On Color – Joel Meyerowitz

M and I have both written about color versus black and white photography, and others have voiced their own, sometimes dissenting views. I wanted to add another viewpoint to the discussion, this time from New York photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who wrote, in Joel Meyerowitz Retrospective:

It’s easy to make a simple comparison about – for example – a garden in all greys, and this garden in color. Doesn’t the blue sky have meaning: Isn’t there content there? It’s not just as simple as that, of course, but it’s part of what gave me the confidence and the courage to step out and at some point say: “I’m finished with black and white. I’m done.”

Here are some examples. Click to enlarge



Joel Meyerowitz, Jeu de Paume, Paris, France, 1967

Joel Meyerowitz, Jeu de Paume, France, 1967

3 thoughts on “On Color – Joel Meyerowitz

  1. Good evening and I hope you both had a wonderful festive Christmas season. I LOVE Black and White. I think because I have always been drawn to hard contrasts. The image at the top of the man in his garden – the black and white is so strong – evocative – it lends real depth to the garden itself and his clothing and umbrella. So much solitary, such loneliness. Yet the modern image in the center begs for colour to emphasise the delicious clothing of the man. Out here on the prairies all colour slowly drains away in the winter so I live in a sepia world . I have to. c

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  2. I think color vs. b&w is a personal preference, based on some inner artistic aesthetic. It’s the equivalent of preferring fiction to nonfiction, for instance. With b&w, there’s no genuine emotional content, allowing the viewer to add his own. You can envisage loneliness in the Frenchman’s world in black and white. In color, he’s just a guy looking at a garden.

    In the center images, the woman’s expression is exaggerated in b&w, and it’s all the photo is about, even though the men are in a phi spot, equal to the placement of the woman and baby. The background and peripherals become unimportant. In color, it all becomes important, and we are equally drawn to the balance of the man’s loud clothing. That’s what Meyerowitz referred to as “more information.” There’s more limited information in color, and his aesthetic is to provide as much as possible. It’s what eventually led him to shooting with 8×10 cameras. (Yuck)

    What Maria and I talk about, and gripe about, is the fact that color is easier, and many people choose it only in order to isolate the subject and make a photo appear stronger. There are true b&w masters, and I hope to share some, but in my opinion, most photographers should be required to get a license before they’re allowed to use it. For the record, Meyerowitz wasn’t a b&w master, but he is with color.


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