June 8, 2022
Photography | Meryl Meisler
Words | Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
When you talk about influential women in the field of photography, Meryl Meisler certainly comes to mind. Her lifetime achievements radiate the energy and dedication she has devoted to her practice through her passion found in photography. The Norita camera fits Meryl like a glove, it has become the tool for her intuitive, spontaneous, and authentic look at the world she engages.
“Being a photographer, I have gained a sense of purpose and the importance of being open-minded to familiar and previously unknown. It reinforces my sense of personal perception and meaning through experiences, places, people, meetings, and emotions. I am here for a reason.” - Meryl
Meryl remembers growing up seeing a camera in her grandfather's and father's hands always documenting their lives. Neither of them were photographers but the camera was an integral part of their very existence, and Meryl became very familiar with it at an early age. Meryl was seven when she got her first camera, and it was the beginning of her journey as a photographer. She describes her biggest influence as photography being just a part of her life.
It wasn't until her visit to MoMA in the Fall of ‘73, when she saw a Diane Arbus Exhibit and described it as a, “moving experience, like witnessing photography for the very first time.” Meryl was enrolled in her first photography class in 1973 at the University of Wisconsin, where the professor Cavalliere Ketchum introduced Meryl to the ‘French Connection’, the work of Jacques Henri Lartigue, Brassaï, and Lisette Model. Meryl shares their influences, “Lartigue’s decades-long visual diary of playful family and friends, Brassai’s effervescent and daring Paris by Night, and Model’s upfront street and performers inspired my visual diary of family, friends, work, and nightlife celebrating with the snapshot aesthetic. Wanting to study with Model was reason enough to move to NYC in 1975.”
After receiving her degree from the University of Wisconsin, Meryl returned to New York and studied with renowned photographer Lisette Model. Meryl shares a pivotal moment, “I think the main thing I learned from her was that it was the image, the story; it wasn’t the technique. It wasn’t specifically the lighting, but it was the genuine gut feeling of a photograph. And I thought the most important thing that she gave me was just to go forth, go forth and keep doing what you’re doing because it’s real. She only gave positive comments. I only took one class with her, I did other ones, but it was very pivotal.”
The ‘French Connection’ does not stop there, as Meryl explains, “Flash forward to 2012; Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, a French filmmaker, living in Bushwick and owner of BIZARRE, a drag/burlesque club, discovered my work while researching his new neighborhood. BIZARRE published “A Tale of Two Cities Disco Era Bushwick” (2014) and “Purgatory & Paradise SASSY ‘70s Suburbia & The City” (2015). Sauvaire helped me edit “New York PARADISE LOST Bushwick Era Disco” (Parallel Pictures Press 2021) from concept to finish.
French director and journalist Sophie Peyrard, did the first review of my books in a French magazine, Lui. After that, she made a film about my work for ARTE. You can view the film on YouTube. Sophie Peyrard introduced my work to Fany Dupêche, Project Director, who invited me to participate in Festival Portrait(s). Merci beaucoup!"
Meryl adores live theater, and like Shakespeare believes “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely the players”. These are the sets Meryl lives in, how she experiences life, this is her inspiration to create the unique portraits with truth and authenticity. Meryl did not walk onto her sets as a photographer, but as a player in the same game, that just brought their camera along. She was not always photographing but simply participating and having fun. Her fellow players opened up to her, and this is when the magic happened. She engages subjects that some are uncomfortable with, and with open arms, an artful eye, and contagious smile, her enthusiasm and humor instantly makes for a genuine connection, allowing for the magic to take place.
I know this for a fact. I have been fortunate to experience this connectivity and magic. We met one evening at a NYC Women Street Photographers get together hosted by Gulnara Samoilova. I was walking across the room of very impressive women photographers when I walked to get some wine, our paths crossed. “Meryl Meisler” as her hand extended, I stumbled for my words, who am I? I mumbled Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico. “Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico” Meryl repeated with such enthusiasm, “With a name like Ghostlaw, you need no other name! Just Ghostlaw!”, and in that moment I stepped into my skin.
Meryl embraces people for who they really are, perhaps inspiring them to be everything they could be. Meryl captures the “joie de vivre”, a sense of the excitement of the moment, accepting and admiring the uniqueness in all of us. She does not try to change anybody she photographs, but falls in love with who they truly are. Meryl describes her work, in retrospect, “I have come to realize that for me, photography is a form of visual memoir. I photograph the people, places, things, and things that call my attention and usually lift my spirits. My work traverses documentary, performative and street photography.”
Meryl spends much of her time in her new darkroom in her home making beautiful silver gelatin prints from negatives when not out shooting with her three Noritas, a Japanese medium format camera and optics. Her babies are near and dear to her and are a unique attribute to the way she shoots, and very much indicative of her personality.
Meryl has grown from her dedication and commitment to the field of photography. “Being a photographer, I have gained a sense of purpose and the importance of being open-minded to familiar and previously unknown. It reinforces my sense of personal perception and meaning through experiences, places, people, meetings, and emotions. I am here for a reason.”
We are grateful to Meryl for her candor and authenticity not only in her photography, but in the way she embraces the world around her. We look forward to the next ‘French Connection’. For more inspiration, have a look at their website, and follow them on instagram. Be inspired and get their books, and if you have a chance to see their work in person, it is a must! There is a good chance you will see Meryl there, say hello and experience the magic for yourself.
This is the perfect time to share with you the latest addition to Meryl’s ‘French Connection’, her Press release from her up and coming exhibition at the tenth Portrait Festival in Vichy France.
Meryl Meisler: QUIRKYVISION
A Photography Encounter in Vichy, France
June 24 to September 4, 2022
Every day, 10:00 to 19:00
Saturdays 10:00 to 22:00 from July 14 – August 15th
Meryl Meisler's QUIRKYVISION will be installed at Le Palais des Congrès de Vichy during the PORTRAIT(S) Tenth Annual Festival in Vichy, France, from June 24 through September 4, 2022.
Impertinent and humorous, Meryl Meisler plunges us into a captivating city and time, 1970s and 1980s New York. Her shots celebrate disco evenings and strip-tease clubs, her Jewish family and Long Island suburb, or life in a public school in one of the roughest Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Inspired by Diane Arbus and Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Meryl Meisler, who was born in 1951, studied with legendary photographer Lisette Model while documenting her own life, with her camera screwed to her quirky eye. It was only when she retired from being a teacher in 2010 that she began releasing her archives, which led to the creation of this event. As a time capsule of New York in the seventies and eighties, her shots are a simultaneous celebration of discos and strip clubs, her Jewish family and Long Island suburb, or NYC public school life in one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods. Impertinent and comical, Meryl Meisler captures in black and white or color moments of pure joy at the center of daily hardships, plunging us into a fascinating time and city.
This tenth Portrait(s) Festival in Vichy will celebrate the arts in the plural and have a lot of surprises. The Grand Casino will be transformed into a temple of photography, with exhibitions, conferences, and projections before moving into the public space, in this spa city by the Allier River. The thirteen exhibitions feature work by Christophe Acker, Charlotte Boudon, Omar Victor Diop, Henrike Stahl, Marie Magnier, Meryl Meisler, Éric Poupy, Kourtney Roy, Komath Studio. Brigitte Patient. Christian Tagliavini. Alain Willaume, and photography by ninth-grade students at the Collège des Célestins.
Come on a delightful photographic wander through Vichy, virtually or in person!
Note: Meryl Meisler will be present at Portrait(s) Vichy on June 24th and June 25th.