The Berlin gallery in the Charlottenburg district is celebrating the American photographer’s 85th birthday with an exhibition spanning six decades from one of the street’s photographer most influential perspectives.
It is posted in a corner, melting into reality, that Joël Meyerowitz devotes himself to photography. He himself says it, it is this ability to make himself invisible which makes him a powerful first-rate observer. For more than sixty years, Meyerowitz has immersed himself in the world that passes before his eyes to question the inextricable mystery of time against which his images form comforting ramparts.
The Art of the moment
A suggestive look, a furtive expression, an insightful scene… From his first black and white New York photos, Meyerowitz captures the instant, that of a given moment, which would not have been the same for a second before or after. Perhaps it is his knowledge of painting which naturally allows him to create mastered compositions among the urban hubbub. From these street photographs, a certain patience emerges, the patience of those who thrive on what they manage to perceive, as an ultimate reward.
Joël Meyerowitz appears to be sitting on a bench when a man walks down the street in New York carrying his standard poodle; or even walking among passers-by in the Jardin du Luxembourg when a woman is playing with her dog and the latter jumps to height of her head. He appears to be sitting at the bar counter when a smoking woman exchanges a mischievous look with him; or queuing for the next session when a couple kisses, just below the “Kiss me, stupid” poster. Everywhere, Meyerowitz embraces people’s daily lives by making himself a street protagonist.
The Question of Color
If Meyerowitz’s first works were monochrome, notably inspired by Robert Frank whom he met in New York during a film shoot, the young graduate in art history tried his hand at color from the very beginning. With others – Stephen Shore and William Eggleston to name a few – he participated during the sixties in popularizing color photography until its acceptance as an Arts a decade later.
Through his lens, Joël Meyerowitz lets his taste for sagacious details that color irremediably accentuates shine through: this woman taken from a low angle in the streets of New York in 1963, sunglasses and inscrutable face, and under her arm from which hangs her crocodile handbag, a book with the evocative title “The American Character” – which she definitely embodies.
These parallel practices of black and white and color, and the questions that each imposes, find their echo in a series from the end of the sixties where Meyerowitz takes, a few seconds apart, the same shot with two different films. A posteriori, the two images are analyzed surgically and deliver the power nestled in the plurality of ways of seeing.
Witness to societal changes
Public spaces bearing the scars of small and big changes, Joël Meyerowitz’s images are full of social signs, from the advent of capitalism to the acquisition of rights by women. Some iconic female portraits from the 1980s in Massachusetts, from which a saving freedom emanates, are presented, such as that of Sarah from Redheads (1990): red skin, tawny mane and magnetic gaze.
If Meyerowitz has an inescapable attraction to Beauty, his photographs also bear witness to drama. The exhibition devotes a space to images taken from his series produced in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. He regularly visited the newly baptized “Ground Zero”, without authorization, to immortalize the heavy repair project and will made a series of the workers then appearing like tiny ants among the immensity of the ruins.
Noémie de Bellaigue
M E Y E R O W I T Z : A Retrospective until December 16, 2023 at Galerie Noack.
Galerie Hermann Noack
Am Spreebord 9a,