I chose Louis Mendes as the subject of my weekly photographer’s presentation for my cinematography class. At the time, I was unaware that he is still alive. Upon discovering that he is still around, I was overjoyed and curious to meet him. I made contact through Lucy McKeon, a journalist who wrote a 2016 article for The New Yorker about him. Meeting Mendes gave life to the beginning of this documentary film. Over time, I learned so much about him; his struggles and losses, creativity, motivation and, above all, his kindness. New York is his home, and New York streets know him, but I also learned that those same streets don’t know him enough. Mendes had to combat racism and discrimination in the United States by being loyal to his creative work. Photographs taken of Louis Mendes by other photographers are displayed in media – he is a well-known New York character, and yet, his pictures are not on view in any museums. Nine Days a Week goes beyond what meets the eye; those who are familiar with his work often don’t know that Mendes is also a mentor to many young photographers in New York. His goal is to have 100 students before he dies (he has 37 thus far). His priority is to teach students how to become financially independent with their cameras. Oddly, Mendes has not seen financial success himself. Mendes has conquered many hurdles and has had to make many sacrifices. This film is a celebration of a man who continues to struggle. It also aims to show what forces, systemic and personal, have stood as obstacles in his path to success. His story has much to teach. The black youth, especially, can learn from his experiences. Through Louis Mendes’s resilience, crucial lessons can be learned in confronting discrimination in an era in which we are made to believe we are all equal. A lot has changed, but the system remains in favor of some. The youth can learn from people who have fought for many years. Louis has had his fair share of victories as well as mistakes, and he shares his experience and wisdom in part to help the black youth avoid the latter. And to help us succeed.
Nine Days a Week
Directed by Maliyamungu Muhande
An intimate portrait of the 80-year-old African American street photographer Louis Mendes who began his career in 1953 in Harlem as a door-to-door baby photographer. Taking street portraits across the city, through the civil rights movement, the drug epidemic, crime, and poverty, Mendes forged a living with his 1940s Speed Graphic press camera. Now a New York legend with 37 photographer apprentices, he reflects on a life of hard work, survival, and creativity.
Type of Project
The New School
Maliyamungu Muhande, Lucy Mckeon (co-writer)
Maliyamungu Gift Muhande, Isaac Green Diebboll, Jake Maxwell Bellew
maliyamuhande [at] gmail [dot] com