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Joel Meyerowitz Looks Back

Celebrating a half-century of work, the photographer recalls his Bronx childhood and days at Ground Zero

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The North Wall, 2001. (© Joel Meyerowitz, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery)

Joel Meyerowitz has had many careers as a photographer over the past 50 years. He first made a name for himself at 24 as a New York City street photographer in the tradition of Robert Frank. A few years later he switched to color photography at a time when most art critics and gallerists dismissed it as too “commercial.” Later, Meyerowitz delved into landscape photography and portraits. Then, in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, he became the self-designated archivist of Ground Zero, persuading city authorities to grant him complete access to the site despite the fact that it had been designated a crime scene.

This month, Meyerowitz’s half-century of work is being honored with a two-part retrospective at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York City and with the publication of a deluxe, two-volume limited-edition monograph of that work titled Taking My Time. (You can also get a sense of his work in our slideshow, above left.) Vox Tablet invited Meyerowitz to talk about how his Jewish family and upbringing have influenced his photography. He speaks with guest host Julie Burstein, author of Spark: How Creativity Works, about the Bronx tenements where he grew up; about his father the dry-cleaning-supplies salesman, boxer, and Catskills emcee; and about the spiritual weight he felt at Ground Zero during the months he spent there. [Running time: 45:16.] 

For listeners who might want a preview of the longer conversation, here’s a short clip where Meyerowitz recalls the day he decided to become a photographer. It was 1962. He was working at a New York City ad agency and had been sent by his art director to accompany a photographer who was taking photos for a pamphlet he’d written. The photographer was Robert Frank. Seeing this master in action was a revelation to Meyerowitz and changed his career from that point forward. Here’s what happened next:

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Taking His Time

The photographs of Joel Meyerowitz
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