Joel Meyerowitz

Laurence King, 2019

ISBN 978-1-78627-580-6 Pb


‘Photography is a very optimistic sport. You press that button, and you’re saying, YES. Yes, I saw that. Yes, I want that,’ writes Joel Meyerowitz in this guide to his own approach to photography. Meyerowitz’s long-term collaborator, curator Colin Westerbeck has described him elsewhere as the most positive and good-natured of the 1960s/70s generation of US street photographers, and a sense of guileless pleasure in picture making shines through this text. ‘If you follow your instinct … and go where desire sends you, you’re likely to see unexpected, magical things.’ ‘Part of what is inspiring about photography … is the moment something signals you … When you receive a signal, pay attention. Paying attention is the basic act of photography.’

The book is a spin-off from an online photography course, Masters of Photography, in which well-known photographers present tutorial films for a beginner audience. The book is light in tone and content, but there are a number of telling clues, beyond sheer pleasure in picture making, to how Meyerowitz has approached his work and developed his projects: embrace formal complexity across the ‘field’ of the image; see people within the frame as a ‘frieze’; be approachable when working in the street, compliment people you want to photograph: ‘a simple smile goes a long way’; pick a motif and look for it again and again (Wild Flowers); and if you are stuck for subject matter, make pictures of how the light changes (Cape Light, Bay/Sky).

It all seems disarmingly uncomplicated, and unburdened by heavy conceptualism. Meyerowitz comes across as driven above all by a desire to record anything he finds wonderful in the world. And why not, after all? Compared to his major contemporaries in both street and landscape photography, I have sometimes found Meyerowitz’s work lacking a certain critical bite. But there is unquestionable visual intelligence in his work, and looking at it again as a series of simple affirmations, I relax and start to see it with a new pleasure and admiration.