JOEL MEYEROWITZ: HOW I MAKE PHOTOGRAPHS Book Review – Launching Photographers

How I Make Photographs
New York City, 1976

“Once you have a camera in your hand, you have a license to see.  And seeing is what photography is all about.  You learn about yourself and the world around you.  In the 55 years I’ve been making photographs, photography has taught me everything I know about the world and about myself.” 

So says author Joel Meyerowitz. He has a lofty goal to help launch beginner fine art photographers by shedding light on his own epiphany and subsequent development.

This book can be gobbled up in a single sitting.  Then again, its lessons can be mulled over, carefully considered, and compared with one’s own history and accomplishments – all worthwhile.

How I Make Photographs
New York City, 1963
How I Make Photographs
Spain, 1983

So. Just how good are his lessons, his insights?

The book’s title is How I Make Photographs but it’s also about How You Can Become a Better Photographer. The first chapter is DISCOVER YOUR IDENTITY AS AN ARTIST.  That’s pretty heady stuff!  This immediately separates those who just want to make better snapshots from those tortured souls that really DO want to use photography for artistic expression.  As a fine arts photographer, this reviewer finds many of his suggestions both compelling and useful.  He jumps in with DISCOVER YOUR IDENTITY AS AN ARTIST: EXPRESS YOUR VISION OF THE WORLD in Chapter 1.  Here Meyerowitz mentions how he was drawn into the field by watching Robert Frank, one of the 20th century’s great photographers.  Frank was on an assignment for Meyerowitz as an art director.  Later he talks a bit about dealing with doubts, and more importantly, states “My goal with this book is to help you develop that confidence and find a way of expressing yourself through photography, which is about looking at the world and … about those moments when instinct strikes – your moments of clarity, observation and recognition.”

Interestingly, his focus is on street photography, although one might imagine that many photographers find their identities in other subject matter, such as landscape, portraiture, or more conceptual explorations.  Meyerowitz’s Cape Cod series, semi-landscape, are all done with an 8” x 10” camera-- hardly a street photographer’s tool!

How I Make Photographs
New York City, 1978


Meyerowitz continues to make a number of good, useful points, in this photographer/writer’s view, including:

  • Study the work of masters – he recommends Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus – fine, but he might’ve tossed in Edward Weston and especially the inimitable Eugene Atget as well, as he’s mentioned Atget as an inspiration in other writings.
  • Find beauty everywhere, in the everyday as well as the exotic
  • Edit your work carefully
  • Think as well as feel – it’s brain as well as heart
  • Connect with your portrait subjects, even in casual street photography
  • Push yourself beyond your limits. (Chapter 16). You too may agree that this is one of the best chapters, as he talks about one of his personal projects, photographing the World Trade Center after the attack.
How I Make Photographs
New York City, 1974

Meyerowitz’ inclusion of photos from a wide variety of projects helps explain his points well.  Also, he shares original full photos along with cropped images, showing their greater impact.

If there’s a weakness in this book, perhaps it’s his strong emphasis on street photography.  Even in the chapter on connections, in which he discusses portraiture, several of the portraits look like candids.  This was a bit of a surprise to this reviewer, whose favorites are his large format images from Bay Light.

This isn’t a book about technicalities, but he does discuss (again, briefly!) what his favorite lens is, and why, and how he gets his exposure settings.  Great tips!

JOEL MEYEROWITZ: HOW I MAKE PHOTOGRAPHS is inspiration and reassurance for beginning-to-advanced photographers and a treasure-trove of insights for all who love photography as an art form.   It is highly recommended for beginning photographers, as well as advanced photographers looking to be even more inspired, and especially those wondering what to do next,.  Actually, this book is recommended for anyone interested in photography as an art form.  It’s a quick read, lots of insights, with a plethora of beautiful photos…what’s not to like?


Editor’s Note:  The book also includes a coupon link for a 15% discount for Meyerowitz’s master’s class with Masters of Photography.

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To purchase a copy, visit the Amazon page for JOEL MEYEROWITZ: HOW I MAKE PHOTOGRAPHS

Photos credited Joel Meyerowitz.

Joe Barabe
Joe Barabe

About the Author:

Joe Barabe shares that he fell in love with photography when he bumped into The Family of Man exhibition catalog, and then studied photography under photojournalist Martin Huss in Mannheim Germany. He then ran a photo center for the US Army’s Recreational Services. Joe Barabe works as a Scientific Photographer and Research Microscopist specializing in art materials and documents analysis  (Barabe & Associates LLC) and now is focusing more on promoting his fine art photography, including the remarkable images you see here. and recently launched his photography website to promote his fine art photography. Please Visit Joe Barabe photography website.

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