”We need more women in coffee”, proclaims Chérmelle D. Edwards, a strong visual voice herself. Bringing together her love of both coffee culture and photography, she documents the people that make up the coffee culture of Los Angeles and New York.
New Heroes & Pioneers sat down with the photographer, savouring a flat white and nibbling on an avocado toast, at Two Hands – just one of the many Australian cafes to grace the streets of New York. Two Hands is not Chérmelle’s favourite cafe per se, but rather one of her most frequented spots of the moment. For someone constantly on the move, visiting at least two coffee shops a day, she certainly is a voice worth listening to, female or otherwise.
So when asked how The Coffeetographer came to be, no wonder she didn’t only trace the roots of the site, but also gave us a unique insight into its philosophy. Over the buzz of a Manhattan coffee shop, she tells her story.
The Coffeetographer started around five years ago from a desire to document coffee as a culture.
– I was still working a corporate job at the time and was looking for something to bring all my interests together. I’m interested in music, I’m interested in fashion, I’m interested in film, yet I was not interested in making just a design site or just a fashion site.
She knew the common thread for everything was coffee, on her travels she would go to coffee shops and think ‘that’s a great scene’, or wonder what music was playing or check out what everyone was wearing, she just wanted to soak up an document as many elements of a cafe she possibly could. “I want to capture what that feels like, looks like or sounds like”, she says.
– So I was looking around for other coffee sites or blogs, and found that they were more about equipment or brewing. I felt there was a void, none of them really talked about what the culture looked like. And this was a time when people still kinda only associated speciality coffee with being hipster, and it really has flourished in New York or LA – where I’m from.
– I started with the simple idea that I was going to document coffee houses, and each week there would be a different one – I would show the people that came into these places. So I started with a Tumblr, and it just started with me photographing people at first, because they are really interesting to me. I feel like people are the life of coffee culture – of all culture – they are the ones that give it its visual, you know?
Inspiration struck when she was back home in Los Angeles with a chance observation at cafe Intelli Venice.
– I’ll never forget him, his name was Barton and he was sitting with a black coffee and his laptop. It was like a Zen moment, and I felt something between me and him. I just felt destined to document him, where he was in that moment.
– So I went up to him and I asked him ‘do you mind if I photograph you?’ And he said sure, no problem. He asked me what it was for, I told him I was starting this new project documenting coffee culture and took a couple of snaps in black and white.
– I had only had my camera for three months at that time, and I went home and uploaded them and realised there was a story that had happened. There. Seeing him. But there was also a story that was happening after seeing him. And I wanted to write about how it made me feel.
And thus Coffeetography was born. It is about how people were making her feel when she interacted with them, in the space around cafe culture. It took some time for the site to come into its own, but now it’s become all the things she loves in one spot.
– This is going to sound a little out there, but I don’t find my subjects – they find me. I feel like my job is to come to a space, and I try to be in the background where it’s not so busy, and I’ll look at some photos, or I’ll read the paper and I’ll wait… and look. There’s so much happening all the time, so it’ just about how I feel.
– I need to feel that it’s a story that I can share with people, one that I feel will leave a mark about what I have experienced that day. We are here in New York, but say you are in Utah or Wyoming or South Africa, and you haven’t been to New York, and perhaps you never will. With what I post today, I’m telling you what it feels like to be in this space. I need to have to have that connection.
So Chérmelle isn’t documenting American coffee culture purely for herself, but also for us and you and everyone we don’t know.