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Photographer Neal Menschel trains his lens on “people and matters of the human heart”

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on March 28, 2012

photojournalist Neal Menschel

Photojournalist Neal Menschel never thinks of himself as totally on vacation. “Whether I’m walking, driving, whatever I’m doing, I have a camera and am on the lookout for stuff,” he says. “That’s the great thing about photography — you get to hang out.”

Neal’s been doing just that for the past 30 years, working both as a free lancer and staff photographer, including a 13 year stint with the Christian Science Monitor, where he specialized in third world politics as well as humanitarian, social and cultural issues, with a focus on “people and matters of the human heart.” Before moving to the Bay Area in 2008, he was the Director of Photography for the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies where he taught and mentored students.

photographer Neal Menschel in his Menlo Park studioWe stopped by Neal’s photography studio in Menlo Park to talk about his projects, what fuels his ongoing fire for his craft, and the workshops he gives to aspiring photographers.

In his mind, there are two kinds of photojournalism, the kind done by outsiders, who fly in to take photos of a disaster, as example. Then, there’s what he calls “insider stuff,” like the project work done by Brazilian social documentary photographer Sebastioa Salgado. “A project is an opportunity to be an insider,” he says, “to find something that’s important to you and to other people, to do something in depth. I have a million projects in my head, most of which won’t get done.” (Some of Neal’s past projects are shown on his website.)

Neal describes himself as a “generalist who’s mainly shot for other people.” He says he still gets a rush being in a large crowd, covering an event. “There’s all of that energy and competition.”

But, he equally enjoys two other photographic pursuits. One is spending time with an individual doing portraits. The other is teaching, which he does a far bit of — both at Stanford as part of its Continuing Studies class and giving workshops at this studio.

“I don’t get the rush with teaching, but I do get real sastisfaction,” he says. “I look back on my career and so many people took a chance on me. The idea of being able to give that back is really important to me.”

“As a teacher, I think of myself as a recruiter. At my most recent Stanford class, there were some people who really caught fire. They finished the class and began thinking of themselves as photographers.”

We asked him to chose one photograph (below) from his collection and to comment about it:

Neal Menschel photograph copyright by photographer

“This photograph was taken in South Africa. The location was at a squatter camp called “Orange Farm.”  It used to be a pig farm, and people were living in old tin or cement block shanties.  They ran their own schools and this is a grade school that is run out of an old farm building.

“The photograph was taken during Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. I was covering the story for the Christian Science Monitor.  I took a couple of days off from the politics and the large crowds of journalists that descended on South Africa at that time and rented a car to explore other parts of the country to see how everyone was living and what their attitudes were about the current events that had taken place.”

Photos of Neal Menschel by Scott R. Kline

Photo by Neal Menschel courtesy of the photographer

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