Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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What we don’t see

What is the best approach to shoot street photographs? While some street photographers considered that the techniques of photographing are the most crucial parts of their work, Jeff Mermelstein emphasized simplicity and “perpetual hard work.” Taking the time out of his schedule, Mermelstein not only delivered his interpretation of street photography during the slideshow presentation but also gave the students an insight into creating their own themes for their street photography project.

As a young photographer, Mermelstein fell in love with color photography that it represented the real world and was seduction “like natural M&M”. In one of his photographs, a businessman held a giant scissor that appeared to be right in front of a woman’s face. By manipulating the vantage point, Mermelstein added a new layer to the photograph. The photograph conveyed the sense of anticipation. It suspends the viewers that they wanted to ask Mermelstein what exactly happened during the moment. I guess that’s what one called the element of surprise; we discovered something in the photographs that was unintended. Creating a series of photographs with moments of surprise also took dedication and patience. Mermelstein would go on “unguided tour” simply exploring the streets of New York City for hours everyday. Then out of the hundreds of photographs, he would only pick the few. A dedicated street photographer must have a camera that needed his needs. His camera, Lica m6, allowed him to zoom in on his target but at the same time disengaged. Nonetheless, if people complained he was fine that they take out his film.

In his renowned series “Sidewalk”, Mermelstein captured the streets and people of New York City that we often take for granted. Whether it was the construction worker with his hands in the air or the businessman, jaw opened with a book in the mouth, Mermelstein exposed the humorous and casual side of New York City. In one of the photographs from the series, a woman played piano on the sidewalk in the ghetto. The photograph attracted my attention because the contrast between the piano and the ghetto’s background unveiled the notion that art has no social class boundary. Even in the streets, a person can play the piano to perfection. As a street photographer, photographing with a mission, Jeff Mermelstein directed me into believing that everyone can be a photographer.

1 comment

1 emilymusgrove { 12.10.08 at 4:42 am }

“We discovered something in the photographs that was unintended.”
I really like that statement, Jack. I think that explains why Murmlestein’s photographs are so captivating. I believe it is his passion for photography that allows him the patience to keep taking a million photos before he gets that perfect, unexpected shot. The element of surprise is really important in successful photography and Mermlestein has just about perfected it. Shocking art makes a much louder statement than boring art. Good call!