June 13th, 2011 by Glendyn
I’ve had a ‘fancrush’ on photographer Joel Meyerowitz for many years. His street photography is amazing, but for me it’s the way he observes and captures particular qualities of light that keeps drawing me back to his work.
The other day I watched this film made about him in 1981. Shot in New York, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen about the discipline of street photography and what draws an artist like Meyerowitz to the street to photograph. The films camera sits back and observes Meyerowitz at work for extended sequences where he freely discusses his process to writer/curator Colin Westerbeck.
There are so many great moments in the film. If you don’t have 57 minutes to watch the whole thing, scan through to 28mins 50 secs and watch for 5 mins or so where they move to a particular street corner. Meyerowitz gives a running commentary of the real theatre of street life playing out. The people and their actions seem so well placed and timed like it’s all been planned out that way. New York presents this constant swathe of characters like no other city can, but it does remind me to look for similar rhythms and movements and moments where ever I am. It also makes me think that Meyerowitz is one of these people that not only instinctively knows where to be, but also one of these people where things just happen where he is. Or perhaps it’s just as he says, he’s out there taking the ‘risk’.
The last 10 minutes are also incredible. Meyerowitz and Gilberg are sitting chatting in the studio and Meyerowitz says he’s “getting antsy cos the light is beautiful outside…” (I so know that feeling!). They go out onto the street where the sun is getting rich and golden. It’s fascinating watching Meyerowitz walk with his huge plate camera across his shoulder accessing the street and the light and again intuitively feeling where the right spot to set up and take the single shot will be. Being compelled myself to photograph in and around first and last light, I found this sequence, which is pretty much shot in real time absolutely incredible. The way that Meyerowitz sits down after he gets the shot and writes detailed notes describing the colour, tone and quality of the light for him to refer to during development to me was so fascinating.
The film is a bit of time capsule for many reasons, but rest assured, Meyerowitz is still out there today doing what he has always done.