Joel Meyerowitz - Red Interior, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1977

Joel Meyerowitz - 'The day I met Robert Frank'

Robert Frank, the Swiss-born, US based photographer and filmmaker died yesterday at the age of 94. In our video another photographic legend, Joel Meyerowitz, recalls how a chance meeting with Frank changed his life

Many photographers owe a debt to Robert Frank, the great Swiss-born, US based photographer and filmmaker who died on Monday at the age of 94. Martin Parr began his world-renowned photobook collection with a copy of Frank's seminal work, The Americans, a used copy of which Parr picked-up when he was a 20-year-old student in 1972.

Frank had a similar effect on a young Annie Leibovitz. "I fell in love with the idea of working like Robert Frank," she writes in Annie Leibovitz at Work, "driving around in a car and taking pictures."

However Frank's influence is perhaps most marked on Joel Meyerowitz. Meyerowitz will always remember the day he met Robert Frank on a photo shoot when he was an art director in New York in the early 1960s.

It was a meeting that was to set a path Joel would follow for the rest of his life. At the time, Joel was busy earning a living on the periphery of the art world. As he says in this video, "on the evenings when, I had strength left over, I painted and studied art history."


JFK Airport, New York City, 1968 © Joel Meyerowitz
JFK Airport, New York City, 1968 © Joel Meyerowitz

On the surface, the assignment that led to the meeting was simple enough. Joel was to attend and observe an ad photoshoot taking place in one of the projects in Stuyvesant Town, Manhattan. Robert Frank barely talked to either Joel or the two young girls he was shooting, preferring to stay supremely focussed on the task at hand. 

"It was astonishing for me to stand behind him and wait for the click at the right moment," Joel recalls. "Every time the there was a gesture, there was a click. The small gestures seemed to have potential for meaning. And I  began to have anticipation. I was starting to play a game. I would say to myself, 'now!' and he would go click! I began to feel the rhythmic flow. And I thought, this is amazing!"

When he returned to his workplace that afternoon. Joel handed in his notice (though wait for the twist in the story at the end of the video) and the rest, as the saying goes, was history. You can luxuriate in that history courtesy of our limited edition, two volume book with Joel, called Taking My Time. Take a look at in the store. It's the absolute perfect present for someone you hold dear, or maybe even a personal purchase; who knows where its pictures might lead you?


Joel Meyerowitz - The day I met Robert Frank