Unfinished Tales - Joel Meyerowitz


posted on 1st of march, 2013

Photography is a response that has to do with the momentary recognition of things. Suddenly you're alive. A minute later there was nothing there. I just watched it evaporate. You look one moment and there's everything, next moment it's gone. Photography is very philosophical.

I have been away a long time. During the past several months, I have ignored two of my greatest loves, the written word and the photographic image. And even as I write this, I realize the absurdity of the excuses I have used to justify this neglect. After all, if one claims to love something can there ever be a true justification to disregard it? Love is devotion with dignity, love is commitment with total freedom, love may be a billion things to a billion people, but I suspect nowhere in those billion different definitions will one find any exoneration for negligence.

Certainly, I have not been idle over this period of time. There has been much to prepare and much to do. The accursed list of to-do items never seems to diminish; each task closed seems to spawn another three that must be tackled.

And yet, I acknowledge that I have been greatly amiss. I have devoted my energies towards what I thought must be addressed, telling myself that there will be time later for what is pleasant. The universal truth, dear friends, is that while too much time will always be spent on obligations, there will never be enough time for pleasure. A second spent on something we do not enjoy is akin to a lifetime wasted while an eternity dedicated to what we love lasts but the blink of an eye.

Every second, every minute, all life is but a fleeting fancy. Everything exists in but a transitory moment. A minute, fragile bubble of air on the crest of a wave crashing on an ocean of life. And then, it is gone, forever. Perhaps to be replaced by something else, something new which will only exist for another infinitesimal moment. And yet, how many of us realize that. We spend our precious moments engaged in activities we dislike. And then we use up even more of our invaluable instants raging against the wasted time.

Rambling twaddle over (at least for the moment) and perhaps time to actually be and do what I really enjoy.

I think about photographs as being full, or empty. You picture something in a frame and it's got lots of accounting going on in it--stones and buildings and trees and air--but that's not what fills up a frame. You fill up the frame with feelings, energy, discovery, and risk, and leave room enough for someone else to get in there.

Joel Meyerowitz is a most fascinating photographer. He is a true raconteur, a teller of stories, an instigator of imagination and feelings in the best tradition of Dickens, Stevenson, Kipling, and Conrad (amongst many others). But there is a huge difference between how he narrates a tale and how a prolific writer may do so.

Whatever the subject Meyerowitz depicts in his images obviously arrested his attention and provoked an emotional response. But his considerable talent really lies in never imposing his personal vision on the observer. Personally, I believe, that to a great extent this is due to the medium he has chosen to share his vision. A photograph is a depiction of just the briefest instant of flowing life. When looking at a picture, that which occurred before the shutter flipped is lost to the viewer and what actually happens after that instant forever remains a mystery.

Certainly when looking at any of Meyerowitz’s iconic work, I find myself in the midst of endless possibilities with my imagination shifting itself into high gear without my even realizing it.

It is his work more than anyone else’s that has helped bring into such sharp focus for me just how interactive photographs really can be. One could be forgiven for thinking that once a photograph is produced, the only participation required from an observer is that of an emotional response to what is presented. And yet, this is possibly the gravest misconception anyone could hold about photography as an art form. As Meyerowitz so ably demonstrates photography can impel more active participation, it can engage not only the emotional but also the cerebral by impelling a viewer to step into the image and complete the story that was left untold.

There is an image of his in which we see a little girl crying on a street (NYC, 1963). The scene is composed such that the girl is framed in the windows of the open doors of a car. At the right edge of the image we see a man’s hand extended towards the child. Why is the girl crying? Of what significance is the gesture of the unrecognizable man? Meyerowitz has captured the angst suffered by the girl in that instant, but we are left clueless as to what caused the turmoil. Is she rebelling against her daily car trip to school? Is she upset because she has been reprimanded for spilling a milkshake on the seat? Is the man her father offering a comforting caress? How is this conflict resolved? We are left to ponder a mystery and in so doing weave our own story to explain the briefest of moments captured by the photographer.

Making any statement of your feelings is risky. It's just like making pictures.

Perfect. Next time the wife asks me “What are you thinking about?” or “How do you feel?” I can simply reply “I am risk averse.”

I wonder if anyone really noticed that photography is being referred to as “making pictures” rather than “taking pictures”. A difference of only ONE letter! Yeah, so what?

I really abhor “whodunit” TV shows where the last 15 minutes are spent spelling out every little nuance of how the “great genius of an amateur detective” figured out the whole diabolical scheme. I guess it has something to do with an aversion to being treated like an idiot.

I’m sure everyone has figured out the point I wanted to make so I’ll just leave it there. But, just in case… here is a hint… it has nothing to do with how advanced your camera is.

There were a couple of other quotes that I rather liked and wanted to include in this blog, but I have a feeling that I have been a bit too philosophical and too verbose in my meanderings already. So I’ll just sign off now.

Thank you for your indulgence. If you enjoyed this blog or like my portfolio, please visit my Facebook page Shadow69 Photography and click on “Like” to show your appreciation and support.

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Photo credits: Abdul Sami Haqqani.
 
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