Street photographer secretly snaps New Yorkers' private text messages

Street photographer secretly snaps New Yorkers’ private text messages – capturing heartbreak, bizarre inner thoughts, and life-changing moments in the unfiltered conversations

  • Jeff Mermelstein, 63, from Brooklyn, has been using his iPhone to snap photos of strangers’ cellphone screens on the street since October 2017 
  • The photographer has been sharing the images on his Instagram over the years, choosing to crop the pictures to keep the people’s names anonymous  
  • Mermelstein has captured everything from romantic letdowns, questions about potential food poisoning, and rants about the state of the country
  • One image features a discussion about an unplanned pregnancy, while another cellphone owner received a message saying they should just be friends 
  • The thought-provoking series is featured in his upcoming photo book, ‘#nyc’

A street photographer has spent nearly three years secretly capturing images of unassuming New Yorkers’ text messages, which range from heartbreaking to downright bizarre.

Jeff Mermelstein, 63, from Brooklyn, has been using his iPhone to snap photos of strangers’ cellphone screens on the street since October 2017, documenting both the intimate and mundane details of their private lives through their text messages.

The photographer has been sharing the images on his Instagram over the years, choosing to crop the pictures to keep the people’s names anonymous. The thought-provoking series is featured in his upcoming photo book, ‘#nyc,’ which is available for pre-order.  

Candid: Street photographer Jeff Mermelstein has been secretly capturing New Yorkers’ text messages, including a couple’s private conversation about an unplanned pregnancy 

Project: The 63-year-old from Brooklyn has been using his iPhone to snap photos of strangers’ cellphone screens on the street since October 2017

Mermelstein has captured everything from romantic letdowns, questions about potential food poisoning, and rants about the state of the country. 

One image that many people can identify with all too well shows a message from someone telling the cellphone owner that they should just be friends.  

‘I don’t think we would be a good match,’ the person wrote. ‘I think you’re very pretty and kind of smart but our personalities wouldn’t be good for a stable relationship. That’s truely [sic] what I feel.’

‘So you just want to be friends,’ the recipient asked. 

Yes. I won’t come over for breakfast etc because that’s too relationship like. Will grab a movie sometime. Dinner sometime. Spin. Keep in touch etc. I think it would be a nice friendship.’

The woman’s finger is blocking the screen, and the only words you can see from her finals response are ‘No’ and ‘But I will never.’  

In another snapshot, someone slammed America and the Trump administration, writing: There isn’t much of a future in this country. Everyone is stupid, lazy, and fat. 

‘The world is leaving us behind while Trump strings together words that make no sense, gives favors to Chinese companies that have committed espionage against the US and makes sure we cannon compete in green technology.’

The most interesting part of the rant, however, was the fact that the person had typed the word ‘Strawberry’ as a follow-up, and it’s unclear what was going to be said next.    

Let down: One image that many people can identify with all too well shows a message from someone telling the cellphone owner that they should just be friends

Heartbreaking: Another message was sent to a love one who was starting chemotherapy 

Anonymous: The photographer has been sharing the images on his Instagram over the years, choosing to crop the pictures to keep the people’s names anonymous

One of the most heart-wrenching images features a conversation between a couple who just found out they are going to have a baby but aren’t excited about it.  

‘We are having a baby,’ one person wrote after returning from the doctor’s. 

The pregnancy seems to be unplanned, and the announcement was followed by a facepalm emoji and a picture of a woman with her face in her hands.  

Mermelstein told the New York Post that he was actually working on photos for his book, ‘Hardened,’ when he came up with the idea for the project. 

‘Question for you’: One person wanted to know if the sausages in the fridge went back after the door was left open

Overshare? A conversation about Ali Wong’s comedy special got very graphic

See more: The thought-provoking photos are featured in Mermelstein’s upcoming photo book, ‘#nyc’

‘I saw a woman on Eighth Avenue and 46th, an older woman, and she was sitting on the edge of one of those planters outside a cafe. And she was typing on her phone,’ he explained. 

‘I went and made a picture of her screen, and after looking at my picture, I saw what was on the screen: It was a Google search about wills, and it had something to do with $6,000 in the attic. It was fascinating, and that kind of opened up a door of awareness.’

Mermelstein never asked permission to take photos of his subjects’ cellphones, but he made sure to keep them anonymous because he ‘felt in the gut that was the right thing to do.’

He noted that the project is not any different than any other street photography. Sometimes people catch him taking photos, but most of the time, they rarely notice.   

‘I’m very quick at taking pictures,’ he said. ‘With a camera, you need to be quick.’

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