Early Joel Meyerowitz Photography Now in FMoPA’s Permanent Collection

Joel Meyerowitz Confluence,1964-1984


Through July 7
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
Details here

Light is fundamental to photography.

It’s the element that allows us to capture an image. Light determines the color and tone. It explores the shadows and plays up the highlights.

The temperature of light affects the mood and overall aesthetic of the image. Light allows photographers to shape their subjects creatively and to add their own individual vision to the work.

Joel Meyerowitz (American, b. 1938) is a master of using light to create photographs that are compelling and unforgettable. For 60 years he has been exploring this process. Through July 7, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMoPA) is exhibiting a selection of photographs from the first two decades of his career.

Joel Meyerowitz, Laundry, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1977, C-print, Gift of an Anonymous Donor, Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

If his name is not familiar to you, it is not due to lack of exposure. Meyerowitz has published over 50 books and had scores of them written about him. He has received dozens of awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, while being featured in over 350 exhibitions worldwide.

FMoPA received a gift in 2021 from an anonymous donor of 374 vintage photographs mostly taken in the first two decades of Meyerowitz’s career. Choosing 54 photos to exhibit from that grouping was not as difficult as you might think.

The artist is most noted for his street photography of New York and for his tonal images of Cape Cod. These are two vastly different bodies of work, both tonally and technically, yet together create an overall insight into his entire lifetime of work.

Joel Meyerowitz, New York City, 1974-1978, C-print, Gift of an Anonymous Donor, Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

The exhibition is organized into four main subjects following Meyerowitz’s well known series – Street photography of New York, Redheads, Cape Light and Bay/Sky. Essentially, they cover his two main bodies of work – New York and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Meyerowitz’s New York photographs are shot in both black and white and in color. When he first picked up a camera in 1962, serious artists of the time worked almost exclusively in black and white film, but Joel didn’t know this. He was an art director working at an advertising firm.

With a borrowed camera he strolled into a store to buy film and when asked if he wanted color or black and white film, he opted for color. This was the norm in advertising and commercial photography. This is how he became one of the earliest artists working in color.

Upon realizing that to be taken seriously in the art world he needed to shoot in grays, he started carrying two cameras containing the two different types of films. The photos in the exhibitions highlight both processes.

Joel Meyerowitz, New York City (Kiss Me Stupid), 1965, C-print, Gift of an Anonymous Donor, Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

In 1976, considerations of light and color helped spur him to go from 35 mm pictures of NY to large-format camera images of Cape Cod. Those luminous landscapes were published in his first book Cape Light.

This new manner of working caused Meyerowitz to reconsider what he chose to focus on. Instead of a single subject or incident that street photographers of the time favored, he started capturing a larger picture. A mise en scène, if you please.

This set him on a new trajectory of imagery where even his street photography became more about the entire scene, rather than a single subject.

Three Cape Cod subjects are focused on in the FMoPA exhibition. In the first, Meyerowtiz did an entire series and published a book of portraits of people with red hair. He claimed that something about the light on the Cape made redheads particularly mesmerizing. It is still about light and color, but each individual adds a texture and personality.

In the Cape/Light series there are luminescent photographs of Provincetown and Truro. Something as simple as a clothesline becomes poetry in Meyerowitz’s images. A gas station glows in the setting sun and historic homes shine golden. They are both historical and magical.

A third series called Bay/Sky features seascapes of Cape Cod in every possible light, so that the sky looks every shade imaginable. Swathes of purple, orange, pink and blue make the viewer contemplate the light, clouds and scenery in a very concentrated and focused way.

Placed side by side, you cannot help but think about the many times you’ve watched the sun set over water and how nature gives us endless possibilities of beauty.

There are 54 photographs in the exhibition, all taken from the first two decades of Meyerowitz’s career. He has gone on to create a massive body of work, but this selection gives the viewer a good view of why he has become world famous and beloved. He pushed the color envelope when other artists remained committed to black and white, and has continued to explore the possibilities since.

You might re-conceive how you take photographs after you see this exhibition, or how you treat your subjects. It just might have you contemplating everyday things in your everyday life and how you view them.



Upcoming Events

April 25 at 5:30 pm – Gallery Talk with Executive Curator, Robin O’Dell

June 2 at 5 pm – A Sense of Time – Meyerowitz Bio Movie Screening


Also on view at FMoPA

Through May 19 – Gary Monroe: Life in South Beach, 1977-1986

May 22-June 16 – Through Their Lens: A Journey of Self Exploration

June 18-August 4 – Saint Petersburg Photo Laureate, Thomas Sayers Ellis



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