[J]oel Meyerowitz has captured the ages: from the offset in 1962, where he started making spontaneous colour photographs on the streets of New York, he caught candid moments that the ordinary eye could easily miss. Inspired by Robert Frank’s innovative approach to photography, Meyerowitz quit his day-job, grabbed a 35 mm camera, took to the sidewalks, and the rest is history. Since known as one of the most important street photographers of his generation: shooting in colour before it was artistically respected, he permanently adopted the format in 1972 – pre-Eggleston even – and was “instrumental in changing attitudes towards colour photography in the 1970s”.
To coincide with his 80th birthday, Lawrence King has collected together the first major retrospective book to celebrate Meyerowitz’ life’s work. Spanning his impressive career in reverse chronological order, the book features his first experiences of photography up to his most recent work. Perhaps his most notable work is his most harrowing, as he documented the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and was the only photographer allowed unrestricted access to Ground Zero immediately following the attack. Taking in the changing culture of America over the ages, Meyerowitz has seen it evolve post-Vietnam, post-9/11, up to now. But throughout this trauma, Joel Meyerowitz has captured the beauty: from the simplicity of the everyday to the most powerful moments, the forgotten landscapes to the notorious skylines. We talk to the iconic photographer to find out how it feels to have not only lived through it all, but to have it all on camera.
Over your life, what impact has photography had on you?
I feel as if my world, and my eyes, have continuously opened me up because of carrying a camera.
Do you remember the moment you fell in love with photography?
Oh yes, I was watching Robert Frank shoot a commercial job for me and it absolutely astonished me that he moved and shot while the subjects moved. That idea of movement did it for me!
If you could shoot only one thing for the rest of eternity what would you choose?
Put me out on the street and I’d be happy: there is nothing as rewarding as watching Human Nature.
Are you conscious of any political overtures in your work when you’re shooting?
I wasn’t always aware of things like that, no. But as one grows the parts of the world continuously come closer and the connections definitely become more apparent.
When you started out using colour as a medium it was a much less common format for fine photography, why did you decide to pursue it?
I was an innocent. I had no idea at the time that there was an argument for B&W being the “Art” of photography. And besides, the world was in colour, it never occurred to me to use B&W.
How do you think technology changes and social media is affecting photography?
I think that the explosion of the smart phone has put a camera into the hands of billions of people who Never would have bought a camera, and so a new kind of visual desire and even visual literacy has come into play, this in turn will bring new, fresh minds into photography, it already has, and so photography will leap in creativity over time.
What’s next for you?
That’s the question that I’m waiting to find the answer to.