If the name Joel Meyerowitz rings a bell, it’s probably because of his famously dedicated work documenting the landscape, workers, and mood at ground zero in the months immediately following the attack on the World Trade Center. Or perhaps you remember melting before the vibrantly colored Cape Cod seascapes he made in the ’70s. But the photographs that secured Meyerowitz a solid place in the medium’s contemporary history are quirkier, riskier, and, for the most part, earlier than these. A few of those vintage pictures are included here along with a number of others unseen since his first Museum of Modern Art show in 1968 and a group of terrific early-’60s prints never before exhibited.
Nearly all the images here use the serendipitous pleasures of the snapshot as a springboard for something more considered and refined. By now, this is a familiar gambit, and Meyerowitz wasn’t the first to master it (key precedents: Helen Levitt, William Klein, Cartier-Bresson), but when he did, he was just about unbeatable. Based on the evidence here, he still had a lot to learn in the ’60s; a number of the pictures simply collapse into themselves. But others—like the memorable Fallen Man, Paris, 1967—combine incident, gesture, landscape, and mystery with such breathtaking concision that you feel like you’ve seen a whole movie in one shot.