Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Jeff Mermelstein: Capturing all the ingredients of spontaneity

            On November 4th, our IDC class had the pleasure of welcoming renowned street photographer, Jeff Mermelstein. It was evident from the start that Mermelstein had his unique style of doing things; while most photographers would’ve shown a powerpoint of their work, Mermelstein brought in the actual racks containing his images and projected them onto the overhead. Professor Bernstein had hinted that Jeff is a master of his field, but it was his passionate and down to earth demeanor that made his visit memorable, enriching, and most of all, entertaining.            As he went through his slideshow, Jeff mentioned how he disliked the title “street photographer”; because upon hearing the term many people have false preconceived notions about it what it really is, rather he identifies himself as a “photo journalist.”
            Perhaps one of the most interesting approaches to taking pictures Jeff recommended was to “go without looking through the view finder.” Too often we are stuck on cropping and digress by focusing on miniscule details, and thus fail to capture the essence of the image. True to his advice, Mermelstein stated how he is “interested in the realism of pictures.” This is apparent as he captures most of his figures in the midst of an action, or some kind of movement and anticipation. One of my favorite images is that of a man in a suit sitting next to yellow flowers smoking his cigarette. However, what’s intriguing about this image is the fact that he is gripping a windex bottle as if it was a cup of coffee. Another image that I enjoyed was a small dog standing atop stacks of newspapers, almost like a dictator proclaiming his throne. The intense focus of the dog’s eyes, almost seem to suggest that we are the subjects of the image and the one out of place. The class erupted with laughter when Mermelstein showed us a picture of an old couple eating an apple and claimed “look it’s Adam and Eve, the original Adam and Eve!” Mermelstein’s talent shines through his ability to capture figures in unconventional poses or situations, making every image engaging and thought provoking.
            Like Francine Prose who wrote hundreds of pages and drafts till she reached the final product, Mermelstein admitted he goes through rolls of film, and may only choose one or two pictures in a set of even a hundred. In addition, he advised to never throw away old pictures and strips of film; “it’s always neat to go back to pictures and revisit them again and again.”
            Mermelstein’s images seem just to good to be true, but he claims that he’s “a dinosaur,” and neither uses Photoshop, nor crops or edits his images. Instead Mermelstein sticks to traditional ways using a leica camera and having his film developed. He notes that there is a sense of mystery and excitement not knowing how your pictures will come out, that isn’t felt with a digital camera.
            While Mermelstein strives to attain soulfulness and feelings in his pictures, his own soulfulness and genuine character made his visit inspiring. Though he is a man of great talent and prestige, he was humble and really connected with the class. He is arguably the best visitor we will have this semester as he effortlessly graced our eyes with his images full of “M&M candy-like seduction” colors, while simultaneously making us laugh and smile throughout the entire class.