A native Texan, Arthur Meyerson travels extensively throughout the world photographing for corporate, advertising and editorial assignments. Throughout it all, Meyerson’s fascination with light, color and the moment has never ceased and he has continued to produce a body of personal work that has grown into an impressive archive, “The Color of Light.”
He is included in “The World’s Top Ten Annual Report Photographers” listing by Communication World and has been named Adweek’s Southwest Photographer of the Year on three separate occasions. American Photo Magazine named him as one of the top photographers in advertising.
Besides a listing in Who’s Who, his awards include gold medals from the New York Art Directors Club, the Art Directors Club of Houston, the Dallas Society of Visual Communications and the prestigious Stephen Kelly Award for his work on the Nike advertising campaign. Recently, Meyerson was named by Nikon to their list of “Legends Behind the Lens”.
Meyerson’s extensive client list includes: Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney, and National Geographic.
A photographer with a strong commitment to his profession and teaching, Meyerson participates in several workshops and speaking engagements annually. He is a member of the Advisory Council for the Center of Photographic Projects as well as serving on the Board of Advisors for the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.
Meyerson’s photographs have been featured in many publications including Communication Arts, Digital Photo Pro, American Photo, Rangefinder, Photo District News, Zoom (France), Idea (Japan), Novum (Germany), Photoworld (China) and Fotodigital (Portugal).
His photographs have been exhibited internationally. His next retrospective exhibition premiers in October 22nd – November 3rd at the Lightwell Gallery at the University of Oklahoma (Norman).
This is an extended version of a conversation first published in the July/August 2006 issue of Camera Arts.
John Paul Caponigro You’ve been obsessed with the “color of light” for some time now. Tell me everything this phrase holds for you.
Arthur Meyerson Several years ago I was searching for a title for the workshop that I teach. The class deals with light and color but it also is about “seeing”. Somehow the term, “the color of light” came to me as the perfect title. It also is the proposed title for a monograph of personal work. For me, the phrase “color of light” is a synonymous term for color photography.
JPC Light drawing. Light is color. Color is light. Artists use light in different ways. Edward Weston used it to highlight form, volume, and space – representation. Brett Weston use it to downplay all of these things reducing any subject to shape, pattern, and rhythm – abstraction. How would you characterize your own use of light?
AM The type of photographs that I make are more about a response to light. It is only afterwards, when I am editing, that I might begin to realize why I took the photograph and then discover how the light worked (or didn’t) toward that end.
JPC Physical phenomenon, biological response, visual descriptor, cultural code, psychological force, sensual pleasure, color is all of these things. What aspects of color fascinate you most?
AM All of these. I don’t think that if you have an appreciation of color that you can help not being affected by all of them. I don’t think that it can, or should be restricted to any one area. And, therefore, allows me a wider range of possibilities.
JPC Scientists describe color as an event that contains three essential components a light source, an object, observer. When making images artists often focus more attention on one component than another. Some chase exotic light sources, often found during ‘golden hours’. Some strive to reproduce the local color of objects very accurately, typically without the influence of ambient light, particularly for product photography. Some use color for it’s expressive qualities, with less concern for accurate representation or naturalism While I know we both work with all three of these strategies from time to time, over time we also tend to favor one over another. What tendencies do you feel you have when working with color?
AM I’m sure that over time , I probably have favored one of these over the others, but I usually am going out there in a very “open” state of mind and, therefore, my choices are totally instinctual based on whatever is in front of me. A moment, an object, a landscape, the light, a color(s)… it makes no difference. Generally, I am not trying to influence “it” as much as capture what is there. Although, when shooting commercial assignments, I will resort to whatever is necessary to create the strongest image necessary to express whatever it is that my client needs that photograph to do. But in my personal work I am usually striving toward recording “that scene in front of me” as I saw it, especially the light and color.
JPC It’s the choices we make that define us. We all have our own criteria for selection. One of the most fundamental ways of selecting a subject or set of visual relationships is to place ourselves in specific locations at specific times, generally ones we’re most likely to find visually stimulating. With an unlimited range of choices before you, what locations and times of day would you choose and why?
AM I’ve always tried to follow the advice that many other photographers I respect abide by…to avoid preconceptions. Otherwise you’re more likely to be disappointed by what you don’t find and more likely to overlook the obvious. I like the element of chance or surprise that can happen to you if you’re open. On the other hand that does not mean that I may not research a subject or location……I just try not to determine the photograph before I’ve seen the location or subject.
As for time of day, there was a time, early on, when I felt that the only time to shoot color was during the “golden hour” at sunrise and sunset. And, no question, that as long as there is a sunrise or sunset, beautiful color images can be produced. But (beside the fact that one has no control over there being a sunrise or sunset) that type of thinking is way too limiting. I began to feel that if I was a good photographer I should be able to produce strong images all day long regardless of the time of day, weather, location or subject. So, it is important to learn to play the hand that’s dealt to you. You’ve got to learn to work with and appreciate the midday light, rain or a polluted sky whether it’s in Bangkok or your own backyard.
JPC I very much appreciate a stance of being open to possibilities; it’s the root of discovery. And I very much appreciate versatility. It’s one of the things that characterizes a true professional. At the same time, at the end of the day or the end of a career, when we look back on our work there is something that is inescapably, indelibly, quintessentially our own. While other people could have placed themselves in similar situations with similar tools and perhaps made similar images, it’s highly unlikely they would have made these particular images. That’s the mark of fully realized artist, in touch with and working from their authentic core. Whether subconsciously or consciously, it happens. When you look back on the work you’ve done to date, how would you characterize the essential qualities of your work, particularly with regard to light?
AM I’ve always tried to convey honesty and realism, especially in my personal work. And that would particularly apply to my use of light. I think that it all stems from an “appreciation” of light. Many times, I can be walking or driving along and all of a sudden stop and say, “Wow, look at the light!”. I don’t believe that you can teach one to have that feeling. Maybe it’s passion, I’m not sure. But, the quality of light that attracts me is as diverse as the subjects I shoot. Dawn, dusk, hot, shadow,overcast, misty, foggy, rainy, reflective, ambient, mixed …all have their moments, that in combination with the right subject, offer up many possibilities. And if I’m ready and open to that moment, then I am probably taking pictures.
JPC Finish this sentence with me. You know you’ve fallen in love with color when… color transports you. While chasing color, you go without water, food, or sleep without even thinking about it. The world seems more mysterious and wonderful because color is in it. You feel more alive in the presence of color – and often other people sense this. You can’t imagine living without color.
AM Well, I would agree with all of those examples. We take most things for granted, like the fact that we see in color. But as photographers, imagine not being able to shoot color if you wanted to because the technology did not exist. I remember when newspapers only printed photos in B&W. I remember when color television evolved. I remember when computers switched to color monitors. But, in my lifetime, I have always had the advantage of having had color film (now a color sensor). Like most photographers, I started in black and white and later moved to color. Many have equated this to learning to draw before learning to paint. I think that there is a lot of truth to that statement. But I am a “photoholic”. I love photography, I love photographs and many of my best friends are photographers. And, therefore, I don’t think that color photography is better than black and white or vice versa. It’s just that they each speak a different language . For me, a good color photograph has always been more difficult to create than a good black and white image. Color is an added element. Because color is an added element, it is not always a positive. It can go against the image. There are a couple of tests I apply to determine the strength of a color photograph. First, if I transpose it to black and white, is the image stronger? If yes, then I feel I have failed. In a color photograph, color must be part of the total equation. The next test is time. Print the photo, hang it on the wall, look at it everyday. Have I grown bored with it? Doesthe color still add? Does the photograph still resonate with me?
JPC Finish another sentence with me. You know a color relationship is good when… a new world of possibilities opens up before you. You find yourself immersing yourself more deeply and feeling more connected with the world around you and with yourself. You have physical and emotional experiences that show you there’s more to life than you had dreamed, some of them challenging. Your physical environment is more stimulating. The landscape of your psyche becomes more varied and wonderful, even strange and unexpected.
AM And all the colors in the image work together within the composition and add to the overall image…. allowing me to express what I can’t express otherwise.
JPC Finish one last sentence with me. You know a set of color relationships in an image are good when… you’ve found an insight, often unexpected, sometimes unconventional, and that experience can be rexperienced through the image. Other people, who haven’t had that experience, some of whom have never had an experience like it, have a similar experience – each one a unique event with each viewer and viewing. You see the world with new eyes. Other people, after looking at your images, experience the world anew.
AM Well said! There is not much I would add to that because that is exactly what I am trying to do in my photographs regardless of whether the subject matter is some exotic location or the most common object.
JPC What recommendations do you have for artists who want to heighten their sensitivity to and deepen their relationship with color?
AM One of the great lessons that I learned from Ernst Haas in working with color, was to throw the picture out of focus, thus, eliminating the subject and then allowing you to see how the colors balance. Ernst always felt that everyone had their own color key (how you connect colors together in a photograph) and their own composition key (how you deal with a photograph’s “hidden structures”…it’s geometry). “It’s something you don’t go out and create…it’s already within you.”-E.H.
JPC In your work there’s love of color, a strong graphic structure (often concerned with rhythm and pattern), and there’s story. First tell me about the importance of story in your work. Then tell me about the kinds of stories graphic images or abstractions tell.
AM Early on, I realized that a graphic image, among other things, can be a useful tool. It can provide an exclamation point to an image. It can become a great simplifier to complex image. It can become an abstraction. It can become the image. At it’s best, it can take the viewer into a whole other world. On the other hand, an overly graphic image can create a very quick “Wow!” sensation and then upon further viewing, lose that original power because it has been discovered. I think the best graphic images are those where the compositions are less obvious and/or include a counterpoint. That can be the beginning of story. I have always felt that my most successful photographs are like short stories; they say the most with the least. The best photographs don’t always have stories with answers; sometimes they’re stories that ask questions. And, sometimes they’re not stories at all; instead they may be visual poems or visual adjectives. The film director, Wim Wenders, himself a very good photographer, did a wonderful book of photographs called, “Once”. In the introduction he ends by saying, “I hope this photobook will become a storybook. It Isn’t yet- but it can become one if you just listen to your eyes”. I love that!
JPC When you look at other people’s photographs, which images have stood the test of time and continue to make the strongest impression on you?
AM There are so many. (Remember, I’m a photoholic). But, as a photographer, I have always felt that a body of work is more important than a single image. Because it represents a vision and that, to me, is more important than an individual photograph. Those with a vision that I admire include: Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Arnold Newman, Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Jay Maisel and the man I consider my mentor, Ernst Haas.
JPC When you look at your work now, which of your images have stood the test of time and continue to make the strongest impression on you?
AM Judging your own work is always the most difficult. We become emotionally attached to our work and it’s a bit like asking,” who’s your favorite child”?
JPC When you look back on your career as a photographer, what are some of your favorite memories?
AM The short answer is that every day I go to work and I never know who will call or what the assignment might be. I know of no other profession that would have allowed me to travel the world (many times over), meet the people I’ve met and experience the things that I have experienced with the joy of recording those memories, sharing them with others and getting paid for it. I have always felt fortunate that I have lived, as my friend, Sam Abell, calls it, “the photographic life”.
JPC I’m out photographing with Arthur Meyerson – cowboy boots, belt buckle, on occasion the hat, but never the lasso, deep warm voice,low volume, big heart, frequently smiling (it’s a contagious smile), always looking. What’s the day going to be like?
AM I’m concerned that you’re making me sound like the Robert Duvall character, “Gus”, in Lonesome Dove, which actually is one of my favorite character’s and western movies. The only thing you’ve left out is a gun on my hip…although I suppose you could substitute a camera on my shoulder…..I kind of like that! However, I don’t own a big buckle, I wear the boots occasionally and I need the hat more and more. Now, back to the original question. My wife, Linda, says, “If you can’t have fun with Arthur, then you can’t have fun”. That said, we’d do some looking, some talking, some walking, some philosophizing, some laughing, some eating, some drinking and hopefully some shooting.