Joel Meyerowitz, Cape Light


Having diverted into photography after a career in advertising, Joel Meyerowitz went to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with a vintage 8 x 10 inch Deardoff view camera seeking a different kind of photography to the type he had become accustomed to making with his Leica in New York. The resulting book of photographs, Cape Light, first published in 1978, is now regarded as one of the most significant photobooks of the twentieth century. Republished by the Aperture Foundation in 2015, it has sold over 100,000 copies. Over the course of two summers Meyerowitz photographed the coast, small towns and inhabitants of the Cape with great sensitivity to the scale and colour of the landscape. The large format camera required him to step back from his usual proximity to his subjects on the streets of New York and take in his larger surroundings. The expansive skies and crystalline colours produced a new kind of photography – slow, meditative and experiential.

Just as Meyerowitz’s practice slowed down in order to acclimatise to shooting in large format, viewing the photographs also demands a slower pace than that typically allocated to photography. The photographs ask the viewer to take time and look completely, to become lost in the movement of colour through the landscape and accept viewing as an experience in itself. Similarly to the demand placed on the viewer by Mark Rothko’s colour field paintings to stop and partake in emotional response, Cape Light requests contemplation of the expansive reach of Meyerowitz’s lens, and the ephemeral changes of light and shadow captured with it.

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