This Photographer Has Shot NYC with a 1940s Camera for 50+ Years

Walk around on the streets of New York City long enough, and you may come across photographer Louis Mendes. He has shot street photos in the city for over 50 years, and he’s easily recognized by his vintage camera and outfits. The New York Post made the inspiring 3-minute video above about Mendes’ life and work.

Mendes uses a 1940s Speed Graphic press camera and wears clothing that “compliments the camera.” And even as photography has transitioned into the digital realm, Mendes has stayed true to his lifelong love of film, particularly peel-apart instant film such as Fujifilm’s FP-100C (which, unfortunately, was discontinued in 2016).

Louis Mendes in 2015. Photo by Humberto Bermúdez Cárdenas of hbc31.

Like many other famous street photographers, Mendes can be found outside shooting nearly every single day. Most of his photos are sold to his subjects, so Mendes hasn’t built up a gigantic archive of personal photos like other photographers.

“If his standard fee of twenty dollars is too high, Mendes accepts donations,” the New Yorker writes.” At times, over the years, he has earned enough this way to get by, but he worked a range of day jobs as well, before Social Security kicked in.”

Photographer Louis Mendes. Photo by Chiefwiki and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

One of the challenges Mendes will increasingly face is the increased scarcity and cost of film as more and more lines are discontinued — to survive, perhaps Mendes could switch to Fuji Instax film, which is a huge profit-driver and isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon.

“To think about not being able to shoot any more film, it’s like going to bed and not waking up,” Mendes says in the video above. “Why do I take pictures every day? It’s like why do I breathe every day?”