Tuesday, February 25, 2020


© Joel Meyerowitz

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

In 1967, five years after the beginning of his photographic career (which started in 1962, when he saw Robert Frank getting pictures for a booklet designed by him, a experienced that meant a turning point in his life, resulting in changing his work as an art director for street photographer),

© jmse

Joel Meyerowitz, one of the greatest street photographers ever and pioneering advocate of color, got in Paris one of his most defining images : " Fallen Man in Paris " with

a Leica M2

The introduction of Kodachrome-X colour film ASA 64 in 1962 meant a significant increase in speed in comparison to the previous Kodachrome II ASA 25 from 1961 and therefore a great enhancement of the versatility and photographic possibilities shooting handheld of this legendary chemical emulsion, whose realism, unique colour rendering, elegance, image aesthetics, archival stability and 140 megapixels are still unmatched, eighty-three years after the introduction of the first ASA 10 24 x 36 mm format Kodachrome film in 1936.

loaded with Kodachrome-X ISO 64 color film and coupled to a

chromed brass 6 elements in 4 groups Summaron-M 35 mm f/2.8 lens.

© Joel Meyerowitz

This picture includes a myriad of meaningful details and various parallel contexts ruled by the persons surrounding a man that has fallen to the ground beside the entrance of a subway station.

However incredible it may seem, Joel Meyerowitz only made one shot while being next to the underground station, proving his sensational observation ability, uncommon reaction quickness and an outstanding timing accuracy on pressing the shutter release button of his Leica M camera, capturing a decisive moment that would become a timeless iconic photograph.
© jmse

It is an image in which Meyerowitz greatly develops his talent to capture the dynamic and expressive potential for street photography, becoming as invisible as possible to find significant gestures, while striving upon discovering a body language that doesn´t threaten the persons inside the frame whatsoever, with the unswerving aim of catching his subjects at their most natural.

© Joel Meyerowitz

The core of the image action centers on the face up man fallen on the ground and the reactions of the abundant people surrounding him.

Obviously, the man lying on the ground needs help, but nobody gives a hand:

- The worker wearing a clear beret, very dirty jeans, a shirt with its sleeves rolled up and taking a hammer in his right hand has just gone up the tube station stairs and is clearly in a hurry. Top priority for him is doing his travail, and advances heedlessly, avoiding the man fallen on the ground by raising his left leg not to tread on him, while simultaneously grabbing the wrought iron vertical metallic structure with his left hand to keep balance. He has already seen the man on the floor, unconscious and with his eyes closed, but doesn´t pay any attention to him.

- The young boy clad in gray attire and walking in the middle of the image, seems to work for a shop and appears taking some product boxes with a trolley.

He is also rushing his march to deliver the goods as soon as possible. He´s likewise seen the man lying on the ground, but now he isn´t even looking at him, because by far, the most important thing for him is to fulfill the assignment he has been ordered, and while he hastily turns the wheelbarrow on his left, in the direction of the camera, his face reveals unwavering resolve to hand over the stuff as quick as feasible, without any interruption, interference or " waste of time ".

- The woman on a bicycle, appearing slightly on the left of the picture middle area and with a red handbag hanging from her right shoulder, is stopped in the middle of a traffic jam, in the same way as the rest of cars visible in the image.

She is looking backwards with curiosity, to see the man fallen on the ground and what is happening around him.

- The young boy walking towards the camera on the left zone of the photograph (wearing grey jacket, white shirt, black tie and jeans) has seen the man lying on the ground some meters before, also without helping any way, walking on fastly, and now has turned his head staring at the watching people standing on far right of the image.

- The young woman clad in black attire, sunglasses and holding a bag in which can be read the word Andre, is standing on the first step of the subway stairs, without moving, engrossed on her thoughts.

© Joel Meyerowitz

Almost everything is in focus and discernible, from the foreground ( with the back area of the blonde woman´s head, located on the lower right corner of the image, and the young boy wearing the grey jacket, black tie and jeans walking quickly on the left) to the bus and people on the right, the woman on a bicycle and the cars in the background.

In addition, the extensive depth of field attained inherent to a 35 mm wideangle lens, was highly effective for this type of street photography picture in synergy with the hyperfocal technique ( achieving the fastest AF on earth, in spite of shooting with manual focusing lenses) used by the photographer to get it, since the slightly out of focus area begins in the third arch on the left, beyond the cars.

- On their turn, there are eight people standing on far right of the image, very near the first step of the subway stairs, looking at the man fallen on the ground, but also without doing anything, while a mature man wearing glasses is sitting inside the bus, pensive and utterly unaware of what is happening at a very short distance from him.

© Joel Meyerowitz

This feeling of carelessness is fostered by the presence of a cleaning man beside a window, who (in spite of being slightly out of focus, in the same way as the two lights of the street lamp on his left) can be glimpsed in far background, over the bus, thanks to the remarkable resolving power of the Leitz Summaron-M 35 mm f/2.8 lens and the outstanding acutance of Kodachrome 64 color film enabling an excellent preservation of contours.

On the other hand, it is a picture oozing vintage look, thanks to the unique image aesthetics, visual signature and lovely colors yielded by the Leitz Summaron-M 35 mm f/2.8, which in addition, is a very small, light and comfortable wideangle lens to use coupled to a Leica M rangefinder camera to react with speed, immediacy and spontaneity to get the picture shooting handheld and unobtrusively.

Though strongly inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand, with this legendary image

Joel Meyerowitz, a street photographer master having excelled at getting pictures of disappearing and fragmentary moments of everyday life throughout his fifty-seven years photographic career. His extensive work has been exhibited worldwide in nothing more than 350 different museums and galleries, having currently turned into a reference-class teacher of street photography thanks to his famous courses all over the world, particularly in New York and Tuscany, where any enthusiast of Street Photography can have a once in a lifetime unforgettable experience through the lessons imparted by him and the wise advice given each participant to find his / her own style and way, the tactics to kind of becoming invisible, etc.
© jmse
Joel Meyerowitz goes far beyond the capture of a decisive moment, since the picture brims with life, chaos, stress to spare, energy exploding in every direction, there are points of interest all over the surface of the frame, depiction of the vibrant and hectic daily life in Paris, a precise use of color as a real visual language to attain vividness and pictorial intensity as well as being a way of communication, the frenzy of people hastily marching towards their jobs, there is space for any observer to get into the picture, a fascination for the flux of existence, being in the street for inspiration.
© Joel Meyerowitz

" Fallen Man in Paris 1967 " image is full of complexities, nuances, interrelationships between human beings and things, parallel stories, urban world diversity, etc.

Meyerowitz has masterfully captured a fleeting moment in time, putting inside the frame the many things simultaneously happening and interacting to each other, the unfolding stream of events visible in the picture, leveraging his outstanding skill and experience as a street photographer and his deep insight of human condition.

In this regard, there is a tremendously powerful triangle made up by the four persons occupying the center of the picture (the worker with the hammer, the young boy carrying boxes on a trolley, the woman on the bicycle and the young man nearest to the camera and wearing a grey jacket, white shirt and black tie.

This is by far the most significant area of the image, fraught with tension and fidget, whose climax is reached by the point of the right shoe of the man fallen on the ground, which is aiming towards the bus on the right, in opposite direction to the left boot of the worker, which is advancing in the air, almost touching the right side of his waist.

Needless to say that the out of image feet of the young boy clad in grey jacket and located on the left of the image also advance in opposite direction to the point of the right shoe of the man lying on the floor. He is doing his best to walk away from the place as soon as possible, in the same way as the worker and the other young man taking product boxes in a trolley.

And the woman on a bicycle will resume her march when the traffic at a standstill beyond her starts moving.

© Joel Meyerowitz

Therefore, the apparent dynamism of middle and left area of the image makes a stark contrast with the unconscious and motionless man on the floor.

And if it were not enough, the utterly turned heads looking backwards of both the woman on the bicycle in the background and the young boy with grey jacket and nearest to the camera interact visually with the young boy carrying the boxes, to such an extent that their lower intersection is the man fallen on the ground, whose stretched backwards arms pervade the image with drama, something boosted by the chains of the metallic fence spanning from the lowest left area of the picture up to beyond the workman with the hammer, especially the chain nearest to his left leg, which seems to be touching the face and stomach of the unconscious man on the floor.

The photograph makes any observer wonder how long has this man been lying unconscious on the ground, if he has just fallen or has been unaided in this position for some minutes.

Furthermore, there´s a second substantial triangle made up by the walking worker with the hammer, the young boy taking the boxes on a trolley and the young blond man standing near the back entrance of the bus and whose head protrudes while he has folded a magazine in his right hand, leaning it on his chin and lips, being pensive and not looking at the fallen man on the floor.

Simultaneously, a young boy sitting on the right back seat of the Citroen 2CV visible on the left of the image is looking through the window of both his car and the white car nearest to the woman on the bicycle, with a hand on his chin and seeing what is happening.

Joel Meyerowitz, one of the most influential artists in the worldwide spreading and reputation of street photography along with Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus and William Klein.
© jmse

" Fallen Man in Paris 1967 " is undoubtedly one of the best and most defining pictures ever made in the history of Street Photography, depicting an exceedingly fleeting moment from the stream of everyday happenings.

It´s also a very meaningful image showing a number of significant " gestures " and a very personal style of getting pictures in which every aspect and element plays an equal, vital role, complemented by a steady aesthetic exploration of form and composition, and above all a constant fight for looking an instant of astonishment drawn from the daily ordinary existence.

It is likewise a highly representative image of Meyerowitz´s early color production, which amazed even the legendary maestro John Szarkowski, visionary curator of photography at the New York Museum of Modern Art between 1962 and 1991 and supreme master of the art of looking at photographs, who had already included one of his pictures in " The Photographer Eye " exhibition held in 1964, three years before getting this quintessential picture in Paris.

© Joel Meyerowitz

Furthermore, " Fallen Man in Paris 1967 " embodies Meyerowitz´s lingering appeal for urban life regarding its gestural energy and fragmentation, the relish of walking around and seeing all the interactions, the interrelationships between things and people, the way people cluster together, separate and push forward.

Though this photograph was made in a fraction of a second, it had to undoubtedly be an instant of tremendous emotional intensity in which the photographer was able to discern something fairly interesting for him, a remarkable consciousness of the moment that he saw unfolding in front of him.

And in this regard, if at first sight the mystery of the fallen man on the ground makes any observer ask a lot of questions on what has happened to him and how long he has been in that position, a further even more important mystery is why the surrounding people next to the Paris subway station are not helping him.

The genesis of this picture stems from living and breathing for photography, the diachronic abode of his author, engaged with it throughout fifty-seven years of his lifetime, an idyl being instrumental in his development of a sixth sense about the way in which things happen in the street, a living entity in constant change as to the behavior of the persons, the weight of the shadows, the quality and trajectory of lights, the saturation, texture, nuances and subtleties of colors, the unpredictability reigning supreme, scads of things simultaneously taking place, etc.

Back zone of a 24 x 36 mm format Leica M2 camera. As has been often explained by Joel Meyerowitz, one of the great advantages of Leica M rangefinder cameras is that unlike slr cameras ( featuring the viewfinder on middle top of the back area, so the vision of the other eye and what happens outside the frame is blocked), they have got the VF and its eyepiece on back extreme top left area of the camera, enabling the photographer to preserve the binocular nature of the human being, so he / she can see what is taking place inside the frame and outside it, and understanding much better that the world continues outside the frame. Besides, the viewfinder is obviously the most important tool in composing an image, and Leica M cameras boast frame-lines making possible to see out of their boundaries, giving the photographers the ability to change their composition to exactly what they want the image to be, being able to see persons and things walking into the frame or walking out of it, because an slr camera, whether analogue or digital, blacks out everything outside the frame, so a rangefinder camera gives you much more freedom. Needless to say that it would have been virtually impossible to get the picture " Man Fallen in Paris 1967 " with a single reflex camera, because a Leica M is much less intimidating, hugely more discreet, its shutter release noise is much lower, its hyperfocal focus is much faster than any AF on earth and the shutter lag (time elapsed between the instant in which the shutter release button is pressed and the exposure) is much shorter, approximately 16 ms in a Leica M2.

Anyway, this picture is first and foremost the consequence of pure photographic instinct and talent to utterly take advantage of observation to know when exactly to press the shutter release button of the camera and put inside the frame all the elements that will define the image, in which each and every one detail is of paramount importance for Meyerowitz, always moving and struggling for getting relevant instants, as well as being constantly learning to hone his skill and timing as a photographer to be in the right place at the right time, in the middle of an observable and sensory reality, and accurately know when reacting in a split second and shoot, even in the least likely places, capturing alluring urban life on the fly, without thinking too much.

The once in a lifetime " Fallen Man in Paris 1967 " iconic picture made by Meyerowitz fifty-two years ago is one of the most compelling images ever created in the History of Photography and has turned for decades into a visual icon able per se to beget vocations in umpteen street photographers and photojournalists all over the world.
© jmse

It is a split second in which the photographer mustn´t hesitate at that precise moment, since it is an irrepeatable context that will disappear in the following fraction of a second.

Additionally, this image was fruit of tons of intuition and passion in Meyerowitz, who was then finding his way as a photographer, paying utmost attention to usual daily life in the streets of different cities to find very brief moments of perception fraught with extraordinary developments enhancing both his motivation and his concept of photography as really ideas, looking at the world and seeing in it what you are connected to.

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