Book review — How I Make Photographs (Joel Meyerowitz)

Book review — How I Make Photographs ( Joel Meyerowitz)
by Allan LEONARD
18 October 2020

Joel Meyerowitz is a renowned street photographer, long before the term became a familiar recognised genre (or subgenre of documentary photography). Once working as an art director, after an encounter with photographer Robert Frank, he quit his job and set out with a Pentax camera. Meyerowitz is known for his recording of street life in his native New York City, covering a span of several decades.

Meyerowitz features in the Masters of Photography online course. To complement this programme, there is a planned series of short books; How I Make Photographs is the first in the series.

This book is a collection of 20 short essays, accompanied by related images from Meyerowitz’s extensive catalogue. The chapters are easy to read and the images are used to good effect. The style of writing is that of a calm and kind conversation.

Meyerowitz shares his wisdom with the reader. He wants us to trust our passions and not to hesitate when making photographs. Not family album snaps but images that show the mystery and magic of people. It can be uncomfortable dealing with the chaos of the street, but if you show warmth and sympathy, you can reflect that in your images; yet resilience helps. Keep a sense of awe and keep your eyes open. Anticipate the moment—through practice. Make portraits through relationships. Let your images tell a story. See the visual humour of daily life. Look for the details of gestures. Challenge your inventiveness. Find a lens that suits your personality—but wide is better. Pay attention to composition (get your subject off centre). If a project excites you, go into it with an open heart and lots of energy. Reflect on your style and what you’re subconsciously been drawn to and make something of it. Give your work form and meaning.

The book took me less than two hours to finish. Indeed, one can see a purpose of this book as providing a taster of more insightful learning from the full Masters of Photography course. And that is fine, because this small but well formed book is a delight to read and be inspired by. How I Make Photographs can be a pick-me-up to remind you that documenting the everyday can be satisfying and a valuable element of discovering yourself and the world around you.

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