JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against almond colored walls in the main gallery space, the book alcove, and the entry area. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 1976 and 1984 and printed later. The prints are sized either roughly 18×23 (in editions of 20) or 29×37 (in editions of 10) or reverse. There are 15 prints in the smaller size and 10 prints in the larger size on view. A monograph of this re-edited body of work was published in 2013 by Super Labo (here). Examples of the artist’s late 1960s-early 1970s black and white and color (dye transfer) works are on view in the smaller side galleries. (Installation shots of the main exhibit below.)
Comments/Context: As any photographer knows, dramatic changes occur in the light at various times of the day. The fresh pure almost white light of the morning gives way to the punishing sunny brightness of midday, which in turn evolves into the easy going warmth of the late afternoon. And as the evening falls, the in-between hours between day and night that we call twilight or dusk offer their own moody and melancholy charms, with the light of glorious sunsets draining away into deeper blues and purples, before settling in to the enveloping embrace of darkness.
This show (and the earlier accompanying monograph) uses this magical time of day as its thematic backbone. Digging into Joel Meyerowitz’ vast image archive, it gathers together pictures known and unknown that were taken at twilight, primarily mixing the fading light of Cape Cod with that of Florida, and adding in a handful of stops from Missouri to New Jersey as alternate perspectives. Mostly taken in the late 1970s, the images are steeped in the attentive study of color, using the tinted nuances of the sky as backdrops for the loneliness of empty streets and lingering quiet.
Seen together, Meyerowitz’ pictures at dusk have a surprising degree of compositional commonality, even though the architectural and social details of beach cottages, swimming pools, and city blocks differ across the country. The images are nearly evenly balanced between those that use the muted tones of sky as their only light source, and those that interrupt the smooth gradients of color with an intrusion – a solitary street light, a porch light, the wash of a car headlight, the glow from a window, the buzz of a neon sign, or even the sparkling moon in the sky above. And with the coming darkness, silhouettes start to stand out with more authority, the bold lines and forms of a telephone pole, a church steeple, a folded umbrella, a diving platform, or a palm tree adding unexpected verticality to skyward landscapes that are often dominated by the bigness of the horizon.
All of the prints on view are recent enlargements from the original large format negatives, and the more expansive size makes the scenes richer and more engrossing, particularly when the sky turns gorgeous shades of cornflower blue or Easter egg purple. The increase in scale also draws us into the smaller resonant details of Meyerowitz’ American scenes. Afternoon baseball, a wood-paneled family station wagon parked at the snack bar, the hearty red blossoms of a rose bush near a classic white porch, the rollerskates of a teenage girl – these are his understated icons of summer.
In other pictures, Meyerowitz encourages the serenity of dusk to wander toward something more uncertain. As the twilight deepens, his relaxed beach communities take on a subdued hint of film noir menace. An open gate leeringly invites us down to the unseen water below, an empty child’s merry-go-round sits in forlorn silence, and the open doors of a car reveal an eerie red glow inside. As the street lights come on, their squinting brightness illuminates cozy houses, dark back yards, and vacant parking lots, each one the potential setting for a touch of bad luck or outright trouble. The best of Meyerowitz’ twilight pictures find this exact point of uneasy oscillation, where comfortable becomes plausibly uncomfortable and innocent edges toward wild as the sky slowly darkens.
While many of these images will be familiar to those already well aware of Meyerowitz’ work, this expanded cross section of pictures connected by the common motif of twilight allows us to see him testing his own understanding of how to manage (and extend) photographic color. In contrast to the cacophonous color energy in most of Meyerowitz’ urban scenes, these images are much more subdued, and that deliberateness slows us down and forces us to see color not as a splash or a momentary distraction but as a broader environment or mood. Meyerowitz encourages the shifting twilight to function like an embrace, surrounding and enlivening the everyday rhythms of life and changing our perception of the overooked.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at either $11000 or $17500, based on size. Meyerowitz’ work is routinely available in the secondary markets, particularly prints of his 1970s images made in large editions (75 or even 100). Prices have typically ranged from $1000 to $24000.
I remember Meyerowitz was one of two guests of honour at a street photo festival here in the UK several years ago. On the opening night his co-guest of honour opened proceedings, and, I’ve no idea why, made some quite disrespectful comments about Joel. It was very strange and unsettling. When it came time for Joel to say something he got up and spoke with remarkable grace and good-feeling to the world. Totally untouched by any negativity. Over the next couple of days I’d see him around and he was inexhaustible in his engagement with everyone, which was particularly remarkable for his age.
What’s more, at a photographer’s disco, (don’t ask), he hit the dance floor for a Jacksons tune; quickly realising what a terrible mistake he’d made as cameras started being pulled from bags and pockets. His ease, gentle charm and positivity are qualities that seem to pervade these subtle, elegant photographs.