What can I say about the first lifetime retrospective of Joel Meyerowitz’s work, with comments throughout by Meyerowitz himself? If you’re the least bit aware of Meyerowitz and his practice, you probably know something about his trajectory, from 35mm street shooter to 8×10 landscape and still life, and Where I Find Myself has it all.
The book is loosely organized, as has been widely reported, in reverse chronological order, starting with his most recent still life/momento mori works, through his large format, Cape Light work, and all the way back to his early black & white and color 35mm work on the street.
I knew this well going in, and was surprised and a bit confused when Chapter 2 “Elemental 2010-2001” started with Meyerowitz’s work at Ground Zero in 2010, and the proceeded from there to his 2002 work in Tuscany and “Elemental” series (2002-2011). So the organization is not quite “reverse chronological.” Sure, the discussions move back in time, but within the chapters and sections, the photographs largely move forward in time.
Meyerowitz introduces each section with a short description of how the project came about, what he was thinking during it, and how he came to that way of seeing. And many individual photographs include a short statement about the circumstances around that specific photograph.
Meyerowitz’s stories and thoughts are interesting, engaging, and read quickly, and each section has some little nugget of something in it:
- Ch. 1 “The View From Here 2017-2012: Still Lifes – Cézanne, Morandi & Me,” in a short discussion about Edward Weston’s pepper. Weston put the pepper in a funnel, in the corner of his dark studio, installed an f/240 aperture on his view camera, and exposed for half a day. “This act was nothing less than letting light travel slowly, photon by photon, over time and the long distance from the front window, through the interior darkness, finally falling onto the dark pepper…. Time = Light.” (p. 10, emphasis mine.)
- Ch. 6 “Letting Go of the Catch 1976-1968,” talking about his move from (mostly) black & white hyperfocal street work to color, with its slower speed and therefore shallower (handheld) depth of field: “… I had to let go of everything I had learned to trust as a method of seeing the world, and make a fresh start. Anything you have done well is worth letting go of.” (152, emphasis mine.)
Throughout, Meyerowitz describes 35mm street work as “jazz” and large format work as “classical,” referring to the quick movement and spontaneity of classic street work, versus the more contemplative, studied, mannered practice of composing and framing in the ground glass, and consequently, perhaps, half of the book is focused on the period 1963-1972. With 24 or 36 exposures, you’re going to make many more exposures than you would with an 8×10 view camera, just as much, or even more maybe, as you would going from 36 shots with film to virtually unlimited with digital.
With all this movement, from jazz on the streets of New York, highways of America, and back roads of Europe, to large format work on Cape Cod, at Ground Zero, and in Tuscany, Meyerowitz is unquestionably a master of the medium, and with it’s layout, design, and breadth of coverage, Where I Find Myself is an incredibly good overview of his work. Sure, it’s a heavy tome, and the roughly 2×3 vertical format leaves a bunch of pictures bisected by the gutter. The binding in the first 1/4 of my copy is very tight, making viewing these cross-gutter pictures difficult, but the rest of the book lays almost flat, and with more viewing, maybe the first bit will loosen up some. But that’s my only complaint. This really is a great, comprehensive view of Meyerowitz’s oeuvre.
As W. Scott Olsen writes in his review for Lens Culture:
Where I Find Myself isn’t just the greatest hits. It’s certainly not every photograph he’s ever taken. But these are the ones that matter.W. Scott Olsen. “Provocative Generosity and the Joy of Scope: Meyerowitz’s ‘Where I Find Myself.’” Lens Culture. Retrieved from https://www.lensculture.com/articles/joel-meyerowitz-provocative-generosity-and-the-joy-of-scope-meyerowitz-s-where-i-find-myself 1/8/2019.
Where I Find Myself is a necessary book. Necessary because of its size and scope. Necessary because of the way it holds the aesthetic of the artist in the air.
As he says at the end of his commentary for Chapter One, “It is here that I now find myself, once again loving photography’s provocative generosity.”
This, of course, is what the book is all about.
Overall, I rate Where I Find Myself a solid 4.3 stars.
Where I Find Myself has been reprinted twice already, and is widely available for around $40. It’s worth every penny, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to pick up a copy. It may not be something I return to very often, but I expect to reach for it with fair regularity, and to benefit every time.