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Matinee: Louis Mendes Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

31 August 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 307th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Louis Mendes.

This short New York Post video (which is not new but we just have to add it to our curriculum) profiles Louis Mendes who has been making portraits of people in public places for over 50 years with a camera as old as he is.

That would be his Speed Graphic 4x5 camera, once the workhorse of the working press, with a Polaroid back. It's not the only camera he uses but it's the one he's famous for.

'Most people in the digital age have not had a Polaroid or instant picture taken of themselves.'

He uses a variety of strobes, too. We noticed a Vivitar 283 or 285 in this clip. But you'll also see a vintage Graflex flash.

As he points out, he dresses the part, too. He looks like he walked right out of a 1940s black-and-white movie as a press photographer.

But he's no phantasm. He makes real instant prints he puts in small paper frames for the people he photographs. He asks for a specific fee (which seems to vary) but takes donations if that's too steep. Social Security makes up the difference.

Everybody takes selfies these days, Mendes acknowledges. But selfies, he adds, just don't take "a real clear picture" of their subject. "And I can do that."

He's famous for haunting New York City (look for him near B&H), but he's been all over. He likes people wherever they are. And he has a surprise for them.

A permanent physical picture, not an ephemeral electronic image.

"Most people in the digital age have not had a Polaroid or instant picture taken of themselves," he points out. So they're amazed when he puts their portrait in a frame for them. Which is "quite exciting for me to see that all the time," he says.

He takes just one shot. But it will beat any 15 minutes of fame you might otherwise experience.

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