The life of Joel Meyerowitz in photos

“It’s clear as day to me,” said Joel Meyerowitzremembering how Between the dog and the wolf — a series of photographs depicting pools by the sea at dusk — first took shape. “In 1976 I was having trouble with 35mm color prints. I wanted to do six to eight foot prints, but a 35mm slide, no matter how good, couldn’t reach that scale.” He switched to a large format camera and soon after traveled to Cape Cod with his family. “Cape Cod isn’t Manhattan, and I started doing these other types of photos,” he recalls, alluding to the night he was mesmerized by the glow of a phone booth at dusk. “It was like a magical incandescence. I made a photograph, and it was as if a new source of energy had just flooded me. I was transformed at that moment into a new vocabulary for photography. “

Perhaps most commonly seen as a street photographer, Joel’s career spans six decades, multiple genres and over 20 acclaimed monographs. Beginning in New York as an early adopter of color photography in fine art, at age 84 he remains fascinated by the richness of the medium and its potential as a tool for engagement with the world. “What kept me alive and interested in photography were these ongoing questions that arise from the medium itself,” he says, speaking on Zoom. “And part of what underpins my work is this confidence that the world is so much more inventive and creative than me. That, if I’m really careful, I’m going to see things I’ve never seen before.”

In 2020, Joel published how i take pictures, diving warmly into his practice with advice for future image makers, while last year he photographed Jil Sander’s AW21 campaign in Tuscany, where he now primarily lives. Earlier this year it published a revised edition of 1990’s Redheadsconsisting of portraits shot in Provincetown in the 1980s, and next week Between the dog and the wolfa new exhibition at the Huxley-Parlor gallery in London will open its doors (until August 12).

Expand the original series with works by Cape Light (1979) and Wild flowers (1983), the show both highlights this specific aesthetic attached to a certain light and questions its influence on our imaginations. “The French expression is between dog and wolf, meaning the hour of dusk, when things go from known to unknown, or from dog to wolf, from tame to wild,” Joel says of the show’s title. “So the pool is the dog, and the sea is the wolf. Over the years I’ve done a lot of photos that deal with this subject, all that we see in this impending darkness and its beauty.”

Here, Joel shares six of the show’s most pivotal images.

Bay Sky, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1985, Joel Meyerowitz. Image courtesy of Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg

Bay/Sky, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1985

It was dusk, the day had been hot and I was on my terrace. I looked at the water to see if I wanted to go swimming, and the change in temperature caused a small cloud of mist to appear on the water, and the horizon line was erased. I had never seen such a phenomenon so close to shore. I quickly grabbed the camera, took this picture and within 30 seconds that bloom was just gone. It was like a street photo, it came and went in a very short time, but it was magical. I had done a series of photographs on the horizon line where I split the image in two between the sky and the sea, through all the seasons. This one was just magical. It’s a moment, but it also has that stillness and static quality of a great place that I know well.

Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1976. Joel Meyerowitz.  Image courtesy of Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg.jpg

Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1976. Joel Meyerowitz. Image courtesy of Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg

Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1976

It’s like some kind of Disney World fantasy. A regular drive-in restaurant where you go for milkshakes, lobster rolls, clam chowder, roadside stuff. I’m not interested most of the time, but stopping with my kids and seeing that pink and blue sky – the perfect Disney World colors – and the signage with the yellow stripes of light, that acid green on the left … Suddenly this ordinary scene turned into something magical and beautiful that deserves to be photographed. What happens in an image like this is that the reality that we often ignore is transformed into something powerful and meaningful, even poetic. Stopping at that moment, taking it, I have a new understanding of what the potential is for making photographs out of ordinary life. It doesn’t have to be a moment of transformation or a grand gesture, but I am transformed by seeing it.

Miami Beach, Florida, 1978. Joel Meyerowitz.  Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg.jpg

Miami Beach, Florida, 1978. Joel Meyerowitz. Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg

Miami Beach, Florida, 1978

I was working on this body of work in Florida, going from pool to pool along the edge of the ocean, and I arrived just as the sun cut off the top of this pool house in the distance and made it orange. I saw the sultry curves of the edge of the pool, and something about the combination of those things – the curves, the stillness of the water, the fading light, that little bump of gold and orange – it spoke to me. And I only take pictures when something speaks to me, otherwise it’s like doing accounting. My feeling is that if I’m stopped in my tracks by a non-event, it means something just hit me and I need to be careful. As light as it is, it is stronger than any other touch. I used to call it the Zen Bell; you can barely hear it, but it’s the only sound that catches your eye – a moment of clarity. It’s photography, as far as I’m concerned.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1977. Joel Meyerowitz.  Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg copy.jpg

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1977. Joel Meyerowitz. Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1977

For a while nothing was happening, then suddenly the sun came up to the edge of the building and flickered over some of those umbrellas and chairs. It was like music – you have silence, then suddenly you hear a piano. It went from a little potential to suddenly something, and I love the nothing-to-be relationship. There is a lot of spirit in making photographs, people don’t talk about it, but there is a spiritual side to the way it moves the artist. I’m not conceptual, but something has to touch me. It must be said that it is remarkable at the moment, and if I stay a few more minutes, it will be gone. Only photography, and my moment of consciousness, will be what makes the image.

Lynette eating a plum, 1981. Joel Meyerowitz.  Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg.jpg

Lynette eating a plum, 1981. Joel Meyerowitz. Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg

Lynette eating a plum, 1981

I had done portraits most of that summer, and this girl came with two friends. One was Jack Pierson, a well-known photographer today, but they were just out of school; friends of Nan Goldin, who told them if “you go to Provincetown, stop and see Joel”. When she entered the house, she took a plum out of the fruit bowl, bit into it, and said, “I stole a plum from home.” I said “stop, stay like that”, and I moved the camera and took a picture. When you make an 8×10 camera image, everything is upside down. There is magic when people hang from the ceiling. Either way, I loved the way she was staring directly at the camera, plum wisps on her mouth. These little things have an erotic quality to them, without trying to be erotic – it’s in the moment. And I loved that amazing lavender against that pale blue-green of the twilight sea. It was spectacular.

Florida, 1978, Joel Meyerowitz.  Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg copy.jpg

Florida, 1978, Joel Meyerowitz. Image courtesy of the artist, Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg

Florida, 1978

I was walking past and saw this amazing 1920’s Art Deco diving board with this beautiful setting, and everyone left. He just had an iconic quality. It said something about the past, when decor was all the rage, and people would go to Miami Beach and wear their flapper dresses and dance the Charleston and have all kinds of attitudes. It was after the First World War, and life was returning to the country. There was a kind of optimism and playfulness. But I thought it was a very beautiful object, and it was red against that last bit of pink in the sky, it was really beautiful to me.

Credits


All images courtesy of Huxley-Parlor and Howard Greenberg

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