Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Much Obliged, Jeff Mermelstein

Street photographer Jeff Mermelstein arrived at Baruch College last Thursday to generously share with us several collections of his work. His main objective, he explained, is to photograph the world’s gritty under-netting – that which makes America American. He has found the prime examples of this realism in the streets of New York City.

In his most famous series “Sidewalk,” he photographs the oddities of street life. Outrageous hairdos and unusual striped socks are not uncommon. At times, his pictures seem too outrageous to be authentic; however, none of them are edited. He uses a Lyca M6 to capture the full un-cropped image. “Pimples are good,” he said, laughing jovially.
In fact, Mermelstein celebrates in his photographs pimples, obesity, and fashion mishaps, all things society deems ugly. He has the rare ability to shoot unappealing people in such a way that the picture comes out beautiful even though the viewer is still aware of the ugliness within it. He does this through the “M&M candy-like seduction” of color; heavily saturated yellows, blues, and reds make his photos rich and vibrant. He also achieves beauty through composition. Many of his images show unacquainted strangers performing similar actions in unison. For instance, in his series “Sidewalk”, he often shoots several people crossing at an intersection all with their eyes closed, or all yawning. This is germane to the humorous nature of Mermelstein’s photographs. Similarly, most of his pictures have a joie de vivre. Especially in his set “Summer,” people are shown really enjoying life. Perhaps part of his mission as an American street photographer is to convey a collective happiness among people.
Also, through vivacious color and uncoordinated action, his photographs all have a serendipitous quality that corresponds to Mermelstein’s hunt for the “perfect shot.” He carries his camera around his neck as if it were a cross, and sets out on the streets of New York without a plan or vision. One can’t help but marvel at the amazing things he finds.