Joel Meyerowitz is regarded as one of the earliest advocates and successful practitioners of color photography, setting a precedent for contemporary artists who readily acknowledge his influence. Bernd and Hilla Becher added his innovative work to their collection in the early 1970s and used it to teach their students about the effective qualities of color photography. Meyerowitz is among a select few who have been instrumental in changing an attitude of resistance regarding the making and collecting of color photography to one of nearly universal acceptance.
The early photographs on view date from the late 1970s when Meyerowitz had already established himself as a pioneer of the genre. In 1976, Meyerowitz transitioned from shooting exclusively with a 35mm camera (from his earlier street photography days) to an 8×10 view camera. The switch compelled him to alter his attitude on photography and to embrace a slower, more deliberate approach in making each image. These photographs describe a languid American landscape imbued with evocative radiance—a meeting place of the banal and the mystical. They show the twenty-first century viewer how truly innovative and significant Meyerowitz’s dedication and contributions have been to the medium.
The genesis of Meyerowitz’s newest series, The Elements: Air/Water, Part 1, was sparked while directing a video of Olympic divers from an underwater viewing room. With the repeating dives, and at each entry into the pool, an enormous plume of bubbles encased the diver. As the diver swam away, the bubbles coalesced into the cloud that rose to the surface and returned to the atmosphere. This small observation led Meyerowitz to consider the transition of elements into one another, as well as the individual qualities of their physical relationships. He responded immediately with a study of the Elements and a commitment to observe how these essential facts of life would look in video and photographs. Although related to earlier projects, The Elements represents a conceptual departure from Meyerowitz’s groundbreaking work in color photography. Similar to his previous work, the new video and photographs that comprise The Elements continue to describe place, light, and space. He feels, however, that traditional pictoral means are not as relevant to a subject of this magnitude. In examining the phenomena of Air/Water/Earth/Fire, Meyerowitz says, “the challenge is to try to bring the power of the phenomena itself into the viewing experience.” Meyerowitz attempts to do this by moving away from the horizon line and the illusion of deep space. The flatness and scale of these works allow the viewer to experience “being there” fully within the Elements.
Joel Meyerowitz is a Guggenheim fellow and the recipient of both NEA and NEH awards. His work has appeared in over 350 exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world, including the 8th Venice Biennale for Architecture where Meyerowitz represented the United States with his photographs from the World Trade Center Archives. His first book, Cape Light, is considered a classic work of color photography, and he is the author of 14 other books. Meyerowitz’s work is included in various collections including: The Amon Carter Museum, George Eastman House, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art.