Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Mermelstein and His Camera

The man in action

The man in action

From the Big Apple emerges one Jeff Mermelstein, a street photographer whose work is generally associated with photo journalism. He is a photographer who has evolved through the ages so to speak – from black and white to color, from manual to auto focus. After studying at the International Center of Photography, Mermelstein has moved on to work for wideknown companies like the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Life Magazine. He also took pictures for advertising purposes for companies like Hewlett Packard, and electronics giant Samsung.

He was a guest speaker at one of my classes the other day, and during the course of a hour and fifteen minutes, he showed us his amazing work – you don’t get to see a man fitting a book the size of an encyclopedia in his mouth everyday. What’s unbelievable about his photos is that none of them are manipulated by a computer. Mermelstein said that he enjoyed taking pictures as they were; he wanted to capture the “soulfulness of pictures.” Perhaps he meant when a photo underwent computer manipulation, it lost some of its realism, some of this intricate quality that gave it life. He manipulated photos in the sense that he employed certain techniques that allowed him to change the depth of field in a photo, or the perception of an object. He is able to change the sharpness of a picture, highlighting the object of interest in the foreground, and dimming everything else – a favorite as seen in many of his samples.

When asked how he approached pedestrians about taking their pictures, he told us that the least interaction was the best interaction – you come and you go. A point of interest he revealed was the increasing paranoia parents had of letting their childrens’ photographs be taken. Mermelstein had his share of encounters that resulted in the film from his camera being ripped out. Although a big man, Mermelstein told us explicitly that he was a pacifist at heart, and did not do anything that could endanger anyone.

Taking photograph after photograph might seem tedious to some, but that is how Mermelstein likes it. “I would shoot anything and everything, then pull from it.” From an entire roll of film, this photographer might use five photos for publication purposes.