Sunday, April 26, 2009
After you, sir
After Meyerowitz, Berkeley, March 2007.
A kind-hearted person would call the picture above a hommage; someone less generous would call it a rip-off. The truth must lie somewhere between the two. Joel Meyerowitz took this b&w picture of the lady in the ticket booth in 1963, a year after he left his job as an ad agency art director to become a full-time street photographer. The grill floating on the woman's face reminded him of Magritte's paintings. So he fell in line and pretended to buy a ticket so he could snap his very own Le fils de l'homme. In the case of my lady in the ticket booth, it was the memory of Meyerowitz' iconic image itself that compelled me to push the shutter.
It's fascinating that the sight of the ticket lady instinctively reminded me of Meyerowitz even though I haven't looked at his pictures for many years. Perhaps he experienced the flashback with Magritte similarly. Consciously or not, memory of images begets other images. For the street photographer, there is a hundred years' worth of photographic tradition and iconography to inform and influence what one chooses to capture. A boy looking out a tram window is not just a boy anymore, but a Robert Frank tableau. Every man on a bike seen from a staircase is also seen from the prism of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Women gossiping on a bench conjure Garry Winogrand.
As for our ticket lady picture, there must be thousands of ladies behind ticket windows at any given time and place, each one waiting to be photographed. But it was Meyerowitz who captured the image first and tattooed it in our minds. So after you, sir.
René Magritte, Le fils de l'homme (The son of man), 1964.
Joel Meyerowitz, Untitled, New York, 1963.
Robert Frank, Trolley, New Orleans.
Garry Winogrand, World's Fair, New York City, 1964.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Hyeres, 1932.