aside from this extraordinary color image, the archives of th...

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Alongside his series Photographs from the Car, 1968, Joel Meyerowitz is presenting at the Howard Greenberg Gallery a new series of still lifes entitled The Effect of France. During a trip to Provence a few years ago, the photographer purchased a few curios for a friend whom ...

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He long time dreamed of his Andrea Albertini gallery. He is the owner of Damiani, one of the publishing houses of the most prolific and most sophisticated photo books in Italy. So when the Joel Meyerowitz book materialized; the journey into the past in search of lost time, photog...

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Damiani presents Morandi’s Objects Joel Meyerowitz, the first exhibition in the publisher’s new gallery space at Bologna. With this exhibition and publication, celebrated American photographer Joel Meyerowitz pays tribute to the Bolognese painter Giorgio Morandi and realizes ...