Acclaimed as one of America’s finest photographers, Arthur Meyerson is a native of Texas who has traveled the world creating award-winning advertising, corporate and editorial photographs as well as an impressive body of personal fine art street images. In recognition of his accomplishments, he has received numerous awards including Adweek’s Southwest Photographer of the Year (three times) and gold medals from the New York Art Directors Club, the Houston Art Directors Club and the Dallas Society of Visual Communications.
What sets Meyerson’s work apart is his enduring fascination with light, color and capturing the moment. This has culminated in an impressive body of images held in public collections worldwide and that have graced the pages of a long list of major photographic publications. A photographer with a strong commitment to his profession, he also teaches photography, conducts workshops and mentors individuals. Perhaps not surprisingly Meyerson is also a lifelong Leica enthusiast whose recent coverage of China featured here was shot entirely with a Leica M9 and 35mm f/2 Summicron lens. This, in his own straightforward, unpretentious and well-chosen words is the heartfelt story of an artist’s love affair with China, one of the most dynamic and rapidly evolving societies on earth.
Q: Which cities in China are depicted in your latest portfolio, what was your travel itinerary, and did you have any mission in mind when documenting life in China other than conveying your personal vision?
A: The purpose of my trip was to oversee the printing of my book, The Color of Light. The printer was located in Shenzhen across the bay from Hong Kong so most of the photos were taken in those two cities, and also includes images taken on a day trip to Kowloon. I really had no specific “mission” photographically. But since I never travel anywhere without my camera, I knew that in my off time from the printing press, I’d want to go out, explore the cities and hit the streets.
Q: All of your pictures are characterized by a very adept and compelling use of color, precise composition and a sense of the surreal and ironic in everyday life. Do you agree and can you comment on this?
A: Well I think it’s a combination of “going out empty” and just being “affected” by what I saw, which is generally the way I prefer to work. Since color is a big part of what I’m about photographically, I think it’s only natural that I would be driven to those types of subjects with bold color and in China they’re everywhere.
Q: Did you use your Leica M9 for all of your Chinese images? Which lenses did you find the most useful, and what characteristics of the camera did you find conducive to capturing relatively close images of people, most of whom seem unaware that they were being photographed?
A: I had made the decision that I was going to make this trip with as little equipment as possible. I wanted to “test” myself. So I only took the M9 with a new 35mm f/2 Summicron lens, a combination that is small, light and unobtrusive—the perfect combination for working close. And, it exemplifies my theory that the less gear you carry the more photos you make because you’re not thinking about the weight on your shoulder and, therefore, you’re more focused on what’s going on around you.
Q: Your forthcoming book with its impressive list of essay contributors is entitled The Color Of Light. Can you give us a brief overview of your reasons for choosing that provocative title?
A: Sure. The title is actually one that I’ve been using for over twenty years as the title of one of the workshops that I teach, and many of the photographs that are included in the book are examples that I use to illustrate ideas.
And, while the subject matter in the book is diverse, the pictures are held together by the fact that they are made up of the three themes that interest me the most in photography: light, color and moments. Light produces color. Light can be soft or intense; color can provoke or excite. It can also inform. At their best, light and color can come together at a moment in time and create an atmosphere, an emotional response and/or a sense of place. And for me, that is the power and joy of the color of light.
Q: What was your reaction to China as an outsider who presumably had not previously covered it photographically, and do you think your perspective as an outsider influenced the content of form of your images in any way?
A: Actually, this was not my first trip to China. I’ve been traveling there on and off since the mid 1980s on commercial assignments. It’s always been a fascinating place to visit and the interesting thing to me about China is how change has come about there so rapidly.
Q: Your image of people walking toward and away from the camera along a bridge bathed in what looks like late afternoon sunlight is striking, amusing and disturbing all at the same time. Can you tell us something about this picture, and what it means to you?
A: Well you are correct in assuming that it was late afternoon light; however this was taken on a sidewalk on my way back to my hotel. I’m not sure what the photograph means to me but I was so caught up in the light that afternoon that I was honestly just looking for something for it to illuminate and allow me to take advantage of that warm glow.
Q: The image of two identically dressed twin girls standing on paved rectangles of a plaza evokes a smile, but also has an unmistakably creepy Diane Arbus quality. Was this intentional, and how do you perceive this image?
A: I tend to think that any of us who shoot twins (consciously or subconsciously) has to bow in the direction of Ms. Arbus. She certainly was one of the first to take that subject and make us think about it. Although for me, I was caught up with the “graphic” quality of the moment— the girls, their matching polka dot dresses, matching pink shoes and the grid walkway they were standing on.
Q: There is a kind of absurdist quality to your distorted image of a man holding a child behind the amorphous spray patterns of a fountain. What were you thinking when you took this picture?
A: When I began to photograph the fountain, no one had actually walked into it. I was just playing around with the water at various shutter speeds to see what might happen. In the course of that, the father with the child suddenly stepped on to the platform beneath the fountain and I knew I had something special and shot about 5 frames finally selecting this moment.
A: I appreciate what you’re saying, but honestly I was wrapped up in different thoughts when I was photographing these. For instance, it was all about the mirror-like reflection that was occurring or my interest in the shadow and how it worked graphically within that scene. Others were about the relationships of the foreground to the background and playing with a minimum depth of field. And, finally, one image found next to a construction site, became an abstract for me. All of these visual elements that I mentioned (reflection, shadow, shooting through objects, etc.) are the kinds of things that lead me to a photograph.
Q: There is a wonderful mirror-image picture that looks like a mandala. Where did you take this picture, and what do you think it says to the viewer in the context of your China documentary?
A: This was shot in Kowloon. I was wandering the streets among many of the high-end department stores in the area and looked up only to notice this mirror-like reflection in the overhead canopy. I’m not sure what it says to the viewer, but I love the fact that it plays with our sense of perception.
Q: Yet another amusing but scary image shows an androgynous human figure in a red headdress and polka dot suit standing amongst snakelike red-and-white “tentacles” with red polka dots on the wall in the background. It is a masterful color composition but it calls forth mixed emotions. What’s it all about?
A: Also shot in Kowloon, this was a window display that pays homage to the Japanese artist and writer, Yayoi Kusama. The figure is a wax like replica of the artist.
Q: Do you plan on revisiting China and do a follow-up book? What’s on your personal photographic agenda going forward?
A: I definitely plan on revisiting China. It’s a fabulous place on so many levels and certainly would be book worthy. As for what’s next on my photographic agenda, I’m headed to the Arctic as a guest instructor on a photographic expedition of Greenland. Can’t wait!
Thank you for your time, Arthur!
-Leica Internet Team
For more information about Arthur, his upcoming book and his workshops visit his website, http://arthurmeyerson.com and you can read his blog at http://blog.arthurmeyerson.com/. “The Color Of Light” is expecting a mid-to-late September delivery.