Grit and Glory

A new photojournalism exhibit at Camera Werks


My first impression upon meeting photographer Jesse Nemerofsky: this guy is direct. He doesn’t hold back. Nemerofsky expects a lot from himself, and from others – fortitude, intelligence and hard work. With an old-school toughness, it’s impossible to tell (meeting him now), which came first, the career or the mindset. But in the rough-and-tumble world of freelance photography, as his 25-plus-year career can attest, this tenacity has served him well. Having taken turns photographing subjects in war zones and on Wall Street, from presidents to scientists and from models to everyday average Joes, Nemerofsky has the grit to be comfortable in far-flung fields and with people from divergent disciplines.

Montreal-born and raised, Nemerofsky came to Providence in 1981 to attend the now-defunct Rhode Island School of Photography, but decided after a short while to jump right into full-time work. He opened a studio in the Conrad Building downtown at 385 Westminster, above the original incarnation of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. There he began working in fashion, catalog and commercial photography. After ten years, seeking variety, he began taking assignments to cover news events and prominent people. He’d found his niche; the travel and the excitement agreed with him. His work found its way into print media’s holiest outlets: TIME, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The New York Times, USA Today and a slew of others. The prospering photographer traveled with presidents and vice presidents, and encountered many of journalism’s biggest names.

Nemerofsky has a selection of this photojournalism work currently on display at Camera Werks on Hope Street. Among the instantly recognizable subjects are Andy Warhol, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Ted Turner and Audrey Hepburn. Pat Zacks, who owns Camera Werks and is a longtime friend of Nemerofsky’s, relishes the stories behind each portrait and candid image. Having been captured in opportune moments, most of the images were not set up; that immediacy is part of what makes them so compelling for Zacks.

Nemerofsky’s passion for seizing these “decisive moments” is what has led him to undertake several large photo essay projects throughout his career. One saw him prowling New York City in the mid-nineties, photographing the opulent and the hard up side-by-side, and in the process describing a bit of the soul of the city. In another, he traversed the United Kingdom to document coal miners in Wales, cleaning ladies in Liverpool, and kids on the streets of Belfast, among other telling subjects. It’s fascinating to observe how quickly society’s changed, and also the ways in which it’s stayed the same, through these photos. Here’s hoping he’ll show these excellent collections locally very soon – they deserve a fresh look from a current viewpoint.