Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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“No Title Here” Necessary, for Jeff Mermelstein


Jeff Mermelstein

photographer: Jeff Mermelstein

         Jeff Mermelstein is an established street photographer whose various credits include a degree from the School Of Visual Arts in photography and teaching at the  International  Center For Photography. He focuses on the streets of New York and its American and social content.

                Standing at the center of our class he explained how he had the courage to photograph perfect strangers.  He smiled widely as he explained “These people didn’t complain and I would not have minded if they did”. His bravery is supplemented by the fact that he gives of the air of a very gentle giant with his kind expressions, sense of humor and overall broadness of shoulders. Hovering over his projector as he showed my class his slides he almost quivered with excitement.

            Jeff Mermelstein  fell in love with color, more specifically color photography in all it’s natural “M &M candy-like seduction”. To him seeing color is a “visceral process” as opposed to black and white.

 His photographs fittingly reveal this passion he developed.  One of the most memorable and most controversial one for him was a hefty man, in a blue coat, bushy mustache with a book in his mouth. This came from his book Sidewalk published in 1999. It drew titters and incredulous chuckles from the viewers as he explained his dilemma. That picture was taken of a random man in the eighties, in the city and made it into one of his sets. Under public domain, he is allowed to take pictures of people under the circumstances that he doesn’t speak or use the photo for advertising communications. He made no such communication and had to turn down a recent offer by Metamucil for an advertising campaign.

            His methods, he cheerfully admits, may be considered in the same league as dinosaurs. For the most part, he uses a Lika M6 or a Canon T-90. Yet what differentiates him from more contemporary photographers is that he uses film instead of digital cameras. He will send the film to a professional photographer. He also refuses to digitally alter, crop or manipulate his photos. Taking a very Walker Evans-esque approach he documents what he sees and then waits in excitement for the pictures that develop. Regardless of the quality of the pictures and even if he uses one or two pictures out of a set of a many, he hoards and loves them all.

              Jeff Mermelstein is not particulary satisified with the title “street photographer” but his career wandering the streets of New York, capturing moments on film has earned him the title and respect due to a gifted anyone who documents the streets of New York with so much love.