Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Jeff Mermelstein: Not Your Everyday Photographer

As soon as Jeff Mermelstein entered room 12-170 I knew it was going to be a fun, action-packed class.  It began with him asking Yuriy, a fellow classmate, and I to change seats in order to set up his projector.  Gladly, we did as asked.  As we were moved our belongings, Jeff cracked jokes to us and could have been mistaken for a college student himself.  Previously, I was expecting that class to be just another talk with a photographer, but I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t.

I thought it was a great idea Jeff Mermelstein brought along a whole treasure chest of his most prized and famous photos, instead of just addressing the class without any visual aids.  In recent classes, we discussed different photographic techniques and terms such as vantage point and color contrast, and I was interested to see how he used them.  There are a few pictures I remember more than others.  I especially like the set of photos that dealt with elderly women playing a card game.  He highlighted how they dressed and presented themselves to one another.  These photos made the viewer ask, “Why would they get dressed up just to play cards?”  Another photo that stood out to me was a picture in front of a store with what seemed to be blood on the floor in front of it.  He explained that even though it looked like the scene of a murder, the “blood” was just the reflection of the red neon light of the store’s sign.  Jeff even admitted that when he was taking that photo he was not conscious of the liquid looking like blood until after it was developed.  He also told the class that he takes pictures of basically everything he sees, and then once the photos are developed, he sifts through the thousands of them and keeps the ones he wants and stores the others somewhere else.

Some of his photos were odd, but he kept a great sense of humor while we laughed and jeered at them.  He even laughed with us.  A lesser photographer would have taken this to heart and may have even been offended, but this wasn’t Jeff Mermelstein.  Pictures of random people on the street, animals, and even inanimate objects filled the classroom for eighty-five minutes, keeping my fellow classmates and I at the edge of our seats.  He did a great job of explaining every picture we asked about.  I wondered how he got so close to some of his subjects without getting attacked or hit by them, especially since most of the subjects in the photos seemed upset they were being photographed.  In response to this he said, “I would never risk injury for a photo or even a camera.”

There were a few things that Jeff said that will help me during my street photography project.  He advised us to take pictures of what we want to and have fun with it.  He also added that we should take pictures of everything, and then go through the photos later to see what we want to keep or discard, similar to the style he uses.  Jeff Mermelstein was a great guest to have come to the class and I wouldn’t be surprised if I see some of his work in the future.