The work of Jeff Mermelstein needs little introduction. As a photojournalist and street photographer giant, well-known for snapping private text conversations and his work in New York City, Jeff, since the early 80’s, has taken to the streets to chronicle the life of the everyday New Yorker.
For his recent series, Arena, published by TBW Books, Jeff approaches street photography a little differently. This time he takes his camera indoors, shooting a four year tenure that began in 2012 at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn – when the building first opened its doors to the public. Having been commissioned to photograph over 350 events held in Barclays, the series is a momentous part of his career. “I was asked to photograph the first years of the arena with my personal point of view as a street photographer,” Jeff tells It’s Nice That. “I was inspired by the extraordinary diversity of people that attended many, many varying events – it was as if Sixth Avenue of Manhattan came inside to the corridors of the Barclays Centre.”
Replacing the pavement, Jeff moved through crowds, hallways, merchandise stalls, ketchup splatted on the floor and an abundance of pinstripe suits gravitating towards the centre’s stage. It was an entirely new process for the street photographer, but this didn’t alter his technique: “I had the instinctive skills to slowly but surely evolve a working method to adapt to being inside,” he says. “The elements of working very quickly and having a mindset ready to capture surprise remained the same.” And it paid off – featuring subjects that look like characters from 80’s cinema, his vibrant pictures are a peek into a mundane world that often goes overlooked.
“I walked and walked, as I always do, but here I walked round and round the corridors through an extraordinary sea of varying attendees. Barbra Streisand fans, Bob Dylan fans, Rolling Stones fans, Barry Manilow fans, Brooklyn Nets basketball fans, Pro Wrestling fans – on and on, so very many. It kept me going,” explains Jeff. He photographed life as it happened – the people around him and the items they carried with them. Yet we never see a basketball game, a concert, or boxing match take place, instead we see a more intriguing and revealing observation of the events taking place.
Human behaviour is an interesting one and is the subject of many photographers. Working to “see with vision and a point of view”, Jeff’s unique eye and ability to confidently navigate through a crowd of people with his camera allows him to create a brilliant depiction of who we are. “A photographer must find and be in touch with who they themselves are and bring those qualities to their images with honest and direct clarity.”