Alongside a preview of his new book, ‘Joel Meyerowitz: Where I Find Myself’, the photographer gives us a masterclass in the medium
TEXT Douglas Greenwood
The street has always been a place where life unfolds unexpectedly. For the past 56 years, American photographer Joel Meyerowitz has tried his best to capture as much of it as he can.
Now considered one of the founding fathers of the medium, Meyerowitz found himself at the epicentre of a movement when he first picked up a camera in early 1960s New York City. Shooting in colour was considered crass back then – used only for commercial purposes – but as it was all that he had to hand, he was able to capture the chaos and jubilance of a generation in crisp, vibrant detail. It would be the start of a highly influential career that saw Meyerowitz create some of the most admired collections of 20th century photography, including Cape Light, his series shot over a summer in Cape Cod, Massachusetts; and his beautiful photos of shorelines at dusk in Bay/Sky.
Joel Meyerowitz: Where I Find Myself is the biggest published retrospective of his photography to date. Presented to the reader in reverse order, it chronicles Meyerowitz’s best work, from his sobering photos of a post-9/11 New York City in mourning to his romantic, mid-20th century shots of the carefree lives of those living in towns and cities across America.
“[It was] a bittersweet and yet fascinating experience to look at 50,000 photographs and say goodbye to most of them,” says Meyerowitz. All of that work brought him to where he is today. Having recently celebrated his 80th birthday, he still continues to take still-life photographs of objects he finds in the junkyards of his Tuscan town.
Now, Meyerowitz says times have changed for street photographers – particularly those looking to capture an organic, fleeting moment. “[Back then], you could feel the sensual mix on the street,” he says. “Today, it’s very different. Most people have a cell phone to their ear, or are communicating – they think – with others. They’re somewhat distanced from the real world, so it’s not as sensual, erotic or playful as it used to be.”
That doesn’t mean modern photographers can’t adopt the style to make beautiful pictures, though. Here, Joel Meyerowitz shares five tips on how to take masterful, honest photographs of life on the street.