24 September 2018


Jeff Mermelstein is a photographer who needs no introduction. Since the early ’80s, he’s dedicated his career to chronicling the extraordinary in the ordinary and the remarkable in the rudimentary. A trailblazer in New York street photography circles, Mermelstein’s enduring influence permeates across all kinds of photographic practices and styles to this day. With his brand new photobook "HARDENED" being released later this month, I take a closer look at the street photography stalwart and what this photobook means for our increasingly technological world.

For his latest photographic endeavour HARDENED, Mermelstein chose to do something particularly out of the ordinary. Ditching his trusty Leica — beloved of street photographers — the entire publication consists of Mermelstein’s iPhone photographs and Instagram posts. In these increasingly technological times, Mermelstein not only demonstrates his malleable identity and ability to adapt, but also displays his unrelenting curiosity and quest to chronicle the human condition. After decades of shooting with film, he takes the root of our hyper-connected age — the smart phone — and produces an opus that presents the raw, unadulterated beauty behind ostensibly banal events.

Mermelstein’s contemporary photographic work has become increasingly more intertwined with the technological nature of our world, with his roguish, blurry snaps of unsuspecting individuals’ iPhone conversations going viral as of late (and not for all the right reasons apparently). This, in conjunction with his move away from analogue and towards digital, has proven that Mermelstein is, in fact, an anthropologist for the digitalised age.

Our society revolves around smart phones – we use them to contact people on opposite ends of the globe, to find out about international and current affairs, to scroll through seemingly infinite Instagram feeds, and the list goes on. The smart phone is the chosen tool for the majority of society to navigate our increasingly inter-connected world, driven by an endless thirst for knowledge, and a ceaseless quest for something new. In HARDENED, Mermelstein takes this tool and turns the lens on its creators. The result: a poignant and tender exploration of the modern-day human psyche. He highlights our idiosyncrasies, our oddities, and celebrates the individuality that makes humanity so fascinating. With every close-up and with every spontaneous moment lensed with his iPhone, Mermelstein creates the kind of art that is unpretentious, modest, and unequivocally charming to behold.

There are only a handful of street photographers who can claim to have as strong a hold on contemporary culture, and who can capture the very essence of contemporary human nature as well as Mermelstein. Every image in HARDENED is unashamedly light-hearted, showing the farce and humour entrenched in even the most seemingly ordinary moments of everyday life. Mermelstein provides us with a different perspective of looking at the most routine things. His commonplace subjects include, a wall enveloped in graffiti, someone taking dirt off their shoe, a trail of urine on the ground, and he gives them back to us afresh, sparkling with a wry wit that is ordinarily difficult to capture in a photograph.

This is street photography at its very best: an exploration into run-of-the-mill situations that are often overlooked in favour of the absurd and fantastical. Ask someone in seventy years for the photographer who best captured the mood of our society today, and Mermelstein is the name most likely to be on their lips.

“HARDENED” will be available to buy from 30th September at morelbooks.com