Sixth Avenue was swimming with tourists and shoppers: everyone trying to catch the sun. I walked through Herald Square, shading my eyes to try to spot the window from which Berenice Abbott trained her lens on the city streets below. All of us, tilting our faces up to the sky. Mine was so tilted that further south I almost didn't notice the man standing near the curb with an amazing old press camera. I turned on my heels and tilted my head his way.
"Can I take your picture with mine?" I extended the bellows to show him what I was carrying with me.
"You know how to use that thing? Don't make me white."
"I think I can manage that."
"Turn it vertical. Focus horizontal, then turn it vertical."
Click. I started to remove my cold clip, but he stopped me.
"Don't use that; just put it under your arm. Fold it, then under your arm. Now just give it a minute."
We stood there in suspense of the image. He introduced himself as Louis Mendes ("Wow! You're on Wikipedia!") and asked me where I was from. He showed me how I could rewire the exposure battery for a 9 volt, then my little timer stopped rattling away, and he nodded at me to peel the negative.
"Well, I didn't make you white."
He noticed the light leak on the print, offered tips for taping the bellows, and as he was looking at my camera, informed me that, based on the placement of the tripod mount, I seemed to have a 100 body with a 250 face. (And he wasn't rating my looks.) "Wow, I never would have known that." A curb-side education on a Sixth Avenue Sunday.
"Well, there you go."
As I was walking away, I could hear him behind me: "That just made my day. "
Mine too, Louis; mine too.
(Louis's site is here; The New York Times did an article on his photography just over a year ago, and previously, in 1995, an article which includes my favorite line: "It's not a perfect world we live in, but I try to make a perfect picture." With apologies to Louis's purism, slight tweaks were made to the levels on the above photograph upon scanning.)
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.