For every time you’ve heard, “New York is dead,” photojournalist Alexi Rosenfeld has an image that proves otherwise. As his photos were featured on The New York Times, SNL, and Vogue – to name a few – he reminded the world of NYC’s magic.
At the epicenter of life and culture, photographers have a field day when capturing New York City. However, becoming the epicenter for COVID, creatives were presented with new challenges on how to capture NYC’s new form.
In 2020, Rosenfeld became of the city. Through his lens, he photographed everything from daily life to major events throughout NYC. As travel was restricted, Rosenfeld’s images offered the world authentic insight into the new New York.
In conversation with Alexi Rosenfeld
Kulture Hub (KH): What led you to pursue photojournalism as your major photography outlet?
Alexi Rosenfeld: My background and much of what I do nowadays is in politics, news, and entertainment. As a photojournalist, I love being able to capture what is going on at a particular event, place, or moment in time.
“It isn’t something staged and usually can never be re-created which provides me with constant challenges and allows me to have a new outlook on even the most mundane things a person may see every day, like riding the subway.”Alexi Rosenfeld, 2021
As [mediums,] photography [and photojournalism have] the power to impact change, unite differences, [and] change the world.
Think about [this past] year, photographs of the coronavirus, the killing of George Floyd, and the insurrection. All lasting moments of photos (and videos) that will stand the test of time and be part of world history forever.
“As a photojournalist, I love being able to capture [the world’s] range of joyous to difficult times… There is a quote that says, ‘news is the first rough draft of history.’ And in that light, I wake up every morning excited to capture moments that end up becoming part of history.”Alexi Rosenfeld, 2021
The more the city changed, the more it stayed the same
KH: Arguably most of New York City’s “personality” derives from New Yorkers and events within the city. Considering that those were gone, how did you find meaning within NYC?
AR: The city was the same, it was just empty and often eerie. [Daily] routines changed but the familiar places of our city were still there.
[As] the seriousness of the pandemic was evident, it became about [those] affected, the healthcare workers, and the essential workers who were on the front lines every day. Those heroes never left the city. Many of the healthcare workers flew in from other [areas] to help out[, becoming] part of the “New York personalities.”
Eventually, [people started coming] out of their homes onto the street and even from their windows and balconies to applaud the healthcare workers. It became a daily ritual at 7 PM and it was always a touching moment [to see] people [coming together and showing] their appreciation.
“I went out every night to capture [and share these moments]. This gave people hope and showed our community spirit.”Alexi Rosenfeld, 2021
Accepting a new reality
KH: How did your creative process and subjects adapt to the times?
AR: As New Yorkers accepted this new reality…their identities [were] seen in the masks they [wore]. For some, these masks told their own unique stories. Some were fashion statements. Some were political and some were just fun and colorful.
This extra layer added to what I paid attention to. [I] looked for these stories to continue to show the faces, the city, and its people.
I started to look for more subtle ways to tell the story of what the world was going [through]. For instance, [I sought] lines of buildings or shadows, [empty] streets, parks, transit hubs etc.
I also looked for what stood out as New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic for so long. I’m always trying to look for new angles and ways to approach the things that I cover.
Capturing protests and sweeping movements in NYC
AR: As a photojournalist, first and foremost my job is to cover what I see and what is going on. I capture these moments and try to tell a story.
“My goal is to make people feel like they are part of what is happening by looking at a photograph. Being able to do this is both rewarding and connects me to history as events such as these unfold.”Alexi Rosenfeld, 2021
One of the more powerful moments was watching protestors encounter ‘counter protestors’ and how they dealt with them. In one case, a woman leading a crowd of people stood her ground until the heckler was dealt with, and then began crying, only to be comforted by her friends.
Another memorable moment included the day Joe Biden won the presidency and people flooded into the streets to celebrate.
A diverse background eliciting a unique eye
KH: How have you incorporated your international background into your photography practices today?
AR: Growing up with two Australian parents, a grandmother who is a Holocaust survivor, and living in multiple countries, speaking several languages, [have influenced] how I take photos and how I see an image.
What makes every photographer unique [is the background and experiences] they bring to the scene [they cover. I don’t think I consciously account for my experiences when photographing, but] my international background allows me to look at a story [from multiple] angles, no pun intended.
Advice for aspiring NYC photojournalists
KH: Do you have any advice for individuals trying to pursue photojournalism in NYC?
AR: Never stop reading, never stop learning, and never stop finding people that influence how you work and inspire you… I have a long list of photographers that I look up to [that] inspire me every day….
Follow your passion. I’ve been holding a camera since almost before I could walk and with a lot of hard work and dedication have managed to make a career out of it.
[As] simple as it may sound, I never leave home without a camera because you never know, especially in New York, what you may find or what may inspire you just by looking around.