Now Reading: The Intimate Texts of New Yorkers, Captured by Jeff Mermelstein


The Intimate Texts of New Yorkers, Captured by Jeff Mermelstein

September 1, 20183 min read

Over the years, texting has become an intimate practice, just like journaling or even venting to someone on the phone late at night. It is obvious that no-one wants their texts read, but is it that easy to try and look away when somebody’s thoughts are being spilt out right in front of you? This is what a New York photojournalist Jeff Mermelstein is bringing into the photography community; he is opening the closets of people’s text chats to the public.


From Mermelstein’s Instagram page


Mermelstein was born in 1957 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His photography career consists of his personal photographs and assignments for publications in magazines such as LIFE, The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. During his career, he has thoroughly photographed the streets of New York, including the September 11 and its impact on the city. He has received several awards for his work.


New York City, 1993, captured by Mermelstein

While surely controversial, Mermelstein’s new photographs manage to break the ice between the subject and the viewer – something many street photographers strive to achieve – with just a simple photo of a text. By doing so, Mermelstein is managing to create the perfect portrayal of the social environment of New York City and the type of people that surround him daily. His unique style pushes him to be brought much closer to his subject and this closeness enchants the viewer.

In a podcast, Mermelstein states that he never publicly shares the person’s identification, when taking such images and that is true:  his images of people texting contain only the person’s hands and their texts. There are no phone numbers, no names, nothing that would give away the particular person to the public. He says that as a street photographer, his objective is to capture the current state of the people around him and by doing so in a public environment, he is not necessarily invading people’s privacy.


From Mermelstein’s Instagram page

In the age where anybody can access your information, whether by hacking or plainly collecting your data, it is questionable that Mermelstein’s work is unethical. Perhaps, in 20 or 50 years, the work that he has accumulated will be the prime source for historians about the thoughts and behaviours of current people, so it is too early to discredit his work.

More of Jeff Mermelstein’s work can be found on his Instagram and the International Center of Photography website 

Photo via Galerie Bene Taschen

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Aly Balakareva

Born in 2003, in Sochi, Russia, I have always had a passion for storytelling. For the past ten years, I've been living in and exploring Cyprus. Currently, I write and edit for Affinity Magazine Arts + Culture section, and in my free time, enjoy watching films and listening to music.