I saw Joel Meyerowitz give a presentation tonight for the archive of photographs he created of Ground Zero, a selection of which has been compiled into this book. I went to his presentation not just because Meyerowitz is a well-known street photographer, but of the thoughtfulness and articulation he displayed in these two interviews with Terry Gross.
Meyerowitz isn’t just any photographer, he’s a photographer’s photographer, capable of creating dynamic work regardless of what (or how) he’s shooting. But with a project like the World Trade Center archive, he’s become “the people’s photographer.”
I first came across his work (as a writer) in Bystander, which, on its own, is an accomplishment. In responding to a question I posed to him about how the Ground Zero project fits into his career as a working photographer, he spoke about how writing Bystander taught him the importance and role of a photographic archive.
He spoke about how looking at archives in San Francisco (perhaps the Arnold Genthe photographs of turn-of-the-century Chinatown and 1906 earthquake aftermath) taught him the potential of historical-based archives (akin to those created for the Farm Security Administration in the 30s) and how that research was a baseline for his response when he was ordered not to take pictures on a visit to the site a week after 9/11.
Meyerowitz also described how the “jazziness” of street photography helped him improvise and think on his feet while working at Ground Zero. It was that background, when coupled with his “Cape Light” era studies of space and light that gave him the wherewithall to make over eight thousand large-format images in eight months on the site.
As an aside, I didn’t really know what street photography was until I picked-up Bystander. If, like me, you came late to photography (or art in general) and are looking for a good overview of the history of street photography, start there. As I recall, there are two versions of the book, and the latest has been revised.
Plus, in this age of celebrity and god knows what else, it’s increasingly rare when an artist speaks thoughtfully and intelligently about the work that they do. If the Meyerowitz road show stops in your town, take the time to have a look and listen.