The landscape is only part of the work of Joel Meyerowitz (New York, 1938). It supposes a fragmentation of the reality that arises from an anecdote; of a coincidence; of "an instant of revelation". Of that visible world, which is there for everyone, and that for almost sixty years has caught the interest of the artist through its mystery. His desire to decipher it keeps him alive, alert both to the gesture of the one with whom he crosses in the street, in the light that filters through a window, and in the shade that a forest draws. Thus, he speaks of photography with the passion of the novice and the eloquence of a great teacher. His ideas have evolved, his themes vary, but the enigma that has kept him connected to his art, and to himself, persists.
The Tatiana Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno Foundation begins its cycle Encounters about Art and Nature with a small and exquisite exhibition composed of twelve landscapes of the photographer born in the Bronx. Its inauguration was accompanied by a talk with the artist, with the purpose of sharing that spirit that keeps his work in which an inherent landscape is defined. "What does something so characteristic of your work involve, such as the crossing of people in Manhattan? Who do these people dialogue with that we do not really know where they are going or where they come from? With the photographer? What position does this assume with respect to this urban habitat and to another type of landscape? "Asks Miguel López Remiro, curator of these meetings.
"We live in a threatened landscape," says Meyerowitz. A landscape irremediably altered by pollution, industry and excess construction, among many other factors, to which the artist throughout his long career has responded in various ways. "When I started in photography I had no idea what I wanted to photograph. Although I did know that life on the streets was what most seduced me. The landscape did not attract my interest, I did not understand it as a theme ", recalls the author, who abandoned his work as an art director in a small New York agency and his love for painting to throw himself fully into photography.
Everything happened unexpectedly, the day he observed Robert Frank – then a stranger to him – shoot in motion during an advertising session. That subtle mobility of the Swiss photographer showed the impact of the American, who highlights his agile and elegant choreography to know get into the most ideal nook and shoot. A ballet to which the curator of the show grants a performance, almost pictorial character. "Photography implies a strange dichotomy. It requires immediate action, and even so, and at the same time there is a degree of slowness, of taking time to pay attention to where you are, "says Meyerowitz. "One is anchored to space until a moment of recognition is triggered. It is as if there were two different wavelengths; in one you move and in the other you react. Life teaches you that readiness is a discipline. The photographer is always trying to guess what is hidden before him. "
He had crossed the border into Mexico in 1962 and was waiting at a bus stop when a rainbow furrowed the sky. "This generated an answer in me," recalls the artist. "I could have moved a few meters to dispense with the presence of the two vehicles, but my instinct made me stop and show the rainbow between the two ends of the cars, marking the space. At that time I had my first revelation about what landscape photography could be. It woke up my understanding and my curiosity. " Since then the work of this innovator of photography has covered virtually all genres: in the sixties he captured the frantic heartbeat of the streets of New York along with others such as Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, being one of the first to make use of color ; he has portrayed with the wide-format camera the silent seascapes of Cape Cod, Tuscany and Provence; He has also practiced portraiture; He was the only photographer allowed to enter Ground Zero after the 9/11 attack. Today he is dedicated to observing the still life with the introspective capacity of a mystic, after having made two series dedicated to the objects of Cézanne and Morandi, respectively.
The artist spoke of the different ways in which each landscape reveals its potential: "Photography tries to pay attention to what awakens you in a fraction of a second. To recognize something that only you see. Thus, although photography is the most democratic means of the arts, I believe it is through the search for our individuality and our identity that we come into contact with the artist we all carry within us. " He stressed the importance of letting instinct become a guide: "To dispense with control changed my work. My work is more and more intuitive, less cerebral more in accordance with the spirit ". He stressed how human figures sometimes alter the landscape with their curious behavior, highlighting the irony, as tender as it is incisive, which often underlines his work. "Sometimes it happens that a photograph works by relating two separate things to each other within the frame. Establishing a relationship can result in something novel, "he said as one of his usual practices.
He also stressed the ability of light to alter a landscape. So, he described the moment that led to Daily Land, one of his best known images, when at sunset, on the way to the purchase, he realized that a landscape that could well have been a cliché had been completely modified. "I could taste the color," he recalled. "Sometimes you do not need The Parthenon, or another great structure, when a humble building or a telephone booth exhibits its greatness in the way of expressing a meaning."
The tragedy of 9/11 caught the artist in his city. "It was a piece of history and someone had to document it and offer it to the people of New York," says the artist. "For 9 months I witnessed how the landscape changed daily while the debris area was being cleaned. It was the most exceptional experience I have had. He changed me as a person and as an artist. " He had to combine this project with another already started in Tuscany: "That land cultivated for thousands of years, made me go deep into the past and taught me that the world was a good place to be. It gave me hope, that we all need, especially in the Trump era. "
Can you keep interest within a framework without having a specific subject? Meyerowitz spoke of the possibility of photographing the emptiness, a simple atmosphere, practically nothing with a camera that contradictorily describes everything, as some of its marine landscapes do, as Bay Sky. And, what does photography contribute that painting does not give to describe nature in particular? "Painting requires an extended period of time, while photography requires only a fraction of a second. It is necessary that there is a crush with that moment you are living ", explains this author who has been tempted on several occasions to retake the painting.
The great lesson he learned on the street is that people always behave in the same way. And that with time one gets to develop an extrasensory perception. "The street is an invisible text that is read globally, at the same time. It's all there, as in a hieroglyph of an Egyptian tomb. You just need to read it. Be ready to look for beauty. And, beauty means the moment, not only what is beautiful. "
It was already night when Meyerowitz walked the streets of Madrid. A container burned in a corner. The artist took out his camera ready to pick up the moment, interrupted by a fireman who warned him of the danger. At 80 years old the world continues to stimulate his senses and gives him honor by raising the camera and pushing the button.
Joel Meyerowitz Tatiana Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno Foundation. Madrid. Until December the 7th.