He is a street photographer. Though not in the traditional sense.
He weaves through the crowd at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He roams about Rockefeller Center whenever the tree is up. He often sits outside the camera store of camera stores, B&H in Manhattan. I had heard about him, even read about him in the Times a few years ago. And then, on one bright afternoon… I met him.
Leaning against brick. Smooth as silk. Movie star smooth. Holding the ancient beast, a Speed Graphic camera like you read about, circa 1940s, 1950s.
Meet Mr. Louis Mendes, New York City street photographer, working only with the classic shooter, modified with a double flash mechanism and a Polaroid instant film back. If there’s a crowd, Mr. Mendes is there, happy to shoot a portrait for the willing participant. For a fee of course.
What kind of a living can a person make doing this, I wonder as I approach. He smiles and I start: “Hi. I know a bit about you. I’m happy to meet you,” and I extend my hand. He lifts his hand, ever so slightly, and I reach the rest of the way. His first remark: “Know why I stand here?” I suggest that it’s because the place is crawling with photographers who might be interested in his camera and who might be interested in taking a photo of him with it. He smiles and nods, “sure, sure… and a lot of photographers don’t have one good picture of themselves.” He gestures for me to stand next to a news stand and I oblige. Working his rig like a musician does his instrument, he jerks it up close to his chest and shoots. A photo of me in New York City. $20, thank you very much.
For $20, I’m thinking, I want more. So I strike up a conversation and ask if I can take his photo. “One shot. That’s what you got. Give it to me good. One shot.” Man this guy is cool.
I raise the Fujifilm X100 up to my eye and compose. I remember that I have no idea what the settings are. Do I want narrow depth of field? Broad? What’s the ISO? Should I change the white balance? I fiddle for a second or two and hear him groan. Enough of that. Here goes. One shot. That’s what I got. Give it to him good. One shot.
Posted by Rey