Imagista presents Gun Roze’s photographic series depicting street life in New York City in the early 1980’s. Here we chat with Gun about the story behind the work and how it has been rediscovered and seen through a different perspective more than 30 years after the fact.
Imagista: What was the initial inspiration behind this project or body of work?
Gun: I first visited New York in 1980 while living in Toronto. I was immediately impressed by the difference in how people dressed and expressed themselves on the streets of New York in comparison to my hometown. Being the young, open-minded artist/photographer, New York was a visual paradise for me. During two visits in 1982 I intentionally shot plenty of 35mm color film. Initially the purpose was to show my friends back home all of the marvelous characters and experiences I had witnessed. Being a partner then in a professional photo lab, I was able to print up many of my outstanding images to add to my portfolio. These images personally motivated my own dream goals. Though I never imagined that I would relocate to New York in 1997. I give full credit to Michael Williams for connecting me with my first three photo lab jobs here.
Imagista: What did you love about this project?
Gun: Photographing people wearing fashions that I had only seen in the media before was most exciting. There were no shortage of characters to capture as well. Having my subjects in the city’s historic and charming locations was a bonus. I simply wanted to record how uniquely adventurous New York was as I discovered it. I roamed the streets aimlessly and tirelessly. I wanted to take that magic away with me to Toronto in combination with my own memories.
Imagista: How did it get started?
Gun: I fell in love with the street scenes of Manhattan during my first visit while staying with a close Toronto friend who had relocated here. I had plenty of free time to wander and explore while she was in school at Parsons. By 1982 I wanted to shoot as much film as I could during my two trips. My “Manhattan 1982” series was originally shot for my personal visual enjoyment. In 2012, I rediscovered this project in my archives. I was curious to know if I had any images that stood out with the present perspective I had as a photographer, master analog printer and resident. I chose to selectively share them on Facebook and the response was remarkable. A few friends and colleagues strongly suggested that I present the images to galleries and work on a book. Brian Clamp of ClampArt was curating a gallery exhibit called “New York City, c. 1985” when I reached out to him. The timing was ideal for both of us. He chose three of my images to be included in the group show consisting of many prominent photographers. It was an honor to be a part of the group and introduce a sampling of my project to New York’s art world.
Imagista: How long, or over what time period, did this project go on for?
Gun: I only shot on the streets of New York during the early 1980s. At the time I felt I had captured enough powerful images to satisfy my fascination. Looking back I wish I had continued during each subsequent visit.
Imagista: Are there any other additional plans with this project?
Gun: Yes, I am honored to have my first solo show at Akasha Art Projects in Toronto titled “Manhattan 1982”. It opens on March 21st and runs until April 25th. Twenty-one fashion focused images from this series will be shown. Of course I would love to have a solo show with this series in NYC itself. It would be a tribute to gift these images back to the city they were created in. It’s wonderful hearing New Yorker’s figuring out the locations of the images, commenting on the details they vividly recall and even knowing who some of my subjects are. I have long considered New York my home, so it would be a lovely exchange to the welcoming I’ve received. I aim to self publish a book of about 65 of the best images as well.
Imagista: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about this project?
Gun: Yes, rediscovering the “Manhattan 1982” negatives in 2012 compelled me to return to street photography, but this time from a resident’s daily perspective and experience. I started off with my low grade cell phone camera since it was on me at all times. Since I’m a power walker and my destinations take me all over NYC, I didn’t have to make specific plans to shoot. I unknowingly was creating a daily visual blog of my routes. I didn’t question or analyze what I shot and relied on my instinct for what caught my attention for whatever reasons. This practice was the most liberating approach to my passion for photography to date. Once again Facebook postings provided me with terrific feedback and encouragement from my friends. After a year of daily recording I opted for a simple digital point and shoot camera. The image quality it produced gave me a return to the grainy look my 80’s negative film had. Also, I could then produce fine prints for group show contributions and private sales. It’s quite amazing how my early 80s project has motivated and carried me to date. Though shooting people on the streets back then in comparison with today is noticeably more challenging. The resistance today is understandably heightened due to an over abundance of recording devices being aimed at strangers. My approach today is far more subtle since I do not want to disturb or disrespect my chosen subjects. The people images today most often do not show their faces, yet I still feel I can capture their character and energy.