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Years later, he photographed the same young man, who had become a construction worker.
“I’ve been doing this so long, I’ve seen some people whose grandparents I photographed,” Mendes said.
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.
In the late nineteen-fifties, when he bought his first Speed Graphic camera, he was working as a stock clerk in Macy’s while going to school to study radio electronics.
Mendes emphasized that he has no desire to be rich, but he seemed pleased at this entrepreneurial vision.
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“Somebody stole my body—I just got it back last night.” “That’s a new one! “I’ve been stealing his lines for ten years.”Leaving the flea, Mendes ran into an old friend, Geoffrey Berliner, the executive director of the nearby Penumbra Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving historical and emulsion-based photography.
“This is my wife right here,” Mendes said, gesturing to his camera.The flashbulbs that Mendes uses haven’t been made since the sixties, but he has so far been able to find enough of them at flea markets, auctions, and through old photography connections.Mendes has cultivated friendships with many of the city’s other roving photographers.But where Cunningham’s strategy was to blend in with the crowds, Mendes’s is to stand out. (Ortiz runs his Facebook page, but it contains few of Mendes’s own photos.) He has exhibited his work only once, in 1995, in Harlem, where he lived for many years before moving into subsidized housing in midtown.“I don’t like exhibits, ’cause people don’t buy no pictures! If his standard fee of twenty dollars is too high, Mendes accepts donations.