Joel Meyerowitz on Edward Weston and invisibility
Watch the brilliant American photographer describe how street photography is informing his latest still life work
Want to shoot street photography like Joel Meyerowitz? Well, he has two pieces of advice for you. The first is to avoid trying to look for anything in particular. “I’m not hunting when I’m out on the street, I’m not looking for anything” says the 76-year-old photographer, in this great video interview, shot for the LA Review of books at Paris Photo 2014, and recently uploaded to YouTube. “The world is rich with surprises, far greater than I could invent. One of the reasons that a lot of photographs are so boring is that people only hunt for what is in their minds.”
Joel’s second tip is a little harder to follow. “The secret is to find a way to be invisible,” he says. “From Henri Cartier-Bresson on, photographers on the street have learnt the feints and dodges and gestures that have allowed them to get very close and no one sees them. My practice is to be as effortless and quick as possible.”
Of course, avid followers of Joel’s work will know that the photographer, who now spends most of his time in continental Europe, tends to photograph landscapes and still lifes these days. Indeed, the video also examines a newer project of Joel’s, called Teatrino, which is Italian for 'little toy' or 'puppet theatre'. Joel has been arranging a series of objects in front of a dark backdrop, what he describes as a kind of theatrical space.
“I put these objects I’ve found on them, move them around, maybe like a street photograph,” he explains. “It’s just a matter of when the objects and their strangeness asserts itself.”
Joel shoots these compositions with a low light source, using a long exposure, a technique, which he says draws influence from Edward Weston’s famous Pepper No. 30 photograph from 1930. “He put the pepper inside an old tin funnel, in the far reaches of his studio,” Meyerowitz explains, “and let the light reach the object and describe it slowly.”
Joel also describes the thinking behind his Elements series. Earth, air, fire and water are the subjects of these photographs. Joel wanted to shoot them in “without the pictorial space of Renaissance perspective,” he says, “to create pictures that are just “the phenomenon.”
“I made the pictures big,” he says, “ because I wanted the viewer to enter the space, almost like abstract painting like Rothko or Morris Louis. I wanted to see if the phenomena could be something that could be entered.”
The project was a success. As Joel says, “they took my breath away.” To see what he’s talking about order a copy of our beautiful limited edition two-volume Joel Meyerowitz monograph, Taking My Time, here.