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Half A Century Of Making Photographs: A Conversation With Joel Meyerowitz

All Photographs Copyright Joel Meyerowitz
All Photographs Copyright Joel Meyerowitz

By Michael Ernest Sweet

Joel Meyerowitz requires little introduction. He is a living legend in street photography. Beginning with his pioneering of color street photography, more accurately color photography in general, Meyerowitz has innovated and trail blazed his way through five decades of making photographs. For a few years now Joel and I have corresponded, mostly me nagging him about opinions on my work, which he graciously entertains albeit with moments of harsh criticism. However, I do want to say that it was Joel who offered up, albeit most likely inadvertently, the title for my first book – The Human Fragment. Despite our aesthetic differences, I’ve always maintained an immense respect for Joel Meyerowitz and what he’s done for the world of photography.

For a long time color photography didn’t interest me too much; I am a black and white kind of guy. Lately though, given my project involving disposable cameras and my Harinezumi color work, which ended up being a full-length book, color has really come crashing in on my creative life. Given this, I revisited the work of Joel Meyerowitz and came to really appreciate his brand of genius. So I got in touch with Joel, once again, and we hashed out an interview. Here’s that conversation:

Michael: Joel, you began shooting color at a time when color film was perceived as amateur. Have you ever regretted this? Do you think color, in some way, helped you to express your inner self in a way which monochrome would have perhaps stifled? Color is very emotive after all.

Joel: I have never regretted my beginnings in color. In fact by starting that way I was actually freeing myself from conventions, which of course, due to my own innocence, I didn’t really know existed. So color was a basic force in my development and I learned, early on, that it had an emotive power that needed to be recognized and which made me become a kind of early missionary for color.

Michael: Digital has kind of changed it all in a way. At least you don’t have to commit to a roll of film. You can shoot one image in color and another in BW, or you can always change images in post. If you were doing it all over again today, digitally, do you think you would still take a similar path in terms of color and black and white, or would things be more mixed? Why?

Joel: This question has a difficult hypothesis coming as it does 15 years into the digital photo revolution. The struggles of the 1960’s were unique to its time and produced the arguments and challenges of that period. Now that color is the dominant voice of photography, people are free to move fluidly between B&W and color depending on the subject, or their feelings about a particular moment, so that anyone coming into it today has a wider vocabulary to work from. But from where I stand now color would still be my way of relating to the world around me.

Michael: You speak of “feeling a photo in your gut”. How often do you “feel” a photograph rather than “see” one? Or, are they one in the same for you?

Joel: As I have gotten older I find myself more committed to that gut sensation rather than the purely ‘optical’ point of view, which is absolutely a valid and valuable way of working. It’s just that I have found that there is a direct connection between my deepest instinct – what I ‘feel internally’ – even before seeing the frame fill up with the image. That quickening of the intuitive ‘knowing’ is my guide. Maybe working for so long has trained me to trust that, and so I follow that method.

Read the full interview HERE >>>> Source: HuffPost