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Meyerowitz, Joel


MEYEROWITZ, JOEL (1938– ), U.S. photographer. Born in the Bronx, New York, Meyerowitz was working as an advertising director when one day in 1962 he quit his job to go out shooting on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. In most of his early work, as a street photographer, he worked exclusively in color, treating the street as theater rather than as a landscape. Meyerowitz was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of color photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance. Meyerowitz first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1963 in a show on which John Szarkowski's "The Photographer's Eye" was based, and he showed there, or under the Modern's auspices, in 1968, 1971, and 1978.

At first Meyerowitz focused on incidents like that in "Fallen Man, Paris, 1967," in which a young man lies supine on the street as passers-by stare or step around him. By the early 1970s Meyerowitz was shifting his view of the street to one in which people, buildings, and the flow of energy among them became the subject. "Woman in Red Coat, nyc" from 1975 depicts a flow of passers-by before a bland architectural façade. A woman in a bright red coat and long black gloves looms at the left of the picture. His first book, Cape Light, in 1978, is considered a classic, with more than 100,000 copies sold over a 25-year period. Photographs in the book, of Pro vincetown and Cape Cod, Mass., convey the look and delight of the areas. In 1980, with the support of public and private fellowships and grants, he published St. Louis & the Arch, a collection of more than 100 color plates with several foldouts and a minimum of text, focusing on the play of light and color on Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch. He is the author of a dozen other books, including Bystander: The History of Street Photography.

In 1988 Meyerowitz produced and directed his first film, Pop, an intimate diary of a three-week road trip he made with his son, Sasha, and his father, Hy, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The odyssey has as its central character an unpredictable, street-wise, and witty 87-year-old man with a failing memory. It is both an open-eyed look at aging and a meditation on the significance of memory, Meyerowitz said.

Within a few days of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Meyerowitz began to create an archive of the destruction and recovery at Ground Zero and the immediate neighborhood. "I walked and photographed nearly every inch of it," he said, "as it was transformed from an awesome pile to a vast and empty pit. Like an accordion, the 16-acre site was capable of appearing compressed and encircled one moment and then vast and beyond measure a second later. It breathed, as cities and nature do, when they draw us toward wonder and contemplation." The archive numbers more than 8,000 images and is available for research, exhibition, and publication at museums in New York and Washington. The State Department asked Meyerowitz and the Museum of the City of New York to create a special exhibition of images from the archive to send around the world. The only photographer granted unimpeded access to Ground Zero, Meyerowitz takes a meditative stance toward the work and the workers there. His color photos, presented in a 30 inch × 40 inch format, convey the magnitude of the destruction and loss and the heroic nature of the response.

His book TuscanyInside the Light was conceived as an antidote to the events of 9/11. During 2002, he and his wife, Maggie Barrett, collaborating author, returned to Tuscany, where they had taught photography and writing workshops. The tranquility of life, the enduring values, the deep familial bonds, the land itself and its 2,000 years of cultivation, Meyerowitz said, stand "inside this bowl of light" as nowhere else.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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