Teri Vershel: Relative Strangers

Published on 05/01/ 2024

Foreword by: Sam Abell

When I look at Teri Vershel’s images, I hear music. It’s the energetic, deliberately dissonant, and jazz- influenced first eleven minutes of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. These are the minutes that changed the direction of American music. They did so by being musically faithful to the reality of contemporary urban life.

The essence of that reality is the vibrant American street in all its clashing, colorful flow. Gershwin rendered that reality in music. Teri does it in her photographs.

Working in that realm puts Teri in another stream—the current of distinguished photographers who have taken street photography as their principal subject. Helen Levitt, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter, Garry Winogrand, and Diane Arbus worked the American street for decades. Now Teri works it.

Like her predecessors, she does so because the street is seductive. For one thing, it’s always there, call- ing to you. Step out the door and you’re in step with street life. For Teri, that's more like a dance step. As a person and as a photographer she’s in tune with the rhythm of the mingled, sometimes mangled, always honest choreography of the street. Like molecules, the visual elements of street life coalesce into meaningful moments, then dissolve, only to reform in another composition. Being in rhythm with these briefly occurring moments is the particular talent of street photographers like Teri.

But above all, the street, as a subject, is true. True to itself and to our time. It’s fact, not fiction. The street is the opposite of studio work, where control is assured. This is reality street, where what you see is what you get—unless you’re an astute observer like Teri. To her, the street is raw material to be distilled into images that give insight into the poetics of urban existence. The creative equation that begins with critical “street seeing” ends with a refined photograph and a new truth. Teri’s truth.

An example is the complex, expressive photograph of a person striding into a city scene dominated by a cloud of steam and the corresponding strides of other pedestrians. It’s a situation rich in potential.

But it isn’t a photograph until Teri takes decisive action. She must see the situation evolving, sense its possibilities, and take action before the visual elements come together. That means quickly assuming a low stance to set the striding man against the steam while at the same time integrating the other pedestrians into the composition in a complementary way. It isn’t easy. But the result is a meaningful, modern photograph.

Read the entirety of Sam Abell's Foreword in Teri Vershel's Relative Strangers

Sam Abell

Sam Abell was a staff photographer at National Geographic for 33 years. He has published multiple monographs of his work, and is a writer, teacher, and lecturer on photography.

Teri Vershel

Teri Vershel is a fine art street photographer based in the San Francisco Bay area.