Joel Meyerowitz: Why Colour? at C/O Berlin

In march 2018 we visited the Joel Meyerowitz. Why Colour? retrospective at C/O Berlin curated by Felix Hoffman. The work shown came from photographer, Joel Meyerowitz’ personal archive and aimed to answer the question featured in the title of the retrospective - Why Colour?

A retrospective following American photographer Joel Meyerowitz’ influence on modern photography in America during the early to late 60’s. Meyerowitz’ work captured those ephemeral scenes in the banal, something every street photographer strives to capture in their work. It comes as no surprise that his utilising colour within the medium would shape contemporary photography as we now know it today. The retrospective clearly illustrates Meyerowitz emerging into a post black and white era, from a photographer purists’ boom.

Meyerowitz understood that colour in imagery had just as much right to be there as the subject did, accepting and celebrating the subjectivity of photography. It seemed that the switch to colour photography came about to not rely on one ‘incident’ but rather to rely on the image as a whole. Reminiscent of classical paintings, where every mark on the canvas was a well laid one. Considering the sum of the image just as important as its parts.

The whole exhibition was highlighted in sections by words from the artist on his practice and how it has evolved - his retrospective in words.

Alongside the first section of his work, this quote from Meyerowitz is displayed -

“Anything you have done well is worth letting go of. I was forcing myself to let go of the “incident”, which was how I made photographs since the beginning. Now I was looking at the whole field, the street, human activity, the buildings, the sky, the weather, the temperature of the light, and all of this without the usual hierarchy of content that an incident brought to a photograph. I began to call these “field photographs”, because I wanted everything in the field to be of equal importance and to be read as the overall content of the image. [...]”

- Joel Meyerowitz via Joel Meyerowitz. Why Colour?

Meandering through early shots capturing often comedic and cinematic decisive moments develop into a contemporary still life tableau which further becomes meticulous and conceptually driven portraiture; landscape and still life hinting at clear vision in practice and forethought. All these genres and directives have a valid place in the study of contemporary photography today.

Through the creative and thought-provoking curation by Felix Hoffman, the whole archive of Meyerowitz progressive practice is inspiring and revealing. Any avid or amateur photographer can learn a lot from this body of work. As well as being a lovely and pleasing exhibition the whole curation serves a purpose and offers a discourse on the subject of modern photography.

“What freedom! Just being out in the world, shooting whatever spoke to me or suggested itself to my eye. Actually, learning to listen to what speaks to you, rather than prejudging or censoring, is what a trip like that offered. The world is far richer and more interesting than my imagination could conceive of, and by accepting this - which is the approach to photography I still practice, and what I think is at the heart of the medium - I learned not to second guess myself and simply let the world play on my eyes. I think that is why photography still interests me, the inexhaustible abundance of the world’s capacity to reimagine itself has taught me to trust in it and pay attention to what is being offered. Out of that communion comes your work. [...]”

- Joel Meyerowitz via Joel Meyerowitz. Why Colour?