Why Color? Retrospective
Skyscrapers, Fifth Avenue, steam rising from manhole covers, beauty salons, billboards, diners… It is 1963; a group of four young women stand outside a store. They are putting make up on, either looking into the camera or coyly averting their gaze, and appear satisfied. Their clothes are brilliantly colored, their pumps white, their backcombed hair immaculate. What would this picture be without color? It would almost certainly be impossible to discern the intense contrasts, the nuances, and the tiny details that make the image, such as how their hairpins glitter. In black-and-white, this picture would probably lose a good deal of its charm, and might even appear mundane.
New York, 1965: A man carrying a poodle or a couple locking lips outside a cinema in busy Times Square. The use of black-and-white strengthens the graphic structure of how the subject is presented, transforming the photograph into an image.
Time and again, the New York photographer Joel Meyerowitz manages to fish surprising and sometimes peculiar fleeting moments from the stream of everyday happenings. His precise use of color enables him to bring their very individual vividness and pictorial intensity to the fore. His gaze is steered by chance and by his eye for the extraordinary in the everyday. He leads us through the streets, cities, and urban landscapes of America. Starting in 1962 Meyerowitz began experimenting with using color photography first and added black-and-white photography to his work just shortly afterwards. He uses color photography’s special qualities to enhance specific parts of the image with vibrant, colorful nuances. Yet Meyerowitz views color as more than simply a means of expression: It lends shape to the world around him, helping him to understand and connect with that world in all its possible shades. He nevertheless makes deliberate use of black and white in order to highlight contrasts between elements of the image, be they artistic or graphic.
Photography was born under an overcast sky; for a long time, the dictum of artistic photography and photojournalism remained staunchly black-and-white. The first workable diapositive film came onto the market as early as 1935, and yet, even into the 1980s, color photography remained confined to the world of advertising, unable to shed its vulgar, amateur, and commercial image. Today, color photography has its undisputed place in the history of art. With his work spanning more than five decades, Joel Meyerowitz has not only made a core contribution to this paradigmatic shift: He has also left a visible impact on many younger generations.
Alongside Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz was quick to recognize the unmistakable power of color and its unique pictorial quality. He was trained in classical painting and designed graphics for advertisements before his first meeting with Robert Frank in 1962 left him with a Pentax camera in his hand. From then on, he never stopped taking photographs. Equipped with money earned from an advertising campaign Meyerowitz bought himself a Volvo in 1966 and for the next twelve months drove across the whole of Europe. During that year abroad he shot over 600 rolls of film almost equally divided between color and black and white as he traveled through England, France, Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Hungary, Morocco, and what is striking is that within a few years after his return he began working exclusively in color. This was not just a break with the convention of the times: It established photography and, more specifically, color photography, in the artistic canon. This period was also marked by some of his best-known works, which to this day make him one of the most influential pioneers of New Color Photography. It was during this chapter in Meyerowitz’s career, at the very latest, that his different working methods and the decisive impact of photographic images taken with a small-format camera versus a plate camera on a heavy tripod became apparent. His work as a street photographer is as equally shaped by life on the streets as it is by early color photography. From the mid-1970s onward, he created precisely composed studies in light on Cape Cod on the East Coast. A master of color photography, he skillfully captured the subtleties of the early morning and the last light before nightfall, when lurid neon signs shine bright against the night sky. These unusual lighting conditions captured in the transition from day to night create an unmistakable tension and a new element that would define Meyerowitz’s style. Even today, his pictures of 1960s and 1970s New York and his Cape Cod light studies beginning in 1976 are regarded as icons of contemporary photography.
C/O Berlin is the first and only German institution to present the exhibition Joel Meyerowitz Why Color? Retrospective, which is primarily focused on the New York photographer‘s vintage color prints from the 1960s to the present day. It is the first show, which places those color photographs in relation to developments in Meyerowitz’s early black-and-white works. The exhibition will be accompanied by a new retrospective book Where I Find Myself published by Laurence King Publishing and Elephant Magazine.
Joel Meyerowitz was born in New York in 1938 and grew up in the Bronx. He graduated with a degree in painting from Ohio State University in 1959 before working as a commercial graphic designer in New York, where Robert Frank photographed a project of Meyerowitz’s design. In 1962, when he began, his first rolls of film were Kodachrome, and only after the first year of working in color did he realize that black and white prints enabled him to hold images in his hands rather seeing them on a screen. He is now considered one of the most influential founders of Street and New Color Photography. Meyerowitz has received numerous prizes for his work, including the 2017 Leica Hall of Fame Award in recognition of his life’s work. Countless museums and institutions around the globe have shown his photographs in solo and group exhibitions, including the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf (2014), the Miami Art Museum (2011), the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2004), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1981), the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1980), and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1968). His Aftermath series (2001) documented the devastation and reconstruction of the World Trade Center at Ground Zero in New York in the wake of 9/11. Joel Meyerowitz lives and works in New York and in Buonconvento, Italy.
Fifth Avenue, Wolkenkratzer, Schönheitssalons, Billboards und Diners, eine Gruppe von vier jungen Frauen vor einem Geschäft. Ihre Kleider leuchten farbig, ihre Pumps weiß, ihre Haare sind toupiert. Was wäre dieses an Nuancen so reiche Bild ohne Farbe? Aus einem Strom von Alltagsmomenten filtert der New Yorker Fotograf überraschende und manchmal kuriose Augenblicke heraus und verleiht ihnen durch den gezielten Einsatz von Farbe eine ganz eigene Lebendigkeit und malerische Intensität. Joel Meyerowitz fotografiert seit 1962 und experimentiert von Anfang an mit Farbe, bevor er wenig später auch die Schwarz-Weiß-Fotografie in seine Arbeit integriert. Als er 1966 quer durch Europa reist, nutzt er die besonderen Eigenschaften der Farbfotografie, wenn das Motiv farbliche Abstufungen und Leuchtkraft zum Verständnis benötigt. Schwarz-Weiß kommt bewusst dann zum Einsatz, wenn es ihm darum geht, die Unterschiede der Bildelemente gestalterisch oder grafisch aufzuzeigen. Nach seiner Rückkehr in die USA arbeitet er fast nur noch in Farbe und bricht mit dem damals gültigen Schwarz-Weiß-Diktum der künstlerischen Fotografie und des Fotojournalismus. Ab Mitte der 1970er-Jahre entstehen präzise komponierte Lichtstudien am Cape Cod an der Ostküste der USA, die heute zu den Ikonen der zeitgenössischen Fotografie zählen. Als einer der wichtigsten Wegbereiter der New Color Photography hat Joel Meyerowitz (*1938) viele nachfolgende Generationen sichtbar beeinflusst. Erstmalig und exklusiv in Deutschland präsentiert C/O Berlin eine von Felix Hoffmann kuratierte Ausstellung mit Vintage Prints in Farbe und Schwarz-Weiß aus allen wichtigen Schaffensphasen des Fotografen von den 1960er-Jahren bis zur Gegenwart und setzt sie zueinander in Beziehung.
Joel Meyerowitz ist 1938 in New York geboren und in der Bronx aufgewachsen. Nach einem Studium der Malerei an der Ohio State University (1959) arbeitete er als Werbegrafiker in New York. Meyerowitz begann 1962 zunächst mit Kodachorme-Filmen zu fotografieren, zunächst ausschließlich in Farbe. Er zählt mittlerweile zu den bedeutendsten Mitbegründern der Street und New Color Photography. Für sein Werk erhielt er eine Vielzahl an Auszeichnungen, wie zuletzt den Leica Hall of Fame Award (2017) für sein Lebenswerk. Zahlreiche Museen und Institutionen auf der Welt präsentierten seine Fotografien in Einzel- und Gruppenausstellungen, wie das NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf (2014), das Miami Art Museum (2011), das Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2004), das San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1981), das Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1980) und das Museum of Modern Art in New York (1968). Mit seiner Werkserie Aftermath (2011) dokumentiert er die Zerstörung und den Wiederaufbau des World Trade Centers am Ground Zero in New York nach dem 11. September 2001. Joel Meyerowitz lebt und arbeitet in Buonconvento in Italien und in New York.