Just got around to reading, in Sunday’s Observer, Sean O’Hagan’s interview with Joel Meyerowitz (best known perhaps for his 9/11 pictures) where he talks about his new book Taking My Time (Phaidon) — ‘a sumptuous – and, at £500, expensive – two-volume retrospective’. It includes his early street photography, his Cape Cod landscapes, his ‘redheads’ portraits as well as his Ground Zero photographs (published in book form in 2006 as Aftermath:World Trade Center Archive) — ‘I photographed everything 14 hours a day: the demolition crews, the construction crews, the debris removal crews, the intelligence squad, even the security guys who nitiially tried to keep me off the site’.
Meyerowitz acknowledges that Robert Frank (The Americans, New York, Grove Press,1959) was a huge figure in his development, ‘but it was not seeing his work that blew me away, but seeing him work’. He was also helped by his friend and fellow street photographer, the late Tony Ray-Jones (A Day Off: An English Journal, London 1974) who died of leukemia in 1972, aged 30 and by John Szarkowski, esteemed photographer and then curator of photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, published by the Museum in 1973). He speaks less favourably of fellow New York street photographers Stephen Shore (Uncommon Places, New York, Aperture, 1982) and Bruce Gilden (Coney Island, New York, Westerham Press, 2002).
Perhaps, some of the insights into Meyerowitz’s ways of working are the most interesting aspects of the interview. He talks about ‘some brilliant mistakes and amazing accidents’ and moments when he experienced what he calls ‘the gasp reflex’. What he looks for is ‘a moment of astonishment…those moments of pure consciousness when you involuntarily exhale and say “Wow!”.’
Something we should all probably try to achieve in our photography. Although it’s encouraging to note that he includes what he calls ‘muddling-along photographs’ in the Phaidon retrospective.