Documenting a Time and a Place: Meryl Meisler, Photographer and Artist

photography by Meryl Meisler

I met Meryl Meisler  in the late 90s. I was working for an education nonprofit and Meryl, a NYC teacher, was on their board. We hit it off immediately and have stayed in touch long after the nonprofit fell apart.

It’s been such a pleasure witnessing the well-deserved press Meryl’s documentary photography work has been getting over the last few years.

Meryl’s work does not focus on any of the four subjects featured in A Life’s Work. So why did I want to interview her? In addition to being a good friend, a wonderful person, and a fantastic artist, I am interested in anything or anyone with a very long view. And certainly Meryl fits in that category. As she says, “Making art is a process; it is my life’s work.”

When you were taking these photos, what were you intending to do with them?

These photographs were part of my Masters thesis exhibit at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My exhibit consisted of drawings/illustrations and B&W photographic prints. They served their original purpose — to create a body of work and “defend” it in questioning with my thesis committee. The same photographs were used in a portfolio to be admitted to Lisette Model’s class at the New School when I moved to NYC in 1975. I kept pursuing the photographs of (predominantly Jewish) Long Island family and friends, and enrolled in a photography book course with Bob Adelman. He set me up with a writer to submit a proposal to a publishing company he was associated with, and the proposal was not accepted. I kept doing the series anyway, and in 1978, the work successfully helped me receive a C.E.T.A. project Artist position as a documentary photographer for the American Jewish Congress (AJC). I created a photographic archive of “Jewish New York” for AJC, which also included my personal project, interviewing and photographing extended family members to learn about my Eastern European Jewish roots and immigrating to the USA.

In the midst of all this, I was a young person coming of age in NYC in the 1970s and loving it. I carried my camera everywhere I went  —  clubs, discos, beach scenes, parties, on the streets day and night. My camera was my best friend and diary.

I was working as a freelance illustrator but photography was my passion. I set up a darkroom in the laundry room of my cousin’s building where I rented a room. Photography was and still is my passion and art. Several important people in the photography world, Cornell Capa and Lisette Model among them, were highly encouraging of my work — they saw something special in it. I thought I would be definitely famous by time I was 30. Alas, that did not happen. Perhaps that notion of fame might come by 75?

While working as a C.E.T.A. artist for AJC, we had to do community service. I chose to teach photography to homebound handicapped adults and to children. Even though my Bachelors degree was in art education, I was scared to teach. The community service work helped build up my confidence. When CETA ended in 1979, I was still doing freelance illustration work but the bills were coming in faster than the paychecks. I needed a steady job. The CETA teaching experience helped build my teaching confidence and portfolio. I became a NYC Public School Art Teacher, teaching photography four days a week “per diem” (no benefits) to elementary school students in the Learning to Read Through The Arts Program in September 1979.  When a full time art teaching position with benefits opened up in Bushwick, December 1981, I started carrying a point and shoot camera to photograph going to and from school. When I began teaching, there was much less time for going out at night photographing or spending hours in the darkroom. I started working with color slide film and 35mm format because I needed to, wanted to photograph what I was witnessing and where I was going. I had a solo exhibit “School and Surroundings” in 1984 and it was prohibitively expensive for me to have archival Cibachrome color prints made on my teacher’s salary. I couldn’t afford to keep making the prints, but never stopped photographing. I started painting illustratively on some of the “bad” archival prints of Bushwick. The painted photographs of Bushwick was the body of work that was awarded a NYFA fellowship.

Throughout my 31 year career as a NYC public school art teacher I always worked on my own artwork — continuously exhibiting, applying for and sometimes receiving grants and commissions. I was always plugging away.

The Disco, Go-Go and other “decadent” nightlife photos were never exhibited. It would have put me at risk of losing my job and means of support. Upon retirement from the NYC public schools in 2010, I had more time to focus on getting my work “out there.”

What has it been like for you to go through so many photos that you took more than 30 years ago?

I’ve come to realize that for me, photography is a form of memoir. The photographs are like diary entries from 40 years ago. The moments and emotions are as fresh and still exciting. In the past, I’ve always had trouble editing my work. Time, distance, and the deadline for publishing a book help the decision process immensely. I’m actually impressed with how dynamic my photographs were right from the start and can say to my younger self- you have a good eye, mind, and heart.

Any thoughts or feelings about this work getting discovered instead of work that you’ve done in the last, say, five years?

David, I’ve always fretted that such and such series was too old or worried what will I work on next. For example when you and I met I was working on my NYC Immersions series. It was exhibited in Grand Central Terminal, in a poster throughout the transit system, in the Brooklyn Museum and thankfully a few pieces are permanently installed at the Columbia School of Social Work Library.

It was time to let that series go, “enough with the water,” but I didn’t know what to work on next and that was depressing. Then, a series of wonderful circumstances made me start digging through my Bushwick photographs from the 1980s and I realized how beautiful those images were. I became obsessed with them; I had no idea that they would be deemed historically important and the Bushwick art scene would become so phenomenal and welcoming.

Taking the time to dig through my archives makes me realize I’m always seeing, photographing, playing with brush and pigment. Looking at the past becomes the present. Good work stands the test of time, and ages well.  With the gift of health and well being, I hope to continue digging through the archives and creating. Making art is a process; it is my life’s work.

What’s next?

I’m working on my next book, the third in the ‘70s trilogy. This one will make my first my first two books seem timid. I have to put the ‘70s in perspective to prepare for the subsequent chapters in this memoir continuously in the making.

Currently I’m documenting Resistance marches and rallies to show to the world we will not let the 45th administration destroy our country, heart and soul. In a new phase, hoping to get the urgent messages out to larger audience, I reported on the Women’s March on Washington for VICE  and protests against Muslim Ban for Gothamist . Photographs from several marches will be hand painted and installed at a group exhibit “Fractured Union” at Brooklyn Fire Proof, 119 Ingraham St., Brooklyn. The exhibit opening reception is Friday May 12th 6 – 9PM and runs through June 2017.

I’ll be in a show of Brooklyn Photographers at BRIC house in September, and hopefully another solo show during Bushwick Open Studios in October. I’m working on a new series of self-portraits, returning to painting with photography. Then, I also want to continue finding, interviewing and photographing people who were in or knew the people and places in my Bushwick 1980s photos as a follow-up book to Disco Era Bushwick.

The most extensive body of my work that has yet to be seen is my 36 years from an insider’s point of view of NYC schools. I photographed throughout my career as a NYC teacher, and continued photographing 2011- 2015 as the NYU Art Education Field Supervisor, overseeing student teachers in both private and public schools.

With the gift of health and well-being, I hope to continue digging through the archives and creating new work for many years to come.

Thank you, Meryl.


Meryl Meisler is the author of the internationally acclaimed books A Tale of Two Cities Disco Era Bushwick,  and Purgatory & Paradise SASSY ’70s Suburbia & The City.

You can read and see more of Meryl’s work in these publications.

The New Yorker – Andrea DenHoed – February 28, 2017
Backstage At The Ringling Brothers Circus, 1977

The New Yorker – Genevieve Fussell – June 3, 2015
Seventies Long Island: The Whole Mishpocha

The New Yorker – Genevieve Fussell – August 7, 2014
Meryl Meisler’s Disco Era

New York Times – Jonathan Mahler  – June 13, 2014
Stayin’ Alive

A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick 

Vice Video


Everyday Astronaut – An Interview with Photographer Tim Dodd

I first encountered Tim Dodd on Facebook; we are both members of the Space Hipsters group.  I posted an old add for Tang. Tim posted this photo!

Everyday Astronaut - Tim Dodd

Upon seeing this surreal and witty  photo, I knew I had to interview this man.

Here’s a little bit about Tim Dodd: he is a professional photographer based out of Iowa. He mostly shoot events and commercial work, but he has also shot four launches for including the Orion Test flight, EFT-1 in 2014. His work has been featured on Buzzfeed, Reddit, TECH Insider, Flickr’s artist of the week, as well as several international publications

Your photography first came to may attention via Facebook and that led me to Everyday Astronaut.  Where did the idea for Everyday Astronaut come from?

In 2013 I randomly bought a spacesuit online, well technically a Russian high altitude flight suit, and a few months later began shooting a series I titled “Everyday Astronaut.” The first pictures I took were at an ISS resupply launch at Kennedy Space Center that I was trying to catch in April 2014. I took a few pictures around the visitors center and had awesome reactions to it from my friends and family. Then I started shooting more “everyday” rudimentary moments and that’s when the series started.

Do you think of Everyday Astronaut as its own entity or is it related to your other photography work in some way?

Everyday Astronaut is definitely its own thing although it’s a creative outlet for me and a portfolio piece, it’s always viewed as its own project outside of my typical professional work. However it does combine two of my loves, space and photography, so there’s that. 🙂

Which came first, your interest in photography or aerospace?

I’ve actually been into aerospace since I was a very young child, but I didn’t follow it very much for 20 years or so. It wasn’t until about 2012 that I really began to obsess over spaceflight. So it did precede my love for photography but photography had been a more mature passion.

There’s a header on your website, “Helping add A (art) to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.” Why do you think that’s so important?

I feel like art inspires science and science inspires art. I think it’s an eco system that plays off each other. For me, as a three-time college drop out who can never make it through the academic world, I have always had art to express myself. I don’t want people to think just because they don’t have a STEM degree doesn’t mean they can’t participate in those fields. I think at the end of the day it takes creative thinking and often a certain amount of art to even begin to dream big.

Tell me about the awesome suit and helmet?

I found the suit on a website called It’s of unknown age, most likely from the 80’s or 90’s and most likely a naval fighter pilot suit from Russia. It’s gotten plenty beat up since I’ve owned it as it’s been dragged across the United States a few times and come with me to nine countries so far.

Make sure to follow @Everyday Astronaut on Instagram.

Want to help A Life’s Work?

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Tourist Eyes – Jeff Stein, AIA

I recently emailed an update on A Life’s Work to Jeff Stein, AIA, president of the Cosanti Foundation.

Part of his reply was the following —

PS: I gave a presentation at a recent AIA/American Institute of Architects convention in Santa Fe. I rode my motorcycle there Thursday, talk and panel discussion Friday and Saturday, back to Arcosanti on Sunday. On the return trip I dodged storms to the south until in the late afternoon I turned off Interstate 17 onto the Arcosanti road, and here was the view: a double rainbow.

and this image —

Photo by Jeff Stein
Photo by Jeff Stein, AIA


Thanks for sharing, Jeff, and allowing me to post it here. Hope to see you in April.

Related: Six Questions for Jeff Stein

Tourist Eyes – William W. Heffner

William W. Heffner, friend and A Life’s Work’s secret weapon (many of the links and photos on the ALW Facebook page are posted by Bill) sent me some photos he took with his tourist eyes.

Bill writes:

On a warm summer night leisurely walking home I came across this tableau and it just struck me to be part Greek tragedy, part Peter Paul Rubens, with a whole lot of Twilight Zone thrown in for good measure.  I just took them on my phone, and at first glance you’d never know they were color photographs — only a neon sign in some of them betrays that. This window is the complete opposite of what we expect:  color, fashion, something new and exciting.

I love these photos. In addition to Peter paul Rubens and the Twilight Zone, they remind me of a Roxy Music cover (or several), and to me, that’s a winning combination.

Thanks, Bill.

Send me a photo of something in the place you live, taken with your tourist eyes, and I’ll put it on the blog [if you want], and I’ll send you an origami crane. You can attach it to an email:
d a v i d [ a t ] b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s ( d o t ) c o m .

Tourist Eyes – Christine Lofgren

Christine Lofgren, she who planted a Bristlecone Pine tree, writes:
Thanks for your post and for planting the seed in my head about using our “tourist eyes.” Growing up as an Army brat and then continuing to move around once I was out on my own, I was lucky in that I was never in any place long enough to grow complacent about the locale.
Washington, NH..  I remember many times up there in the fall when you’d see ten out-of-state cars for every one with NH plates.  People came from all over to see the fall foliage, and while that was annoying in some ways, I fortunately didn’t live in NH long enough to lose my tourist eyes; I understood why those tourists were there.
New Hampshire Fence by Christine Lofgren
New Hampshire Fence by Christine Lofgren

Tourist Eyes – Jamie Newton

Artist and friend Jamie Newton writes:

You asked for it.
Here’s a shot from Portland’s Japanese Garden. It’s a really wonderful garden, less ostentatious than it’s neighbor the Rose Garden. Both are big tourist attractors.
This is one of the doorways. I had a much more ‘touristy’ and kitschy shot ready to send you and just couldn’t bring myself to attach it. Photographs never seem quite the right response to this garden and yet I continue to take them (fewer, though, I’ve noticed, as time goes along – maybe I’m becoming less of a tourist there).
Photograph by Jamie Newton.
Photograph by Jamie Newton.

Tourist Eyes – Sai Nakama

Sai Nakama, friend, recent college graduate, photography and aviation enthusiast, sent me a couple of photographs he took of his everyday surroundings using his tourist eyes. Sai, a reserved young gentleman, writes of the photos:

One is of Bryant Park taken about 2 days ago, the other is of one of those subway ventilation grates taken a while ago (somewhere in Brooklyn). 

Sai is off to Mt. Rainier National Park where he will be a Vegetation Restoration Intern for the summer. Seems like a job right up A Life’s Work’s alley. Maybe he’ll write something about his work for the blog sometime. (Hint, hint!)

Good luck, Sai! 

Tourist Eyes – Andy Bowley

Andy Bowley, cinematographer for much of A Life’s Work, heeded the call I sent out last post and emailed me this photograph.

Andy writes: This was taken in the neighborhood where I live part time. It is certainly a tourist destination (the architecture is a big draw) but it’s rare that I take the time to look through a lens at any of it.


For his efforts, Andy will receive an origami crane, made with my own two little hands.

I’d love to post more photos, especially one taken by YOU! (You take good photos with that phone of yours, I’ve seen them on FB.) If you’d like to see it published on this blog (and be the envy of your friends because of the origami crane I’ll send you), just attach it to an email.

d a v i d [ a t ] b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s ( d o t ) c o m

Photographer Barbara Bosworth – Interview

When I was at the MacDowell Colony in 2010, I met a fine photographer, Matthew Connors. When I told him about the people in A Life’s Work, he asked if I knew the work one of his colleagues at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Barbara Bosworth. I didn’t. But Bosworth had been to MacDowell, and her book of photographs, Trees: National Champions (MIT Press; Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, 2005) was in their library. I checked it out and was blown away by its beauty. I wished I had had this book as a reference before I shot a single tree for A Life’s Work. It only took three years, but I finally asked Connors to introduce me to Bosworth. She responded to my request for an interview enthusiastically, and agreed to share some photographs that do not appear in the book. It is my great great pleasure to share with you her words and images.

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Where did the idea for a book about trees come from?

I grew up surrounded by a forest. My “playground.” I have always loved being around trees.

I learned of the National Register of Big Trees in 1990 and immediately set out to photograph the trees on the list. After 14 years, a book felt right.

Dwarf chinkapin oak_KS_Bosworth

What’s the most difficult thing about photographing trees? The most enjoyable thing?

The most difficult aspect: getting to the trees.
The most enjoyable aspect: getting to the trees.

Chokecherry_AZ champion_Bosworth

Many of the photographs suggest the presence of people — a bike, a telephone pole, buildings, fences (there seem to be a lot of fences around champion trees), but there are very few people in them. Why?

To me, this work is as much about the American landscape as about trees. These trees are in our backyards, along our highways, next to parking lots. The human presence is important in telling the story of the American landscape. I am interested in that presence.

In addition, including recognizable human artifacts in the scene provides a sense of scale. We can read the size of the tree by its proximity to a car, or a bicycle or a fence.

Can you tell me about why you made some of the artistic choices you did (black-and-white, the use of triptych and diptych, horizontal instead of vertical orientation)?

Cucumbertree magnolia_OH champion_Bosworth

In a black-and-white photograph the world is pared down to forms in tones of grey, not distracted by that red sign or blue house or orange fence. I wanted these photographs to simply be about the tree and its environs. At times, in a color photograph, a red sign takes on greater importance than a brown tree. In these photographs, I want us to be aware of the sign, the house and the fence, but not to let the colors dictate their importance in the scene.

Plus, I like black-and-white photography’s reference to history.

I use multi-panel images as a way to show how the tree is in its surrounding landscape. It’s not just about the tree. It’s everything around it, as well.

While these photographs are of the largest tree of each species, this work, for me, has never been about size. Not all these “champions” are large. A champion Pussy willow is not the same size as a champion Red oak.

By choosing to photograph a vertical subject in a horizontal format, it keeps the emphasis on the landscape.

There are 70 plates in the book. I wonder how many photos you actually took and what the editing process was like?

The 70 images in the book are edited from several hundred. Many friends helped me with the editing and sequencing. MIT Press was wonderful to work with. Their insight and guidance was instrumental in shaping the book.

And, because the trees are ever changing, I continue to photograph these trees.

Hollyleaf buckthorn_AZ champion_Bosworth

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Barbara Bosworth is a photographer whose large-format images explore both overt and subtle relationships between humans and the rest of the natural world. Whether chronicling the efforts of hunters or bird banders or evoking the seasonal changes that transform mountains and meadows, Bosworth’s caring attention to the world around her results in images that similarly inspire viewers to look closely.

Bosworth’s work has been widely exhibited, notably in recent retrospectives at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona. Her publications include Trees: National Champions (MIT Press; Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, 2005) and Chasing the Light (Nightwood Press, 2002).

I’ve conducted  many interviews for this blog and elsewhere. See the entire list here.

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

Mike Disfarmer and A Life’s Work

I recently had a conversation with one of my fellow artists here at Ucross about studio portrait photography and this led to Mike Disfarmer. It reminded me of this post and the great comment left by one of his subjects’ ancestors, so I thought I’d repost it. And re: the last paragraph, I’m still grappling.

I was looking through Disfarmer, Heber Springs Portraits, 1939-1946, a gorgeous book of Mike Disfarmer’s photographs. The following paragraph from the essay by Julia Scully struck me.

Detail of a portrait by Mike Disfarmer.
Detail of a portrait by Mike Disfarmer.

What distinguishes this product of a seemingly ordinary Main Street portrait studio from that of others on every Main Street in the United States? In seeking an answer, we must consider the character of his subjects, the time in which they were recorded, and the photographer’s artistry.

This set me thinking: is there something that distinguishes A Life’s Work from other documentaries? The character of its subjects  (unique) and the time in which they are recorded (now–there is no better time) are distinctive. But what about the filmmakers’ artistry?

Modesty prevents me from blowing my own horn, but I will say this: somehow I manage to inveigle cinematographers and editors of the highest artistic caliber to work on A Life’s Work. I like to think it’s the subject matter of the film that hits home–all artists want to create something that outlasts them. When the darkest clouds are hovering over the film, I think of my talented colleagues and their  belief in the project and then more often than not those clouds disperse.

But about the Disfarmer photos! I feel like there’s something else going on between Mike Disfarmer and his portraits and me and A Life’s Work, but I can’t quite articulate it. Check out his photographs  and if you can make a connection, let me know.