Why Joel Meyerowitz thinks this is his best photo
The photographer tells the Huffington Post why he keeps coming back to this image, taken in Paris 47 years ago
In 1966 the American street photographer Joel Meyerowitz embarked on the trip of a lifetime. “I put down $1700 for a new Volvo which I would pick up in London,” he writes in our two-volume retrospective, Taking My Time, “and for a whole year I drove that car all over Europe; from London to Wales and Ireland; then to Scotland, France, and down into Spain, where my first wife and I lived for six months with gypsies; then back to France, Germany, Eastern Europe and Turkey; then over to Greece and up to Italy, where we took a boat and came back to America. It was an amazing year, the year of my coming-of age as an artist and a man.”
Today, nearly five decades after this trip, although Joel continues to work and develop, he still regards the shots he took during that year in Europe as among his greatest, as he told the Huffington Post, when it asked for him to pick out his best street shot. The image he picked above all others was taken on a Parisian street corner in 1967, and is included as a limited-edition print with our two volume set, Taking My Time.
Here’s how Joel described the photograph in the book: ”A young man lies on the sidewalk with his arms outstretched. A workman with a hammer casually steps over his fallen body. A crowd stands at the entrance to the métro, stunned by curiosity into inaction. A cyclist and a pedestrian each turn over their shoulders to catch a last glimpse, while around them the traffic glides by. Which is the greater drama of life in the city: the fictitious clash between two figures that is implied, or the indifference of the one to the other that is actual? A photograph allows such contradictions to exist in everyday life; more than that, it encourages them. Photography is about being exquisitely present.”
The lines and geometry of the shot are beautiful, as is the unconscious display of public manners. Yet it’s the mystery and dissonance of the moment caught that perhaps draws us back to the shot, as Joel recognized when he described its qualities to the Huffington Post.
“Best is a superlative,” Joel explained, “yet for any artist best also signifies a work from different periods of development and growing consciousness. Here, in Paris, 1967, the photograph provoked me to consider: which is the greater drama of life in the city: the fictitious clash between two figures that is implied, or the indifference of the one to the other that is actual? A photograph allows such contradictions to exist in everyday life; more than that, it encourages them. Photography is about being exquisitely present.”
Isn’t it just? For more on this, go here. To own this shot, and much more besides, consider a copy of Taking My Time; for more on Joel, take a look at his other books; and for a richer understanding of contemporary photography, pick up a copy of Photography Today.