At 82 years old, Louis Mendes takes to the streets every day accompanied by a 1940 camera and an elegant hat in order to sell his Photographs in New York. He has done it for decades, since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the turn of the 21st century that he realized he was world famous.
“I was walking through the streets and I see a car going around the block and suddenly an Asian guy comes out of the vehicle and runs towards me to show me his wallpaper, it was a photo he had taken of me two years ago (…) That was how I discovered that I was famous”, the artist told the Spanish agency Eph.
Journalist Sarah Yáñez-Richards, author of the report, warns that in truth the fan who most impressed the photographer was a Peruvian professor who had his image tattooed on his arm. “It is difficult to pass in front of this ‘dandy’ and not stop to contemplate him, because he seems taken from another era not only because he carries a camera that could be exhibited in a museum, but also because he is always very well dressed, with a suit jacket or a leather trench coat and a hat”, points out the work.
Mende began taking polaroid portraits in 1959, when an acquaintance asked him to take photos in a nightclub. “The camera cost me 300 dollars. I had to save because for me that price was three weeks’ wages. But I got my money back on the first night of work selling photos for two dollars, ”he recalls.
Now he doesn’t work photographing nightlife, he is on the street and has a more or less fixed route: in the mornings he sits in a chair in the central park of Bryant Park, then he takes a walk in Times Square or stands in front of a camera shop on 34th Street. During cold days he works inside the Grand Central or Pennsylvania stations, well-known places in “Midtown Manhattan”.
Coney Island, a beach with several attractions in Brooklyn, or any type of parade, wedding or graduation are other destinations where he likes to photograph people. He chooses places where people are happy and, half joking, half serious, says that what he likes to photograph the most are pretty women.
Approximately every day he takes about twenty photos and accepts what he calls “a donation” for each portrait of between 50 and 100 dollars. According to this report, when someone is photographed by the elegant octogenarian, they not only take the signed photo and the blue bulb that burnt out after using the flash, but also a conversation with the author.
Mendes always keeps the photo he just took in his pocket for the time he wakes up, a process that usually lasts a couple of minutes. Once the subject’s face comes to light, the photographer delivers the photograph to the client and never sees it again.
Mendes, despite always being serious, likes when people ask him about his camera. When he sees someone take a photo of him with a phone or digital camera, he always encourages the person to show him the photo and even poses with his relic so that they can take a picture of him again with a better angle.
In addition, he encourages them to upload the photo using the hashtag #LouisMendes, so that his representative -since he has a “manager”, Raymond Ortiz-, later uploads the image to his social networks. “I was very shy when I was young, but the camera made me lose my shyness,” he notes.
Over time, his photos have become more valuable to people, since in the 1960s he was just another photographer, while now he is the only one who takes these types of photos on the streets of the Big Apple. But also because the photo itself is becoming rarer, since people do not print the hundreds of images that he takes with his phone, this work points out.
Mendes has noticed that in this more than half century the way people treat him has also changed: before he noticed that people looked at him, but did not approach him because they were afraid to start a conversation with him because he was a black man. “It’s not easy, but that’s the challenge of life,” he concludes.