Ray H. Mercado considers himself a product of his environment- New York City, where his photos center the unique life that inhabits the infamous Concrete Jungle. His career began on a camera phone in 2012, eight years later his work is followed by hundreds of thousands across the globe.
“The day that my family saved up and gave me my own DSLR camera was a serious turning point for me. Up until then, I was shooting my images on an iPhone!”
Long exposures, cityscapes, and profiles are constant throughout Mercado’s various series traversing varying cities. “I feel like peoples’ faces have a story; it drives me to pick up the camera and just capture them, the streets just take me places and the city speaks to me. I feel like I’m the pencil and the city is the canvas, I just draw with my eyes,” says Mercado.
“But as far as the journey of a photographer goes, I am only just beginning. Developing new techniques, practicing new strategies. There is so much that goes into this, which I am truly excited to know, I am only just scratching the surface.”
The Ogio Live Your Go series which he considers one of his favorite works is “a spin on myself as a photographer as well as curating images in LA on a journey to explore what motivates me as a photographer.” However, Mercado emphasizes that he is not one to focus on projects, “I really just do this every day.”
The artist showcases a skill of keen observation while capturing everyday life. He is astutely able to memorialize scenes of daily commutes. “I capture street art in its realist form,” the quote alone could be considered Mercado’s genre, in addition to an amalgamation of documentary and street photography.
Gritty aesthetics, deep tones, and a metropolis unlike any other are immensely amplified in Mercado’s images, they so clearly depict the spirit of any New Yorker. Lady Liberty is among the few figures who on occasion get touched up by the artist and eloquently represent the zeitgeist of our times. She stands among heavy fog, bears the BLM fist proudly, and lifts the city that has been so tragically affected by COVID-19 while wearing her own mask.
During the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, Mercado has documented from the front lines of the protests as seen on his Instagram: @raylivez. The monochrome photos of protestors are impactful as a part of our long history as humans combating injustices. For every irrational individual spewing hate, there are many more defenders of anti-racism, and then there are those who not only advocate but also keep records. Mercado’s images show the raw and best of America- every race working collectively for a greater cause.
This year has been incredibly stressful for most, with the pandemic bringing the world to a halt and affecting myriad sectors including the creative industry. The long-term effects of the lockdown are yet to be known to their extent. Mercado’s outlook is that it is impossible to tell what may happen for the rest of this year, but he believes these times make people more creative.
“It offers a much-needed perspective on what is important in life. I know it has for me. I’ve enjoyed capturing these times in my images because it’s real.”
All pictures by Ray H. Mercado
Words by Pallavi Shankar & Jyotsna Iyer.
Curated by Romina Bertetti.