© Maggie Barrett

© Maggie Barrett


Joel Meyerowitz was born in the Bronx in 1938 into a neighborhood that offered daily lessons in the divine comedy and tragedies of human behavior. He believes it was that basic “street” education that nurtured his delight in human observation, a perception that is at the heart of his photography.

After studying art, art history, and medical illustration at Ohio State University, he worked as an art director in advertising in the early 60’s. In 1962, Robert Frank made photographs for a booklet Meyerowitz designed, and it was while watching Frank work that he discovered that photographs could be made while both the photographer and the subject were in motion! The power of this observation made Meyerowitz quit his job immediately, borrow a camera, and go out onto the streets of New York. He has been on the streets ever since.

Meyerowitz began by using color film, not knowing any better, nor aware that photographers of that era believed that black and white was the ‘art’ of photography. During his first days on the street, he met a young graphic designer, Tony Ray-Jones, who, like Meyerowitz, began using color as the most natural means of making photographs. Later that year Meyerowitz met, and became friends with, Garry Winogrand, and together they walked and worked Fifth Avenue daily for nearly five years.

Although Meyerowitz is a street photographer in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, he transformed the medium with his pioneering use of color. As an early advocate, he became instrumental in changing the attitude toward color photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance. His first book Cape Light (1978) is considered a classic work of color photography and has sold over 100,000 copies. 

While Meyerowitz never felt constrained by any one discipline of photography, he says, “street photography was the only form of the medium that owed nothing to painting nor to the other plastic arts. It is purely photographic.” He feels that such a starting point naturally opens one to question the world around them, and questions are what lead us to make new kinds of photographs. This restless energy and open approach to subject matter has produced such varied work as; Photographs From a Moving Car (a one man show at MoMA in 1968), his Guggenheim Fellowship project, Still Going: America During Vietnam, his work with the large format, 8x10 view camera which resulted in such diverse books as; Cape Light (1978), St. Louis and The Arch (1980), A Summer’s Day (1985), Redheads (1991), Bay/Sky (1993), Aftermath: The World Trade Center Archive (2006), and others. These bodies of work deal with diverse subjects such as; light, portraits, landscape, cities, and history, and all clearly diverge from street photography, yet Meyerowitz's eye and ideas remain consistent throughout.

In 1995, Meyerowitz produced and directed his first film, Pop. It came into being as spontaneously as a street photograph when Meyerowitz heard his father say, “the trouble with me is, I never get to the point where I get to the point!”  In an instant he recognized that his father was lost and asking for help. The result is an intimate diary of a three-week road trip he made with his son, Sasha, and his father, Hy. This odyssey’s central character is an unpredictable, streetwise and witty 87-year-old with Alzheimer’s. It is both an open-eyed look at aging and a meditation on the significance of memory.

During fifty-five years of making photographs, Meyerowitz has consistently turned toward greater simplification. The Elements, an ongoing body of work begun in 2007, is an examination of the four phenomena that govern our lives and a search for a new way of describing their power. His latest works, still lives, are a departure from everything he has done before. He uses found objects; cast offs, which he places in a makeshift, theater-like space, ‘Teatrino’ he calls it, and finds himself giving them a second life. More recently, his interest in still lives has developed into two projects photographing objects from the studios of Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi.

In addition to 24 other publications, in 2017 two new books were published, Cézanne’s Objects (Damiani Editore) and a new edition of Bystander (Laurence King Publishing). Meyerowitz’s updated retrospective book, Where I Find Myself, will be published by Laurence King Publishing in March 2018.

The work of Meyerowitz, who is a Guggenheim fellow and a recipient of both the NEA and NEH awards, has appeared in over 350 exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world. He was the only photographer to gain unrestricted access to Ground Zero after 9/11, which produced a body of work that led Meyerowitz to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale for Architecture in 2002. His work is in the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Art Institute of Chicago, and many others worldwide.

Meyerowitz lives and works in New York and in Italy.

To view Joel Meyerowitz's resume, click here.