If was on a plane about two
years ago and noticed an article in a photo publication about photographers
successfully utilizing their web sites, and David Mendelsohn was one
of the three profiled photographers. Imagine my surprise when I noticed
that I, "Mr. Well-Rounded," had not heard of this talented
shooter. Then I noticed he was from New Hampshire, practically right
next door to me. Had I been walking around with my head in the sand?
After a visit to his web site I knew I had to meet this guy.
it until I received a brochure in the mail that featured several beautifully
crafted and artistic portraits. Searching for a credit line, I noticed
David's name once again. That settles it, I said. I gotta see
The following interview is pieced together from phone conversations,
e-mail messages, and a visit to my "neighbor."
Shutterbug: David, looking at the type of work you
do and your client list, shouldn't you be in New York or L.A.?
David Mendelsohn: I think if your style is unique and
visible enough, you can live and work just about anywhere. I'm
less than an hour away from a major international airport. I've
got a couple of good reps and Wendy (my wife) handles most of the business
aspects. The Internet has made the world even smaller. My web site allows
clients from anywhere in the world to view my work instantaneously.
SB: Let's talk about your web site. You've
got it divided into personal and client work. Why do you show personal
DM: It has been observed that there is a noticeable
difference between my commercial and personal work. Perhaps it may be
true, but I have a difficult time seeing it. For me, the distinction
between both is thankfully blurred these days. I am assigned because
of a certain way I see things. Our books get called in for advertising,
for people, for architecture, for corporate. We even get requests these
days for fashion.
We don't assume we do it better than the "specialist."
We do know however, that we do it perhaps a little differently and that's
what defines us.
By design or demand of the marketplace, most of my assigned work is
in color. In contrast, my personal work is generally executed in black
and white. However, if one discounts the medium, there is an obvious
SB: What are your requirements for accepting an assignment?
DM: I have what I call the "Three F's Rule."
That's fame, fortune, and fun. If I can get two out of the three,
I'll accept the assignment. Of course, all three's even
SB: Looking at your client list, I see big companies
such as Audi, Boeing, Amtrak, and United Airlines. Why don't you
tell me about a couple of recent assignments.
DM: We recently completed Sun International's
annual report (a huge resort and casino operation) which had me shooting
shoeless and suntanned, for about five weeks, in locations such as Mauritius,
an island four hours by jet off the coast of South Africa with a temperature
of about 85°.
We returned and, with additional help, frantically edited around 500
rolls so that we could make their deadlines. Two days later, we were
on a flight to Banff in the Canadian Rockies to shoot an ad campaign
for Aramark. We encountered more sunshine, but at altitudes of around
10,000' and temper- atures circa 20°F below zero. I came home
feeling like a freezer-burned steak, edited, and we were off again to
80°F weather to shoot for the Bahama Ministry of Tourism. Sometimes,
making it through customs is just as important as putting together a
shot. Bottom line is that I love the adventure and diversity inherent
in this business.
SB: Describe your shooting style for me.
DM: Meticulous may be a good way of describing my work.
To be sure, the quality of light and shadow is equally important. As
a matter of fact, I consider those elements as an essential part of
the design. But for me, without visual order, an image fails despite
the content. All things must be considered. Harmonies must be present
for the message to be fluent. It all must come together symphonically.
If there is too much noise, at least for me, it is difficult to hear
SB: Now, for just a little technical information. What
films and formats do you shoot?
DM: I shoot anything from 35mm to 8x10, depending on
the requirements of the assignment. Having said that, my favorite format
I like 35mm for the same reasons everyone else does--small size, great
film selection, fast lenses, zooms, 36 exposure rolls, etc. I prefer
the Fuji slide films and Kodak T-Max films for black and white.
SB: Many of your images look manipulated. What techniques
do you use?
DM: Manipulation for me is a simple concept but takes
on a certain camp mentality in this, The Digital Age. I begin to manipulate
the image when I choose the film and the light I decide to shoot it
under. I manipulate my subject further through camera angle, choice
of f/stop, lens, format, and perspective. I manipulate my color by introducing
various gelatin filters over my lens, some drastic, some subtle. I manipulate
if I use a polarizing filter.
I manipulate when it comes to developer choices. I manipulate in the
darkroom by dodging, burning, paper choice, grade, and choice of toner.
I might take the final print, cut and segment it, run it through a Xerox
machine, and transfer it to tissue paper. Subsequently, I might handcolor
that from the back with every medium known to man including clothing
dye and an ammonia wash, and finally reassemble the sections. The Zone
System is manipulation. At one point Platinum was considered an alternative
process. There are a lot of variables. They should be embraced. They
are the essential tools which, in combination, allow an artist to find
his or her own voice. It's plain silly not to explore options.
To date, I have welcomed my Mac and Photoshop into my life like a free
Picasso. To be clear, as a personal choice, I don't do photo composite
stuff. I don't put angel wings on a nude and have her flying over
the Sahara. Frankly, I think it would be more fun to try that real time.
Besides, we'd all be out there naked and warm. Nonetheless, it's
quite fascinating to look at, and better when the artist considers the
direction, quality, and color of light when putting it all together.
Rather, I am using my digital tools as a darkroom. I may enhance color,
change tone, eliminate detail, or dodge and burn as never before possible.
Despite the up-front pains I traditionally take, I have never made an
image that couldn't be improved. No one has. It's the impure
nature of the physical world. Beyond that, once I'm satisfied,
I can store the final information and generate identical prints whenever
SB: What drives you?
DM: Like all artists, I am driven by fear of personal
failure. As important as pleasing the client is, I continually have
to ask myself if I pushed my combination of technique and perception
a little further than the last outing. Did I grow or did I simply imitate
myself? It is that factor, above everything, that creates my inertia
and makes me a little despondent or deliriously happy depending on the
SB: Thank you, David.
For more information, contact David Mendelsohn through his web site: