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Decades of Living and Breathing Photography – Fred Rosenberg

Author: Libby - Printique by Adorama

Imagine getting your photography chops in New York City.  Now imagine photographing the likes of Ornette Coleman and JFK. Recently, we came upon a beautiful black and white photo book of New York City. The photographer is Fred Rosenberg. His six decade long photographic journey is one of passion and inspiration.
We sit down with Fred, as he takes us back in time to New York City in the 1960’s and 70’s. throught his Printique photo book MISC.  Hang on, you’ll be glad you went along on this photographic trip.
I’m certainly not a unique – or special – individual.  I was born and educated in New Jersey, the City of Newark  to be exact.  The high school that I attended was considered one of the nation’s finest – we had an unbelievably poor football team, of which I was captain and a faculty that boasted more     Ph­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Ds than many colleges.  The school was built and staffed during the ­­Great Depression of the 1930s, and many out-of-work academics and corporate specialists took “temporary teaching jobs until things got better.”  The roster of famous graduates in the arts and sciences is too extensive to list here. I enlisted in the Navy prior to the Korean conflict and served in the Amphibious Forces.  Following that maturing experience, I went to a small college in New Jersey, then to Rutgers University for graduate studies.  While my love affair with photography began in the service during my teenage years, I eventually was drawn to a business career in public relations and marketing, following a stint as a high school teacher and football coach.  I morphed from an account executive at a small NJ agency to owner and operator of my own PR firm until I retired a few years ago.  I’m married, have two successful offspring, three grandchildren, a 100-lb. Rhodesian Ridgeback (dog) and a lizard.  We now reside in Florida; I’ve been actively photographing the Everglades and the South Florida wildlife, and last year I gave a lecture series about the history of photography at Florida Atlantic University.
Photography … it’s been an obsession, a form of therapy, an ego opportunity, an outlet for whatever artistic talents I possess, a window through which I’ve had the unique privilege of seeing the many faces of the world and its people, an escape, and the opportunity to create a legacy and accrue some economic gain.
When I joined the Navy, I knew little about the world around me.  My dad gave me an Argus C-3, 35mm camera as a going-away present, and I began to shoot color slides of anything and everything.  My next camera was a Leica C, and that little gem did me in.  I continued shooting in color on an ad hoc basis … eg, no training, no direction, but I learned about the workings of the camera and simply loved capturing images on film.  I got really serious when some of my work was published in local dailies and I realized the scope of the world of photography and how much I didn’t know.  I got accepted to the Leica Technical School around 1960 (Park Avenue South, NYC) and was treated to an immersion in Leica photography, including field trips, visits to LIFE Magazine and darkroom basics. In addition to a Certificate, I was entitled to purchase (at below market price) a new Leica M3 with all the bells and whistles – the only caveat, the company engraved my initials on the camera.  I used the M3 from 1962 until 2014, when I gifted it to the Boca Raton (Florida) Museum of Art.  I also used the Leica M6 and the medium format Mamyaflex.
In the years following the Leica School, I studied with George Tice (printing), Ben Fernandez and George Albert, among others.  I exhibited extensively in the NY-NJ metro area where I won a few Blue Ribbons and sold my work.  My photos were published, sold to collectors nationwide, and were used by residential and commercial interior designers.  Among my personal highlights were the following.

  • I did a photo essay depicting the ravages of a desecrated NJ cemetery, and the photography led directly to its clean-up and the repair and replacement of the grave markers.  The photos were awarded a top prize in a nationwide contest related to “The Jewish Experience in America.”   The contest judges were Roman Vishniac and Susan Goodman (curator of the Jewish Museum in NY at the time), and 10 of my images and an accompanying essay were included in a coffee table book entitled, “Behold a Great Image.”  Additionally, the ten  photos are in the Permanent Collection of the Newark (NJ) Art Museum.


  • In 1975, I was taking night courses at the New School of Social Research in NYC, and every evening after class I photographed Times Square and downtown New York City.  The city was on the brink of bankruptcy, and the streets were mean, with the homeless and addicted sleeping anywhere and everywhere, streets littered with filth, and Times Square “boasting” all-night sex movies, strip clubs and rampant crime.  I spent three months photographing the dark recesses of NY in the 70s, and the New York Historical Society included 15 of the  11”x14” silver gelatin images in its Permanent Collection.


  • Allen Ginsberg was a frequent visitor to his family in northern New Jersey, and, as a long-time family friend,  I got to meet him on many occasions.  One evening, he read his poem, “Kaddish” at a local YMHA, after which he and our little group of friends and family gathered to chat, have coffee and whatnot.  He was the center of attention, and I was able to photograph him with one incandescent bulb as my lighting.  Four of these images are in the collection of the New Jersey Jewish Historical Society.

There were others, but those previously described stand out.
This past spring, I completed my first book.  Entitled, “THE MIRACLE OF PHOTOGRAPHY: From the 5th Century BCE to its Impact of the Global Politics of the 20th Century,” the book’s ultimate message is that photography influenced global geo-political events and, consequently the lives of the people who were affected by them.
As the title implies, “MISC.” is a collection of photos that have no necessary connection with each other.  Simply stated, they represent a tiny sampling of my photography over a six-decade period. The vast majority of the images in the book are from black and white negatives, and most were taken with the same camera. Beginning with the earliest images in the book, I used a Leica M3 double stroke camera with either a 50mm f/2,  90mm f/2.8 or a 35mm f/2.lens. A few of the later images were shot with an M6 Leica using the same lenses; a 2 ¼” x 2 ¼” medium format Mamyaflex was used for the Grove Street Cemetery photo.  An interesting side note relating to the last photo in the book, “Piper in the rain,” Santiago de Compostela, Spain …  I was involved in an unavoidable collision with a student who was seeking shelter from the rain, and my trusty M3 was smashed to the cobblestones.  The lens’ focusing ring was frozen and the rangefinder was blacked out … Later, I saw a terrific photo prospect, shot it waist level like an old Kodak box camera and got a perfect negative, one of my favorites.  After-thought: When I got stateside, I had the camera completely refurbished and it was its old self again.
I have two that I consider special, and they’re both on the opening pages.
The first is Ornette Coleman. When the great jazz musician won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1957, a dinner honoring him was held at the National Arts Club in New York.  I gave the honoree a matted 11” x 14” print of a photo I took at the Five Spot in 1960 (it was so dark in the Five Spot, it was like shooting a black cat in a dark coal bin).  When Coleman accepted the print, he wept real  tears. Turned out that that Five Spot gig was his very first appearance in New York, and he told me “it launched his career.”  It was a moment in time, and we all shed tears of joy for the 84-year old musician that night.
The second is the photo of JFK.  I was in Manhattan passing the old Commodore Hotel on 42nd St., when I saw a crowd of photographers gathered around Kennedy’s limo.  I always carried my camera, but I couldn’t get through the mass of news photographers, all of whom were battling to get a good view of the young candidate and his wife; I failed miserably, but when Kennedy was in the car and ready to go, I tapped on the window.  He opened it and I asked if I could take a photo.  Not only did he comply, he stepped out of the car, gave me his famous smile and thanked ME.  That was another moment in time for me.
Developing a project, seeing a picture opportunity, siting and composing a subject, creating and organizing finished print products, establishing an audience and utilizing the results … for me, these are the principal elements of goal-oriented picture-taking. Displaying my various photo prints, however, is also a key part of my total photography experience.   “MISC.” however, posed a need for an added goal: the compilation of a sampling of the results of 50+ years of photography into a package that would be representative of my efforts and provide a legacy of sorts for my family and others who knew of and cared for my efforts.  I wanted a product that could do this for me in the most effective manner with uncompromising quality.  Printique printed more than thirty photo books for me in the past, and there was no question that this was the place to go to achieve my goal for “MISC.”  And I was right.
I am TRULY grateful to Printique for providing me with the opportunity to preserve my most coveted images in. what I consider, archival photo books.  The exceptional reproduction of my photos, the color renditions, the lush back and gray tones,  the quality of the paper stock and binding have provided me with a wonderful permanent library that has been shared by family, friends and colleagues alike.  The books serve as my portfolios, subjects for coffee table discussion, memoirs to be cherished for generations to come, and even a 60-year legacy of a beloved craft. They complement a huge collection of silver and chromagenic negatives and color transparencies and serve as beautifully printed samplings of my photography.
In one respect, photography is no different than any of life’s undertakings: no matter how old one is, no matter how talented or successful, there’s always something new to learn. Here are two things that I discovered as I put “MISC.” together.  First, I had to teach myself how to look at images in a new and different light. I have numerous photos that I either like more than those I selected for the book or that might be considered more “arty.”  But I had to learn to compromise, select those that I felt best fit the layout and the function of the book, and that best represented both my long-term efforts and even my personality.  Second, thanks to Adoramapix’ simplified production and set-up processes, I learned how to effectively and quickly handle image importation, page and cover layouts etc.  This was no easy process for a computer dinosaur like me.
Thank you Fred. To see Fred’s complete Printique photo book, click on any of the images.