Monday, September 29, 2014

Full Interview: Street Photographer Jeff Mermelstein

We interrupt this blog to get back to my roots as a street photographer and writer.

The October 2014 issue of Popular Photography posted my article, Street Cred. To prepare for that article I had the privilege of conducting interviews with four of the top street shooters active today—Jeff Mermelstein, Melanie Einzig, Jack Simon, and Richard Bram.

Due to space constraints, only a portion of the interviews actually made it to print. Over the next four days I'm going to publish the full interviews, starting today, with Jeff Mermelstein.


Photo © Jeff Mermelstein; used with permission.


Jeff Mermelstein on Street Photography
"I think the revival in street photography is a thirst for the depiction of reality in the age of smart phone apps, Disney, and pixel overdose."


MR: How long have you been doing street photography, and what got you interested in it?

JM: I've been doing street photography since the early 1980's. Many ingredients have galvanized my obsession. My photo teacher in college exposed me to Robert Frank and Diane Arbus.

MR: Who were/are your influences--current or past?

JM: A visit to MOMA (the New York Museum of Modern Art) around 1980 provided an encounter with a Henry Wessel photograph. (Santa Barbara, 1977 ). This photograph shook me up completely. An Internship at ICP in New York in 1980 exposed me to much more and included a Workshop with Garry Winogrand. My head  began to spin with immersion in the work of Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston as well while at I was at ICP.

My influences: Arbus, Frank, Winogrand, Eggelston, Friedlander, Wessel, and Weegee, Faurer, Levinstein, Levitt, Evans and Lartigue. There are many more, and they keep changing.




MR: Street photography seems to be undergoing a revival these days. Do you agree? What do you attribute this to?

JM: I think the revival in street photography is a thirst for the depiction of reality in the age of smart phone apps, Disney, and pixel overdose.

MR: Has social media been a good thing for street photography?

JM: I don't go one way or another with social media and it's affect or not.

MR: It seems like the Internet has become a great platform for photographers to share their work, but the downside is there are a lot of mediocre photos being passed as "street photography" out there. What do you do to get your work noticed and to rise above the noise?

JM: Books are where I like my pictures to  be. They are the ultimate format for photographs.

MR: When you go out to shoot, do you have any ideas in mind about the kinds of photos you want to capture? Could you talk about the plusses and minuses of preconception as it relates to street shooting?

JM: I like to wander the street without ideas, with a mindset ready for surprise. Ideas can emerge after the pictures come along.

MR: Are you ever confronted while doing street photography? How do you handle it? Do you have suggestions for diffusing situations where someone stops you?

JM: I avoid confrontation at all cost.

MR: Have attitudes towards street photographers at street level changed in recent years? Do people react differently to you now compared to  when you got started?

JM: I've been photographing on the streets for a very long time so it's hard to distinguish periods of difficulty. There has been more paranoia, I would say, since 9/11 and the death of Lady Diana.

MR: Color or Black & White? Why?

JM: Color. When I have tried black and white and got a good picture I often wished it were in color. Since day one color, for me, has been like M & Ms and T.V. We see in color.

MR: Since this is Pop Photo, I have to ask: What camera & lens do you use for street photography, and if you're shooting film, do you have a preference?

JM: Leica M-P and 35mm f1.4 Summilux loaded with Fujicolor Superia films.

MR: What advice would you give to an aspiring street photographer regarding camera and lens choices?

JM: The camera and lens has to feel right in the hand.

--Interviewed by Mason Resnick
Portions of this  interview appeared in the October 2014 issue of Popular Photography.

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