Joel Meyerowitz was born in the Bronx in 1938 into a neighborhood that offered daily lessons in the divine comedy and tragedies of human behavior. He believes it was that basic “street” education that nurtured his delight in human observation, a perception that is at the heart of his photography.
After studying art, art history, and medical illustration at Ohio State University, he worked as an art director in advertising in the early 60’s. In 1962, Robert Frank made photographs for a booklet Meyerowitz designed, and it was while watching Frank work that he discovered that photographs could be made while both the photographer and the subject were in motion! The power of this observation made Meyerowitz quit his job immediately, borrow a camera, and go out onto the streets of New York. He has been on the streets ever since.
Meyerowitz began by using color film, not knowing any better, nor aware that photographers of that era believed that black and white was the ‘art’ of photography. During his first days on the street, he met a young graphic designer, Tony Ray-Jones, who, like Meyerowitz, began using color as the most natural means of making photographs. Later that year Meyerowitz met, and became friends with, Garry Winogrand, and together they walked and worked Fifth Avenue daily for nearly five years.
Although Meyerowitz is a street photographer in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, he transformed the medium with his pioneering use of color. As an early advocate, he became instrumental in changing the attitude toward color photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance. His first book Cape Light (1978) is considered a classic work of color photography and has sold over 100,000 copies.
The work of Meyerowitz, who is a Guggenheim fellow and a recipient of both the NEA and NEH awards, has appeared in over 350 exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world. He was the only photographer to gain unrestricted access to Ground Zero after 9/11, which produced a body of work that led Meyerowitz to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale for Architecture in 2002. His work is in the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Art Institute of Chicago, and many others worldwide.
Meyerowitz lives and works in New York and in Italy.