Manhattan, 1975, by Joel Meyerowitz
Manhattan, 1975, by Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz shooting on Fifth Ave in 1982

Watch Michael Engler's 30-year-old video footage of one of our favourite street photographers at work in NYC

There's a great clip in Michael Engler's 1982 documentary, Contemporary Photographie in the USA, which Engler himself uploaded to You Tube a few days ago. This documentary examined the working practices of many of the great 20th century photographers, including Stephen Shore and Robert Frank, yet it is the Joel Meyerowitz footage that has truly blown us away as we watched it again and again this morning.

Younger readers of Phaidon.com may have come across Joel via our series of interviews with him (and we have more to come) in which he looks back poetically and movingly on his photographic life. Engler's video (below) however, actually captures him at work on that life, shooting colour in early 80s New York. And it's just brilliant.

In the video, Meyerowitz is interviewed on the streets of Manhattan, camera in hand, adamant that he is devoting himself to the streets of the Big Apple. He explains, "I hope that in 20 years there's a body of work that says how it feels to be alive in New York City," adding that his fair city is "one of the phenomena of our times." His description of what his photos should do to the viewer, to let him or her stand in his shoes "and see what I saw" really rings out.

 

New York, 1976, by Joel Meyerowitz
New York, 1976, by Joel Meyerowitz

Readers keen to see what that Joel's body of work looks like 30 years on, need only browse through Taking My Time, which covers the life and career of this iconic American photographer and truly inspirational gentleman.

And beyond Joel's own prescience there's plenty to commend the clip. Aside from the excitement of watching him duck and shoot among the crowds in Manhattan, Meyerowitz offers some fairly insightful commentary on his work.

He says that, when shooting on the street he is "photographing my own curiosity. What you find out is that you've got feelings about things and you're not sure where those feelings come from - the street tells you, every day."

He describes his photographic composition, how a good picture allows viewers many different "ways into" the shot, from the texture of the sky, through to the expressions on subjects' faces - even a hand in the corner of a frame. He also talks about his use of large format cameras, colour film, and his legendary Cape Light series of pictures, shot in Cape Cod.

 

Joel Meyerowitz 1982 documentary

 

As Meyerowitz tweeted yesterday, for him the footage is a "nice trip down memory lane, aka 5th ave". For us, it's a minor photographic revelation.

View the full clip and, if you like what you see, please pass the Joel video link on. You can also pre-order the wonderful two-volume monograph, Taking My Time, which includes many of these breathtaking shots and more.