New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 39 November 28 to December 4, 2012

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

The Triumph of Color

Joel Meyerowitz Part 1
John D. Roberts
Fort Lauderdale, Florida by Joel Meyerowitz. Source:
Joel Meyerowitz, "Fort Lauderdale, Florida" 1968

In Joel Meyerowitz ‘s new show at Howard Greenberg the photographer begins by recalling the advice of a friend from Spain: “You must spend yourself freely.” While rather vague this advice had a profound impact on him. Over the years it was the mantra he used to push his beloved medium forward. If ever he felt apprehensive about starting a new project or was “holding back on an impulse” he would remember them. As he did when leaving the black and white standard behind, and helping a weary audience accept color photography as fine art for the first time.

In excerpts from his new two-volume book Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time – which contains nearly 600 photographs from the prolific artist's career and whose release coincides with this show – Meyerowitz details the difficulties he faced using color. Not only were audiences unreceptive to it – dubbing it too commercial for the art world – but it was a medium difficult to use. Exposure had to be perfect and processing images was difficult for an artist with limited resources. He and his images, however, found a way to reach the public eye.

Perhaps his work from 1960's New York is the most likely to draw a response from viewers. Driven by an intelligent eye for color and, almost always, a sense of humor, his vibrant depictions of popular culture among the city's bourgeois are electric. While these street scenes feel candid for the most part, they are decidedly and wonderfully touched by the artist's hand. According to Meyerowitz himself, the crafting of a color image is meticulous and careful. We are constantly aware that these photos are meant to exist as a response to the moments that they capture––not an unbiased record of them.

While surely not the main draw of the exhibition, a worthwhile stop should be made in front of the artist's 1999 documentary, “Pop,” which provides an intimate look at Meyerowitz's father as he suffers from Alzheimer’s. The film also provides a possible source for the photographer's sense of humor.

Upon passing a life sized model airplane in South Carolina, his father comments how clean it is, noting that if someone “put that thing in the Bronx,” fifteen minutes later he'd be “callin the guy” to say he needed a new one.

Camel Coats, New York City by Joel Meyerowitz. Source:
Joel Meyerowitz, "Camel Coats, New York City" 1975

In an experimental series, Meyerwitz takes nearly identical photos in black and white and in color. The intention, of course, is to question our response to the presence of color and reflect on what purpose it serves both the medium and its spectators. While I wanted very much to be blown away here, the comparison of these particular images (three pair) simply did not work for me. It did, however, make me want to see similar experiments performed on the more interesting compositions, people, and places on display.

Albeit surprising, the inclusion of landscapes toward the end of the show was a welcome change of pace from the work it followed. Halted by the sudden absence of people, the viewer is able to appreciate the use of color in a way unexplored in Meyerowitz's street scenes. That said, the simple yet oddly mesmerizing black and white print, “Christmas at Kennedy Airport,” had the strongest impact of all the photographer's empty spaces.

It is hard to imagine the world of photography as a solely black and white place now. In the end the exhibition becomes not only a meditation on popular culture itself, but on its “unwillingness to let go of things and move on.”

Joel Meyerowitz Part 1

Howard Greenberg
41 E 57th St. 14th Fl
Midtown         Map

212 334 0010

Tuesday, October 2 to
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Hours: Tues - Sat, 10 to 6