Meyerowitz, Machines and Parades

I’ve been looking at a lot of Joel Meyerowitz’s work lately, and reading interviews. He’s tremendously articulate when speaking about photography, and particularly about street shooting. I don’t want this to turn into a place where I only post quotes, but, well, hey.

Meyerowitz explains how to use fast shutter speeds to your compositional advantage, rather than just sitting and waiting (a la Bresson) for something interesting to emerge. Making the moment vs. deciding on the obvious (however interesting the obvious may be).

Meyerowitz: The fact that the machine works at 1000th of a second allows you to gesture at things radically, even before you know them. You use the speed of the camera as a property. If you’ve got 1000th of a second, then you should use it and see what it’s like to work in that zone of high speed–which means you can release yourself in a gestural way at a 1000th of a second. Sometimes I literally plunge into it, throw my whole body into the subject, the crowd moves away, and people spill into the frame from the other side. I move the image off center, somehow turn away. I want to engage something that’s only peripheral in my eye. I fill the frame. And then when I get the picture back, I get what a full-blown gesture at a 1000th of a second sees.

Macdonald: What do you mean by turn away?

Meyerowitz: I felt that most of street photography coming out of Cartier-Bresson was aimed at locating an event in space with the camera, and singling it out, sometimes pointing at it by juxtaposing it to something else. But you know exactly what it is that’s being photographed. You know what the intention and the accomplishment of the photographer is. After years of doing that and getting faster at that kind of location, I began to feel like a visual athlete–making sensational catches , but having less to learn from. The more in touch I became with what I personally was interested in, the more I wanted to loosen up the frame. I had a sense of desperation.

I read this after stumbling across the queue for the Veteran’s Day parade. I didn’t know it was happening, but came across the Knights of Columbus and stuck around. I was thinking about how I’ve found photographing parades to be worthwhile only before they begin (and probably after), and then I read this, in the same Meyerowitz interview:

Meyerowitz: In the beginning I worked with Tony Ray Jones and Richard Horowitz. Tony’s dead and Richard’s a commercial photographer now. Somehow we found each other. We used to go to the parades and work the beginnings and ends, but not the middle. We didn’t take pictures of the parade itself. We photographed when they were coming together and when they broke down at the end. There we had license to play. You could go right up to people. You could break the social distance. You didn’t have to keep the distance of the news photograph. You could get into more intimate situations.

These quotes are from the intro to Cape Light. If you like good interviews, look for the Photographers at Work series, which have lengthy discussions upfront.

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