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From Publishers Weekly
A woman holds a glass of rose in one hand and a baby rooster in the other. A man in a suit sits casually next to a woman on a tanning bed. A dog is being wrestled? Strangled? As in Diane Arbus's work, something is usually on the uncanny side in Mermelstein's photographs. Marvin Heiferman, an independent curator of photography, writes in his introduction how "in this performative universe, regardless of which role they choose to play, Mermelstein's subjects share a curious mixture of expectation and disengagement." In nearly 100 full-color, candid shots, subjects are not quite passive, not quite active and usually at the mercy of horrifyingly banal contradictions in American daily rituals. For Mermelstein (SideWalk), they hit their apotheosis in people's interactions with and appropriations of animals: at a fair, a turtle has been left balanced, limbs flailing, atop an upside down Styrofoam cup; a chimp faces the camera affably while effortlessly blending in among young denizens (including a baby) at a bar mitzvah table; a woman in a Playboy bunny costume waits on line at a convenience store. The tension-particularly in the shots honing in on the inconsistancies or inadaquacies of race or religion as ways of thinking about people-can be startling, especially given Mermelstein's luridly unforgiving flash work and the long, horizontal format here, with each image framed in white and uninterrupted by text (captions are provided at the back). Mermelstein's work, collected at the Art Institute of Chicago and elsewhere, shows that the photographic phantasmagorias of Gregory Crewdson and others have nothing on real life.
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About the Author
Jeff Mermelstein was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1957. His work has been exhibited in solor and group exhibitions worldwide, and is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; New York institutions International Center of Photography, The Jewish Museum, The New York Public Library, and The Buhl Collection; the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester; New Jersey's Princeton Museum of Art and the Johnson & Johnson Collection; the Museum of Fine... read more
In 1981, Jeff Mermelstein began taking trips to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he gravitated toward the abundant supply of bizarre characters populating this town made famous by Bruce Springsteen. Drawn to the seedy atmosphere and entranced by the taffy-rich colors, Mermelstein was mesmerized by the sights: a pink lady at a baby parade, a startled bag lady dressed in red, a cat-show judge named Mr. Friend. Things kept getting stranger for Mermelstein, whose first magazine assignment was to photograph animal actors, including the legendary four-pawed performers Morris the Cat, Lassie, Benji, the Merrill Lynch bull, the Exxon tiger, and Zippy, a performing chimp. "I still feel the excitement of hugging Zippy," Mermelstein has noted, "and watching and photographing him in his bus as he entertained at a Bar Mitzvah on Long Island." Inspired by these encounters with the odd and unusual, Mermelstein began to vigorously prowl the streets of New York City during the mid-'80s with some Kodachrome and a flash, snapping up scenes of vivid color, glitz, and plastic artifice. Attracted to the surreal, Mermelstein continued to document outlandish scenes, whether on magazine assignments or on adventures of his own devising - to dog shows, promotional events, and grand openings of malls across this colorful, far-too-colorful-for-words land. No Title Here catalogues the results of the past twenty years Mermelstein has spent photographing the wacky, the quirky, the off, and the oddly lyrical he has encountered across America.