Joel Meyerowitz – Why Color

Joel Meyerowitz is a street and portrait photographer who began photographing in colour in 1962 and was an early advocate of the use of colour during a time when there was significant resistance to the idea of colour photography as serious art. It was considered amateurish, good for holiday snaps and advertisements at best. It had no place in the art world, where black-and-white prevailed.
In 1962, inspired by seeing Robert Frank at work, Meyerowitz quit his job as an art director at an advertising agency and took to the streets of New York City with a 35 mm camera and black-and-white film.

In 1966, Meyerowitz drove across Europe armed with two cameras: one with colour film, one with black-and-white. During the trip, he took 25,000 photographs over 700 rolls of film, half of which were in colour. Whenever there was an opportunity, he would make pairs of pictures in both formats to compare them.

“When I got back, I had a black-and-white show at MoMA (New York’s Museum of Modern Art), but as I was editing the colour films from that trip, my conviction was getting stronger. Within the next couple of years I turned to colour almost completely, and by 1971 I was finished with black-and-white,” he said.

During the 1970s Meyerowitz taught photography at the Cooper Union in New York City. His work is in the collections of the International Center of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, and New York Public Library, all in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.

A selection of Meyerowitz’s influential work — both in colour and in black-and-white — is now on show in a retrospective titled “Why Color?” at Berlin’s C/O Foundation. This exhibition, he said, will encourage visitors to consider how much attitudes toward colour photography has changed.

“When you have a life that spans 55 years of photography, you get to see the history of recent photography itself. The question of colour is one of the big ones.”

“Joel Meyerowitz: Why Color?” is on show at C/O Berlin Foundation until Mar. 11, 2018.