New York in Colour: The Work of Joel Meyerowitz


Joel Meyerowitz was born in 1938 in the Bronx, New York City. Meyerowitz studied art and medical illustration at Ohio State University before working as an art director at an advertising agency. Having been inspired after seeing Robert Frank at work on a shoot, Meyerowitz left advertising, bought a camera and began photographing in 1962 on the streets of New York alongside Garry Winogrand and Tony Ray-Jones.

Meyerowitz was an early advocate of the use of colour in the 1960s. Being unaware of the art world prejudice in favour of black and white photography, he began shooting on colour film, producing vibrant, energetic street scenes of New York. He was instrumental in bringing about a change of attitude towards colour photography at this time, which saw its gradual acceptance as a form of fine art. Meyerowitz turned his focus entirely on colour photography by 1972, and in 1979 he published his first book, Cape Light, which is now considered a classic of colour photography.

Speaking of his move into colour photography, Meyerowitz has said that colour “describes more things.” Continuing, he explained, “when I say description, I don’t mean mere fact and the cold accounting of things in the frame. I really mean the sensation I get from things their surface and colour my memory of them in other conditions as well as their connotative qualities. Colour plays itself out along a richer band of feelings more wavelengths, more radiance, more sensation.” This approach to colour made Meyerowitz (alongside William Eggleston and Stephen Shore) crucial in the repositioning of colour photography from the margins to the mainstream of fine art photography.

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