Tag Archives: Meyerowitz

Research point – Can you spot the shift away from the influence of surrealism (as in Cartier-Bresson’s work)?

I would suggest that Robert Frank with his book ‘The Americans’ suggests a shift away from the influence of surrealism to realism.  Frank’s journey across the USA photographing Americans as he frankly saw them was different to the surrealist’s creating an artistic perspective.  Frank’s images heralded a new generation of photographers such as Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Joel Meyerowitz, Diane Arbus.

Research point – What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

The medium of photography began with the development of the monochrome / black and white image and for decades photographers honed their skills learning how to work with a very limited pallet of only shades of grey.  However, photographers quickly realized that black and white could produce stunning images and could exaggerate a sense of atmosphere that normal colour vision could not.  The portraits of the Hollywood stars of the 30’s and 40’s are a good illustration on the power of black and white.

When colour photography first came in to being it was a costly process and did not really take off until the cost of film and development fell in the late 1950’s.  At this time established photographers were reluctant to start working in the new medium.  I suggest that this was partly due to being nervous about moving out of a familiar and tried and tested photographic field in to a new area that was also gaining a reputation for amateur ‘snappers’.  Professionals with reputations may have found this intimidating and threatening and at that time colour theory was still a mystery kept and only practised by the painters in the art world.  However, in the film industry colour had been in regular use since the late 1930’s and interestingly one of the great pioneers of colour film photography was a keen painter who enjoyed making copies of famous masters for his home and to understand how they were made.  I refer to the British cameraman and film director Jack Cardiff who was the first British cameraman trained to operate the Technicolor movie cameras.  I would recommend watching some of Cardiff’s films of the 1940’s to see some good examples of how Cardiff understood both lighting and colour: ‘The Red Shoes’, ‘Black Narcissus’, A ‘Matter of Life and Death’ to name just a few.

William Eggleston has been credited as the photographer who made colour photography excepted in the photographic world of fine art when John Szarkowski, )Director of Photography of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City) discovered him and his work.

Black and white works to simplify an image creating a sense of past tense something that happened, an event, a ‘moment’.

Colour adds a new dynamic, if used well, it can add impact, by using colour theory and with the right combination on colours an interesting composition can be created from something ordinary and bland.  We see in colour; and strong colours have impact on our senses and with this in mind, interesting and attention grabbing photographs can be found.




Research point – Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz (6th March, 1938)

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Meyerowitz specializes in Street and Landscape photography and began photographing in colour in 1962 during a time when there was still a resistance against colour photography in the art world.  in the early 1970s he taught the first colour classes at the Cooper Union in New York City.  Inspired by Robert Frank, Meyerowitz quite his job at an advertising agency to take photographs on the streets of New York with a 35mm camera and black and white film.  Joining the ranks of Tony Ray-Jones, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Tod Papageorge.  Meyerowitz has also taken inspiration from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Atget.

Meyerowitz switched to large format cameras and in 2001 was became the official photographer to record the aftermath and wreckage at ‘Ground Zero’ New York City with exclusive access whilst the clean up operation was underway.  Meyerowitz involvement was documented by Channel-Four and his work has been critiqued by the writer David Campany in his 2003 essay, ‘Safety-in-numbness’ (http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/).  He is also featured in a 2009 BBC documentary ‘The Genius of Photography’ and in 2013 the documentary film, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’.

Safety in Numbness by David Campany

Safety in Numbness – I have just read this essay by David Campany that he has re-published on the internet.  http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/



He makes some interesting observations that modern still photography photojournalism has moved from the moment of action ‘hot-action’ to ‘cool-photography’ as Peter Wollen has named them or the late-photograph as Campany describes them.  Referring to the official photographs produced by Joel Meyerowitz who photographed the ruins soon after the tragic events of 911 and was the only photographer permitted full access to the site during the clean-up operation.  These types of images are intended to suggest to the viewer what has just happened and often show only empty buildings, rooms, the smoking reminisces, suggesting the past battle or tragic event.

He suggests that with the development of the video photographer the still photographer has had to move from covering the action to following up on the stories and recording recently past / post event.  He reasons that technology has dictated the pace of change and as video technology has become cheaper, smaller and portable and with higher picture definitions the images can be transmitted from source to consumer much faster cheaper and easier the video image can also now be frozen for quality still images as and when required.  This has also blurred the boundaries between still photography images and video images.  Hence why more and more still life photographers are specializing in the ‘cool-photography’ photojournalistic genre (and although Campany doesn’t comment on it, this type of photojournalism comes with fewer risks to life and limb).  Campany also points out that although the Vietnam war has been called the photographers war and to some the last photographers war he points out that Vietnam presented photographers with a lot of opportunities thanks to amongst many things American administration and army that kept changing its agenda.  In comparison the first Gulf War in 1991 presented photographers with very few ‘hot-action’ opportunities due to both the restrictions placed upon them and the focused and brief period that the war lasted.  As a result all the memorable images of the Gulf war were just that ‘memorable’ images taken days after the battle, burned-out tanks, burning oilfields, burnt skeletal remains of the Republican Guard.

Campany states that a thousand words can be said of a photograph rather that a photograph can say a thousand words.  By this he means that a photograph taken after an event can be examined and re-examined over and over and without the actual event recorded the post event can be re-interpreted and remembered differently from the actual event as time passes.

Campany points out that still photography by it’s very nature works well for cool-photography as it’s images can produce a real sense of stillness, quietness, like that experienced after the bombardment has stopped.  Video has to transmit images of still pictures often focusing in on a small detail or panning around in the frame to different elements in the picture in order for the viewer not to confuse the photograph with simply a static image.

Campany comments that although Meyerowitz said that he simply took the photos as he saw them and as they were presented to him, Campany recognized in one image a similarity with another picture that Meyerowitz took some 20 years before of an old torn down film set.  Campany suggests that photographers may carry a set of mental compositional templates around in their heads which can be unconsciously pulled out and used, he wanders if Meyerowitz had even thought of his earlier photograph when composing his picture at ground zero.

Campany ends his essay with a warning that, “The danger is that it can also foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern.”-” There is a sense in which the late photograph in all its silence, can easily flatter the ideological paralysis of those who gaze at it with a lack of social or political will to make sense of its circumstance. In its apparent finitude and muteness it can leave us in permanent limbo, obliterating even the need for analysis and bolstering a kind of liberal melancholy that shuns political explanation like a vampire shuns garlic.”