CPG CO-FOUNDER GEORGE ROOS, A FORMER ST. GEORGIAN,
SELF-PUBLISHES TWO NEW PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS
I lived around a couple of St. George corners from George Roos for more than 20 years and knew him as a neighborhood guy around my age with a pleasant manner and a ready smile. We'd acknowledge each other in a friendly way when our paths happened to cross, but nothing more.
What I didn't know then was that George Roos is an accomplished professional photographer-- accomplished enough to have worked as a photographer of fine art for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Knoedler Gallery.
By the time I arrived in St. George, George Roos had already established himself as an independent, serving important artists, galleries, dealers and collectors in Manhattan while adding architectural photography and portraiture to the specialties he could offer them.
But for Roos, photography was always more than just a way to make a living. "I have constantly photographed for my own personal pleasure and fulfillment," he says. Though he moved to New Jersey a few years ago, the co-founder of Staten Island's Creative Photographers Guild (the CPG Gallery, which opened earlier this year, is housed in Roos's former studio), he remains an active part of the local scene, working to raise standards and increase opportunities for local practitioners.
WHAT HE SAW
In Street Seen: New York in the 1960's & 70's, George Roos introduces the photos that follow with this comment: "Anything said of New York City can be true . . . whatever you want or need it to be, or
whatever you are afraid it might be."
The NYC native then proceeds to evoke his mostly-lifelong home, but not, for the most part, with familiar symbols, streetscapes or architecture. Instead, he tells us simply, "This is what I saw," then shows us the New York of two post-mid-century decades by observing New Yorkers being New Yorkers.
Included are beauty shots of Washington Square Park, the forbidding yet utterly beautiful Women's House of Detention, long gone from Greenwich Avenue near Sixth; and the oversize Westclox 'Big Ben' replica that used to dominate the south wall of the grimy, unrestored Grand Central Station concourse.
But then Roos moves on to the people, to the kind of working-class street life that could still be found in a few Manhattan neighborhoods like Little Italy, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Hell's Kitchen 30 and more years ago. Though his subjects may be unlovely, or be shown doing unlovely things, Roos's lens is always respectful, never demeaning.
Street Seen also includes several sections devoted to New Yorkers participating in large public events, such as the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua (1969); the First Earth Day (1970); Chinese New Year, with not-yet-banned fireworks (pre-1997); an anti-Vietnam War march in 1968; and the funeral of then-Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in the same year. These straightforward, unflashy, un-ironic images don't need a lot of text to get their truth across.
In his introduction to Exerceyese: Training Your Eyes to See Pictures Everywhere, Roos is quick to point out that the book "is not an instruction manual and presumes that readers are proficient in the use of their equipment."
What Roos is concerned with in this book is helping photographers see more fully and deeply--by being aware of the potentially startling images that, in Roos's view, are all around us, wherever we are, all the time.
As a group, the images Roos uses to make his case in Exerceyese are more abstract than those presented in Street Seen, less often concrete and reportorial. They're also mostly in color, whereas the photos in the earlier book were shot entirely in black and white.
There's another key difference Roos is quick to acknowledge. Digital photography, he writes, "has opened up a whole new world for photographers, allow[ing us] to shoot up a storm, knowing that anything that doesn't work can simply be deleted without [our] having to, literally, pay for our mistakes. Take lots of pictures," he advises,"shooting anything that catches your fancy." The images reproduced in Exerceyese show that Roos has followed his own advice about shooting digitally--often to startlingly beautiful effect.
Street Seen, by George Roos. Copyright 2008. 80pp. Softcover, $24.95; hardcover with dust jacket, $35.95; hardcover with Imagewrap, $38.95. Order from Blurb.com.
Exerceyese, by George Roos. Copyright 2009. 76 pp. Softcover, $30.95; hardcover with dust jacket, $41.95; hardcover with Imagewrap, $43.95. Order from Blurb.com.
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