At a time when everyone has the means to dive into street photography, how do you make your photos different from everyone else’s? Joel Meyerowitz, another legendary name in the field, offers an insightful answer. As a New York City snapper, he’s a renowned pioneer of color street photography at a time when it was deemed amateur, and celebrated for his candid photographs that show his sharp observation skills. Meyerowitz’s frames are filled with people captured at the right place and the right time. It’s definitely a nod to the style of the photography legends who inspired him: Henri Cartier-Bresson and his decisive moment, Robert Frank and his famous documentary work on the American society, and Eugene Atget’s definitive work documenting Paris at the cusp of modernization.
In the Joel Meyerowitz school of street photography, the trick to making your work stand out from the rest lies in understanding the “power of the frame.” He explains how in the 2012 Phaidon Press video below:
Let’s take note of his key points:
What you don’t include in the frame matters just as much as what you put in it.
It’s easy to see how what you have in your frame is largely what comprises your photograph, but don’t be quick to dismiss what you chose not to include in it as well. “What you put in and what you leave out are what determines the meaning or potential of your photograph,” Meyerowitz reminded. “But you must continue to keep in mind that there’s plenty of stuff off-stage, and what bearing the rest of the off-stage have on this.”
Consider the unspoken relationship between the subjects and elements that you photograph.
On his own photographs, Meyerowitz revealed that his “interest, all along, has not been in identifying a singular thing, but in photographing the relationship between things.” This, he added, was made possible by his choice to see what’s in and out of the scene he’s photographing. An interesting perspective on creating contexts, if you ask me, and something worth trying for your own style or project, especially street photography.
Don’t simply make “copies” of what you photograph.
Focusing on singular subjects may get you the shot that you want (for all intents and purposes), but Meyerowitz believes that this is just making “copies.” By exploring your own vision of the “ephemeral connection between unrelated things”, he suggests it can increase your chances of creating a humanistic narrative that is your own.
Some of us may be used to the notion of limiting our visual narratives to what makes it on our frames. But in this video, Joel Meyerowitz suggests training to become a “binocular” street snapper, with the foresight to create images that make viewers want to know the story outside the frame.