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Thursday, July 2, 2009

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Steven Rosen, Photographer

Steven Rosen's journey to professional photography has been a winding one, but the experiences that he brings to the art are a large part of what makes his images work. As a child he was blessed with parents who surrounded him with music, dance, theater, and art, and he spent the happiest hours of his childhood in theaters and museums.

At the age of thirteen he and his family visited DisneyWorld and he was enthralled. The merging of so many artistic disciplines to create such a magical world inspired him and it was this trip that convinced him to pursue a life in the visual arts. He studied drawing and painting and through those disciplines learned about color, composition, and light.

Steven attended the Rhode Island School of Design as an illustration major. At RISD, he took his first photography class, fell in love with the medium, and created a unique style of illustration where he printed his photographs on transparent paper and subsequently layered them with his drawings. (In essence, Steven’s new illustration method was a pre-computer version of Photoshop.)

After graduating with honors, Steven moved to New York and, to make ends meet, took a job at a costume jewelry company. Before long, he started his own company and Steven Rosen Jewelry became one of the most recognized jewelry lines of the 1980s—prominently featured in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Life, and Fashions of the Times. During this time of working closely with stylists, make-up artists and fashion photographers, Steven learned even more about the world of image making.

As the 1990s dawned, Steven sought out new challenges. He called on his design and illustration skills to become a designer of books and—in an interesting return to his artistic roots—his first major project was a photo book about DisneyWorld. Over the next ten years, he created dozens of books for the Disney theme parks. In order to fill his books with the images he wanted, he invested in his first digital camera, flew to Orlando, began shooting, and rekindled his love affair with photography.

Over the next few years, Steven’s affair became an obsession and his images were published and began to win awards. He soon dedicated himself completely to photography and his business, Steven Rosen Photography, has been growing ever since. Peachy Deegan has met Steven while she has been out-and-about in Manhattan and she met him when he took her picture!

Steven has had two one-man shows and participated in many group shows. His work has been published in books, magazines, and newspapers, but his favorite credit remains a featured stint on the Kodak Jumbotron in Times Square.

Steven works throughout New York City as a portrait, theater, and event photographer. He has been the official photographer of the New York Musical Theatre Festival for the last four years. He’s also worked with DanceBreak and Dancers responding to AIDS. His love for theatricality extends into his portrait work with a body of work exploring modern day dandies and flappers. Steven has been praised for his ability to draw out an authenticity in his portrait subjects, and for capturing moments of tenderness and joy at weddings and anniversaries.

Peachy Deegan interviewed Steven Rosen for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What was your first camera?
Steven Rosen: The first camera I ever used was my Mom's old Brownie. If you're too young to know what a Brownie was, it was a box shaped camera that you would hold at your waist so you could look into the viewfinder, which was on top of the camera. All your photos were shot from crotch level.
The first camera that I owned was a Minolta 35 mm. It's long gone now so I don't remember the model.

What were the first pictures you took like?
Like anyone else I took snapshots my whole life. Photography is an interesting medium because everyone can click a shutter, but just being able to click a shutter doesn't make you a photographer.
The first time I tried to move beyond the snapshot and create a considered photograph was when I was taking my intro to photography class in college. Most of the images came out of assignments designed to learn about technical aspects of cameras such as depth of field or shutter speed. They were black and white and mainly portraits. I do my fair share of cityscapes and landscapes, but my first love and favorite subject remains portraiture.

What at Disney World inspired you specifically?
When my family and I were driving to the Magic Kingdom, I noticed topiaries lining the road. I'd never seen a topiary before, and I asked, for the first time that day, "How did they do that?". Eventually after seeing hundreds of things that made me ask "How did they do that?", I started wondering who "they" were. It was then that I had a realization that there were hundreds if not thousands of people who were creating all these beautiful things (and getting paid to do it). I couldn't think of anything more wonderful to do with your life than that (and I still can't).

Tell us more about the book you authored on Disney World please.
To be clear, I was never the author of any of the books I worked on. I created the design and layouts, and was responsible for the photo editing and production, and in many of the books, I contributed photographs.
My first big project was Walt Disney World Resort, A Magical Year-by-Year Journey. That book was a lot of fun to work on because it was an historical look back at Disney World from opening day to the time of printing, so I got to work with the photo archivist at Disney and study decades worth of images.

What do you enjoy photographing most in Manhattan?
There's a subculture of people who like to dress up in vintage clothing. I discovered this at a series of parties called Dances of Vice that take place in various locations around the city. The style of dress is a mix of Goth, Victorian, Weimar, Jazz Age, Old Hollywood glamour, and Steampunk. I'm very much intrigued and inspired by the obvious love and passion they have for creating their personas. Some of my best portraits have come out of these events.

What are the most common mistakes amateur photographers make?
My biggest pet peeve regarding amateur photographers is when they use their flash to light up something huge. Case in point, I live in Brooklyn Heights and I'm always amazed at how many people use their flash to take pictures from the Brooklyn Promenade of the entire Manhattan skyline, as if they can illuminate all of NYC.
If you want to take a picture of the skyline at night, shut off the flash and get yourself a tripod.

Do you still work in jewelry?

What are your future ambitions?
I want to keep learning and improving my art.
I want to continue to create portraits of interesting, brilliant, vibrant, and exciting people for both editorial and private clients, as well as shoot weddings and other events, both in New York and around the world.
I want to grow as both an artist and a business so I can spend the rest of my life making a good living by making beautiful pictures.
I want to leave the world a little more beautiful than I found it.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
I can't pick just one so here are a few off the top of my head.
Inside a Broadway theater.
In Times Square on a Summer's night after a shower has left all the streets wet and reflective.
The Conservatory garden in Central Park at 105th street when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
The Top of the Rock when there's a particularly amazing sunset.
Surrounded by New Yorkers in joyous celebration whether it's the gay pride march, the mermaid parade, Halloween, or at a club where people are flinging themselves around in wild abandon.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
That's easy. B&H photo, the biggest camera store in NYC and probably the country. It's a photographer's wonderland and when I'm there I feel like a kid in a candy store. After that, the Apple store on Fifth Ave. I like to go and drool over all the new computers.

What is your favorite drink?
There used to be a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in Coney Island right next to the Coney Island Freak Show that served Horchata, which is a Mexican drink that can best be described as a kind of liquid cinnamon bun. With all the changes going on in Coney Island, I'm not sure if it's there any more, so I may have to search elsewhere for my Horchata fix.
Of course if you're referring to a cocktail, I hate to disappoint, but I'm not a drinker. When I'm shooting an event at a bar or nightclub, I keep a bottle of water in my pocket to stay hydrated. I guess that makes me a cheap date. It also makes me a sober photographer, which is better than the alternative.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
When I'm not working at an event, I spend most of my time at home shooting in my studio, and editing and retouching images, so usually I'm eating in Brooklyn Heights rather than Manhattan. Luckily we have some nice local eats including Noodle Pudding, Henry's End, Jack the Horse Tavern, Grimaldi's Pizza, Jacques Torres chocolate and pastry, and the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
When I'm in Manhattan it usually means I'm working and running from one venue to another, so I'm always looking for good, fast, and cheap food. I have certain haunts depending on the neighborhood I find myself in.
When in the Village I like the Corner Bistro at West 4th and Hudson, with one of the best burgers in NYC.
I find myself in the Theater District a lot, and when I have the time to for a sit down meal, there's Hourglass Tavern on 46th just off of 10th and Island Burger on Ninth between 51st and 52nd. If the weather is good and I can eat al fresco, nothing beats Piece of Chicken, a take out place on 45th between 8th and 9th. The best Fried Chicken I've had in NYC and I'm particularly fond of the Mac and Cheese.
If I'm near Madison Square park and the line's not too insane, I'll get a burger at the Shake Shack.
In Chinatown, I like Congee Place on the Bowery, and if I'm in a real rush there's a little hole-in-the-wall dumpling joint on Mosco street just off of Mott. I have no idea what's in the dumplings and no one there speaks English, so I can't find out, which is probably for the best. They are very tasty though, and the last time I was there, you could get eight for only two bucks.
On the Lower East Side, you can't beat Katz's (send a salami to your boy in the army) Deli at 205 East Houston. Best Deli in New York. The pastrami is to die for.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
Probably Eloise at the Plaza. I read it as a child and it was the first time I remember thinking how neat it would be to live in New York City.
To be honest though, I've been much more influenced by movies than books, and my image of New York City was formed by movies like On the Town, The Bandwagon, New York, New York, 42nd street, Guys and Dolls, Funny Girl, Swing Time, etc.
You're probably sensing a theme here. I do love my musicals, and I would watch them over and over. I suppose if I'd grown up watching Taxi Driver over and over, I probably never would have moved here, but thankfully I didn't.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
New York has such a diverse range of people, both ethnically and economically, living in close proximity to one another. I love seeing Hassids, little old Chinese ladies, guys in full Hip Hop outfits with their pants belted somewhere around their knees, fashionistas, and button down businessmen in suits, all navigating the streets together. I suppose that's not something you do as much as something you experience, but it is uniquely New York.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
The boroughs of New York are underrated. I've lived in Brooklyn Heights for five years after almost twenty years in Manhattan. But even when I lived in Manhattan I regularly visited the boroughs. In addition to Brooklyn Heights, which is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in NYC, there are fabulous neighborhoods, beaches, parks, and food to be found all over the outer boroughs. And as a bonus, it's all way cheaper and less crowded than the equivalent in Manhattan. Take a subway, bus, or ferry, and explore. There is life outside of midtown.
Overrated would be New Year's Eve in Times Square. I did it once and some guy from Jersey threw up on me. Not a fun time.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
Well, if you've read this far you must find me really fascinating, so thanks. I hope my passion for what I do is apparent, and that you will allow me to record the special moments and people in your life. I am accepting portrait commissions as well as being available to shoot your events.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
phone: 718-625-7076

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