What Joel Meyerowitz shot after Cape Light

A current exhibition looks at the great American photographer's summer work after his seminal Cape Cod series
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Early morning still life, 1983, by Joel Meyerowitz
Early morning still life, 1983, by Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz’s Cape Light series, shot on a large-format camera over a series of summers during the late 1970s in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, are one of the best-loved series of colour images in 20th century photography.

The photos not only demonstrate how Meyerowitz, up until then a fast-moving New York street photographer, learned to slow down, and shoot more contemplative landscape photography. The lush, vivid images of wide skies and simple beach landscapes, teeming with every shade of the visible spectrum of light, are also unmatched in their simple, sublime beauty.

 

Pittsburgh, Carnival and train, 1984, by Joel Meyerowitz
Pittsburgh, Carnival and train, 1984, by Joel Meyerowitz
 

Or at least, they seemed to be unmatched, until we came across Fragile Paper Timeships, a current exhibition of the photographs Joel took after Cape Light, on show at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum in South Hadley, Massachusetts, a couple of hours west from Cape Cod.

The prints, drawn from a set of recent gift of 98 images, are also shot on large-format camera and continue Meyerowitz’s deep investigation of the American summer.

The title of the show comes from a line the photographer wrote for a mid-eighties photo essay, describing his images as “fragile paper timeships dusted with information.” It’s a lovely phrase for an equally lovely series of works, which include a beautiful photograph of Joel's daughter, Ariel.

 

Ariel Meyerowitz, 1981, by Joel Meyerowitz
Ariel Meyerowitz, 1981, by Joel Meyerowitz
 

“What Meyerowitz perceives before he snaps the camera’s shutter is not a beach or a woman or a bouquet,” Mount Holyoke’s curators write in the show's notes, “but the vibrations of the horizon line, the sunlight electrifying a mop of red curls or the illusion of a glass vase dissolving into the misty sky behind it. Through his photographs, we are transported to zones of color and light that were not looked for, but seen.”

For more on the show, which runs until 29 May, go here. To see more of Joel’s work, from the 1960s through to the 21st Century, order our beautiful, two-volume retrospective, Taking My Time, here.


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