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

At first, I didn’t know how to respond to Jeff Mermelstein as he began to prepare his old-fashioned slides for our class. He seemed a little confused and I was nervous that he was going to turn out to be a grumpy old man. I was half-expecting a boring presentation, one slide after another with a few monotonous descriptions of when and where each photograph was taken. Then, Jeff Mermelstein began to describe, with fervor, his experience with being a street photographer. All of my predictions were proven wrong. His use of language was vivid as he spoke of his love of color photography. He mentioned how seductive color photography is to him, like “colored M&M’s.”

In his photographs, Mermelstein often uses color to create emphasis. Other techniques he uses include experimenting with vantage point, using fill flash, lacking depth of field, and standing about 5-10 feet away from his subjects. The products of all of his hard work are numerous images that are full of surprise and quirky subjects. On the streets of New York, as well as elsewhere, Mermelstein has the gift of capturing some of the most eccentric people in the strangest of lights. Whether it be people at a Bar Mitzvah with a chimp, a man playing a piano on the streets of New York, another shoving a book in his mouth, a woman with a rooster, an old man with giant scissors, or Richard Simmons himself with adoring fans, Mermelstein finds intriguing subjects to capture as images and then in turn, he creates captivating art unlike anything else.

He finds the extraordinary in the ordinary streets of every-day travelled places. He captures ordinary people at their most intense levels. The facial expressions the people he photographs are usually expressive with the most genuine of human emotions. Jeff Mermestein is a man willing to take risks for his art by placing himself extremely closely to strangers, but he is wisely a pacifist when it comes to unruly subjects who are upset because he does not have their consent to be photographed. He makes it clear that it is worthless to engage in fights with the people who do not appreciate street photography as art form. Jeff Mermelstein advises amateur photographers to have fun with their photos, and to be natural. He follows his own advice, and it shows in the eccentricity and realness of his numerous works of art.