DPP Home Profiles Joel Meyerowitz: Master Of Many Colors

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Joel Meyerowitz: Master Of Many Colors

Joel Meyerowitz has been one of the leading fine-art photographers of the last 50 years. His career includes some of the most poignant photos from Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

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A permanent fixture in the vital New York City scene, Joel Meyerowitz has been a leader in street reportage since the early '60s, and he was one of the first photographers to openly embrace the possibilities of color film in photojournalism. Above: New York City, 1975.

Joel Meyerowitz is the recipient of the Lucie Foundation's 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. This latest accolade doesn't signal retirement—far from it. When the news reached him, Meyerowitz was exploring Tuscany with a 4x5 and a state-of-the-art Leica S2.

Longnook Beach, Massachusetts, 1983
Meyerowitz was born in New York in 1938 as America was emerging from the darkest days of the Great Depression. In 1962, he began walking the streets of his hometown, camera loaded with color film in hand, a departure from the street photography norm at the time. Outside of the Big Apple, he created his first book Cape Light (New York Graphic Society), released in 1979, a body of work that played an important role in the acceptance of color photography as an art form. More than a dozen books have followed, ranging in topics from redheads to the destruction and recovery at Ground Zero.

The recent release of the retrospective two-volume, limited-edition Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time (Phaidon) presents the photographer's "greatest hits" and many previously unpublished images, as well as a signed print and a DVD of his award-winning film POP in an elegant slipcase.

DPP: What's the idea behind the title of your retrospective Taking My Time?

Joel Meyerowitz: The book celebrates 50 years of photography. For any book, you struggle to find a title that's true to the entirety of the experience. Even though I move quickly when I photograph, the way bodies of work develop happens over longer periods of time. I realized that I take my time shaping these things and never race to make a new body of work. It's always relatively interior in that regard. So I thought, "Is that me? Have I been Taking My Time all these years?" And I realized, yes. It describes my rhythm, my momentum.

DPP: So when developing a new project, it's important for it not to feel forced?

Meyerowitz: There are things that feel genuine. I just know that it's not some superficial idea that I'm trying to expand that doesn't really have richness to it. We're all capable of being authentic and shallow at different times. One of the lessons that photography has taught me is that you can't force things. The world, unless you're a photographer who stages everything, doesn't work according to your wishes. The world is the world, and you just have to try and dance with it in a way that's meaningful and real to you.


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