Rarefied Light: Behind the Lens with Arthur Meyerson
Like most college students, Arthur Meyerson approached his studies with youthful exuberance and naivete. Unfortunately, sometimes those two things can be a deadly combination for ones budding photographic career.
“I remember this one photo story assignment I had and this was in probably 1969 when riots and demonstrations were happening on campuses. I was out photographing what was a long line up of State Highway Patrol guys and a bunch of long-haired hippie students. It was all peaceful and then all of a sudden all hell broke loose and I started photographing this one patrol guy beating the hell out of some kid. Well, the patrol man looked up, saw me and came running after me. Luckily I was a little more fleet of foot, so I made a beeline for the journalism building. I ran into the classroom completely interrupting the lecture and my professor says: 'what's the matter?' So I told him; 'I've got a Pulitzer Prize winning photo' as a opened the back of my camera [exposing the undeveloped roll of film]. He looked at me and said, 'not anymore you don't,'” recalled Meyerson with a hearty laugh.
To Meyerson's surprise, even after his Pulitzer Prize winning fiasco, he still aced the class.
Truth be told, Meyerson never saw himself working in the news business but as he put it, he needed to settle on a major and journalism seemed like something he might be good at. When he graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1971, the idea of carving out a career in photography still hadn't crossed his mind.
“I had a variety of jobs that I did because I was still trying to find myself after I graduated. You know, but then one thing led to another and I sort of ended up in the world of commercial photography rather than the journalism world – mostly because I thought I had more contacts there,” said Meyerson.
Citing his own Texan gumption, Meyerson shopped his portfolio around Houston in search of work. Although he eventually found his footing, he suspects that the first agencies to see his work probably rolled on the floor laughing after he left their offices.
“They probably said to themselves, 'this guy thinks he's going to be a photographer?' And to tell the truth I really didn't know what I was doing,” Meyerson said.
As it turns out, he may have known far more than he thought.
The now 69-year-old has traveled to more than 90 countries on all 7 continents. He's been named Adweek's “Southwest Photographer of the Year” three times – in 1983, 1988 and 1990 – and shot major campaigns for Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple, just to name a few. In 1999, Nikon even added Meyerson to their list of “Legends Behind the Lens”.
In addition to his numerous accolades, Meyerson has published two photographic books – “The Color of Light (2012)” and “The Journey (2017)”. Perhaps best known for his color work, both photographic books are vibrant explorations into Meyerson's unique way of seeing and humble approach to photography.
“The long and short of it was that I was in the right place at the right time,” said Meyerson of his legendary career. “Yeah, you've got to have talent. Yeah you've got to have business sense and yeah, you've got to have a little luck go your way. But with a little bit of effort, some of those things can come together and make a big difference.”
Alaskan photographers will get an opportunity to try and make a little of their own photographic luck by entering the Alaska Photographic Center's Rarefied Light competition which will be judged by Meyerson.
“I would say I'm going to be more interested in photographs that are less about effect and more about good seeing. I'm not particularly interested in photos that are contrived or about showing off Photoshop skills. I would love to see strong photographs that have good compositions and are about light, or color, or a moment in time – or even better, all four of those things. I always tell my students that the last thing I want is for somebody to come to their exhibition and look at the picture and say I wonder if they used this filter or Photoshop tool? I want them to look at the picture and say 'by God, that's fabulous,” Meyerson said with an exclamation.
An extended podcast version of O'Hara Shipe's interview with Meyerson can be found online at AnchoragePress.com.