Interview by Tom Sebastiano
Jeff Rothstein is a native Brooklynite who has been living in Manhattan for many years. He has been shooting on the streets of New York City since the beginning of the 1970s. Jeff considers himself an urban observer trying to capture the city’s environment – structures, signs and, most of all, the fleeting moments of people on the streets that will soon disappear into thin air.
To accompany the interview, we are featuring images from Jeff’s book Today’s Special, New York City Images 1969-2006, which was published in 2017 by Coral Press Arts. It contains 48 black and white images all shot on film, many evocative of a city that has all but disappeared. There was no way that I could pick a ‘best of’ from such an amazing body of work – they are, as they say, all killer, no filler – and so I have decided to run the interview over two days and include all of the images.
Enjoy Part II of our interview with Jeff. If you have not already read the first part, you can click straight through here…
How has photography and the city changed over the years?
New York, like probably all major cities, has changed dramatically over the years I’ve been shooting. The quality of life is much better but, as a photographer, I sort of miss the old grittiness. The biggest difference between shooting now and in years past has been the advent of the smartphone. It’s much more difficult to get a good expression these days because everybody is looking down at their phone. Another big change is that, because of social media, people are very suspicious of having their picture taken, especially when it comes to shooting kids. In the past, I took some great pictures of kids playing, but I don’t even attempt that now. It’s a sensitive topic these days.
Was there a golden period for you?
For me, the golden era was the 1970s. It was my first decade shooting, so the city was exciting, fresh and ripe for taking interesting photos.
What advice would you give any aspiring street or urban photographer?
I would tell them not to have too many high expectations when out shooting. Unfortunately, street photography is mostly about failure. Try to get in a zone, have patience, and stay focused (so to speak). Also, try to be as unobtrusive as possible. The most important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing!
Which photographers have inspired and influenced you?
A few who inspire me are Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Daido Moriyama, Louis Stettner, William Klein, Joel Meyerowitz, Saul Leiter, Alfred Stieglitz and Sylvia Plachy.
You have spent a career photographing New York but in a different life what other city would you like to have shot and why?
I feel lucky to have New York City as my studio. In my biased opinion, it’s the perfect city for the type of photography I do. In another life, though, I would probably choose London and Tokyo. I’ve been to both at different times – big, sprawling cities with lots to photograph.
See more of Jeff’s photography at:
All images copyright Jeff Rothstein.