Full Frame Interview: Melanie Einzig

Melanie Einzig is a New York-based event and street photographer with a background in art and photojournalism. She has been taking photographs for the past fourteen years and focuses her lens on capturing the most genuine moments in a natural way.

Melanie is also a member of the in-Public collective. Her work has been exhibited in the United States and Europe and she’s been published in several books, including Street Photography Now and Bystander: A History of Street Photography.

Let’s get to know Melanie a little bit better:

Photo © Melanie Einzig

Photo © Melanie Einzig

1. What does “Street Photography” mean to you?

I leave the definitions to the people who are good at it like writers, curators and other experts. But if I have to try: it is a category of photography that is supposed to be differentiated from photojournalism and overtly artistic uses of the medium.

With my work it has something to do with trying to communicate what it means to be human without too much artifice. To make a visual document of some interplay between my interior life the real world. It is a picture language through which I communicate sometimes whimsical sometimes complicated thoughts, feelings and/or observations.

2. When did you start doing it and why?

When I first moved to New York, I learned the Black and White print process which I enjoyed. Taking photos was a diaristic activity for me. I ended up going to school for photography right when Photoshop came out so I became very interested in computer-altered and composited work and did my thesis project based on “Documentary Fantasies”.

After taking a job at the Associated Press, I thought I would be able to make a living as a photojournalist. However, I’m afraid of conflict and violence, and at that time, if you didn’t cover war, you didn’t have much of a career. I like to sleep in, take things slow, and day dream– not good for a career in photojournalism. So I stared taking photos on my time off from the desk job and more and more wandered aimlessly and made photos.

There is a part of me that wishes I had the guts to be a real photojournalist. But I do make a living doing event photography and enjoy it very much.

I didn’t really know I was doing “Street Photography” until it was pointed out by Ariel and Joel Meyerowitz.

3. Are you influenced by the work of other street photographers? Who are your favorites (past and present)? 

There are so many but on the top of my list are Andre Kertesz, Raghubir Singh, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Cristobal Hara, Helen Levitt, Saul Leiter, Jeff Mermelstein, Joel Meyerowitz, MiroslavTichy and Atget. And I love the films of Jem Cohen.

4. What kind of camera and equipment do you use? 

Just got the Nikon D600. I was using the 300 for quite some time. I always have a point and shoot too. Right now, I’m shooting with a Sony RX100 that my boyfriend gave me. Lovely little camera. But the Canon G9 was my favorite for some time.

Photo © Melanie Einzig

Photo © Melanie Einzig

5. Do you prefer to shoot in color or black and white? and why? 

Color at this point. Not sure why– mostly because it is a challenge.

6. How close do you get to your subjects and why? 

It varies from situation to situation. It is intuitive and not with any major agenda.

7. How do you go about taking a picture? Do you ever ask for permission?

Sometimes I ask people. It really depends on the moment and vibe. Some days shooting is impossible for me because my aura is too cloudy or porous.

Your aura has to be like air, invisible.

I don’t like thinking about my process very much. It is as Minor White said, about getting your mind blank.

8. Have you ever offended anyone or faced any problems while on the streets? What’s the story? 

I handed over a roll of film one time when a man was upset that I was photographing his children without permission. He wasn’t totally out of line.

Photo © Melanie Einzig

Photo © Melanie Einzig

9. Do you have a particular shooting approach when on the streets? (i.e. some photographers listen to music, others wear hats, etc.) 

No music, no hats, no scarf around the neck. Just slow down and get into the zone of awareness or observation or non-linear thinking. Frankly, it gets harder and harder these days. Especially if I don’t happen to forget my phone at home.

10. What’s your most memorable street photography experience? 

I barely remember taking any of my photos so it is hard to say.

I’m amazed when some photos have a life of their own. That is the very marvelous and surprising experience of this kind of work that makes it worthwhile.

 You make this picture and it just comes to life and over time it comes to life for others too.

That is very exciting.

11. When you photograph, how do you select your subjects and do you shoot with a specific theme in mind? 

No themes really. Though in the back of my mind my biggest theme is the US and trying to make sense of how it affects us as a species.

12. Are you currently working on any projects? What are they? 

I’m not into projects really and I’m always baffled when people use that word.

A project sounds like building a building or something with a final end that can be packaged up and sold.

Some people do it really well. Right now it’s just an on-going moment to moment approach to my work. I can no longer tell what goes with what. It is probably not good for building any kind of career not to have projects. Maybe some day I will have a project.

Photo © Melanie Einzig

Photo © Melanie Einzig

13. Where do you think street photography is headed in the future? 

It is an exciting time for street photography. Lots of people want to do it and fashion and advertising has got a grip on it too. I hope it is a sign that people want to feel closer to life and care about real life more.

I hope the playful, aesthetic and communicative aspects of the work don’t vanish into primarily commercial concerns.

Where is it headed? I’m not good at predicting those kinds of things. I do worry about restrictions put on taking photos in public. Not so much here is the US because of our right to free speech, but other places.

14. What’s your favorite city for street photography? Would you consider visiting Beirut in the future? 

I love most cities. I’ve heard wonderful things about Beirut and would like to visit. All expenses paid? Sure.

15. What advice would you give the BSP community on street photography? 

Looks like you are doing well. Nice to see all the organizing and support of each other, both men and women.

Keep going and show us more!

Photo © Melanie Einzig

Photo © Melanie Einzig

See more of Melanie’s work: www.melanieeinzig.com

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