In my continuing exploration of modern street photographers, here I look a the work of Joel Meyerowitz (1938).
Meyerowitz’s work departs from the traditional black and white format for street photography, used by his contemporary Garry Winogrand and the photographers Westerbeck’s documentary tells us influenced him, Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson. The documentary is one hour long and provides a fascinating insight into the thinking of Meyerowitz on photography as well as showing him in action on the streets.
Meyerowitz talks at length at his approach to street photography and how it evolved over his career as he moved from black and white to colour. His street photographs are mainly from the busy streets of New York City and his approach to photographing did not involve a plan of particular subjects, but just seeing what came up from day-to-day and following his instincts. As the city is so busy, perhaps the unplanned approach works well in his environment.
Looking at the images on the In-public gallery and the documentary, I think a number of things make Meyerowitz’s work exceptional:
- He successfully incorporates the use of colour into images that are captured in an instant on the streets, adding another dimension to the traditional black and white format of this type of photography. However, he appears to use processing techniques similar to black and white images to achieve high-contrast photos with significant areas of shade that draw the eye into the main subjects.
- In common with other great street photographers, he captures images close up that show the events of every day life, with an unexpected twist provided through contrasts of different elements (for example, people in paper hats, or extremes of dark and light clothing in passers-by).
- The linking theme of New York City throughout the photos gives them the feeling of a diary of city life.
- His subjects mostly appear completely unaware that they are being photographed, which reveals a less aggressive approach to street-craft than that of Garry Winogrand. Though because of this, I feel less involvement in the photographs than in those of Winogrand.
Above all, Meyerowitz’s work has convinced me how colour can be used effectively in the genre of street photography.
In-Public (website). Joel Meyerowitz Gallery. Available from: http://www.in-public.com/JoelMeyerowitz/gallery/53 [accessed 28.7.15]
Westerbeck Jr C (1981). Joel Meyerowitz photographer [documentary]. Nimble Thimble Productions Inc. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDSGWy1CU78 [accessed 29.7.15]