By Michelle Park. Photos courtesy of the artist.
A one-week trip to New York started it all.
As an avid street photographer, Gunar Roze embarked on what he calls “photo trips” when he first came to New York in 1980, armed with a 35mm camera. In this photos series “Manhattan 1982,” he presents the gritty streets of New York, capturing colorful moments in history through these raw and grainy prints.
A master printer for years, Gun had forgotten his early photographs. Seeing the long-ago scenes has rekindled his love for photography—particularly in the form of capturing the noise and characteristic moments of New York street life. If you are around the Lower East Side, you have probably seen him walking up and down Chrystie Street, taking a photographic splurge to add to his self-described “visual journal.”
Let’s start from the beginning. When did you come to New York and what attracted you to the city?
1980 was my first experience [here]. I was in a city that fascinated me, and I had free time—photography was a way of discovering the city, capturing and remembering what it is that I saw that I loved about New York, or particularly Manhattan.
I [recently started shooting again], carrying around my 35mm camera, but to take that out, turn it on—it just killed my rhythm and spontaneity. I then started clicking with my cheap cell phone and posting all these grainy images on Facebook. People loved them! I got a great response so I said, “OK, I am going to keep on doing it. It’s my visual diary. I am a walker.”
How did you get started in photography? Did you study it or came to it on your own?
I took a few art courses in Toronto [where I’m from]—introductory photo courses, as well as art/photography fusion courses in high school. I drew and painted until I discovered the camera. [With photography], I could make images so instantly, without all those hours spent alone. Being a photographer, I was able to be social and make images at the same time—shooting my friends, my family, anything. I got my first lab job when I was twenty years old, and it all unraveled from then on.
What attracted you to street photography?
I want to capture the natural, beautiful little moments, with people doing what they do, whatever they are doing, out in public. It’s my visual diary. But now I am seeing a lot of resistance [when people see] my camera coming their way. Back in the ‘80s, people were more curious than disdainful. Now, they turn away or wave at the camera—and I am not really interested in those disturbed moments.
Were you shooting for a magazine or just for yourself when you took all these pictures in the ‘80s? What were you trying to achieve?
It was just my way of capturing New York from my experience, and bringing it back to my friends in Toronto. It was my way to share my love for the city, and to let people see how different and alive it was down here. Toronto is a vibrant city now, but it was a sleepy city back then.
NY back then was very different from now, with a lot more drugs and crime and uncertainty. Any outstanding memories or photographs?
I was very naive coming from Toronto, which was a very safe city. My friend, a local New Yorker, warned me of certain areas like the East Village and Alphabet City—I was told not to go there. Then on one day, I ventured there and she freaked out.
There’s a picture there with Gianni Versace. I didn’t even know who he was then, but that was his first appearance in the U.S. to promote his men’s cologne or something similar. I saw that there was a little crowd of photographers at Macy’s, so I went up there, and moved in with my camera. The photographers got really annoyed at me, and said, “Hey. We’ve been waiting here for hours and you just marched in up front.” That’s how brazen and open and naïve I was. I didn’t understand the game. But I got one shot of him, right up to his face amongst the commotion.
Do you feel your images of New York from the ‘80s now serve as a historical record?
It’s really my gift back to New York. They are historical, charming. It was a very different time.
Three prints from Gunar Roze’s series “Manhattan 1982” will be featured in an upcoming exhibit at ClampArt in New York. Check out this exhibit in May to see the enlarged prints up close—they are bound to be amazing, thanks to his extensive years and knowledge as a professional master printer.
May 23 – July 3, 2013
“New York City, c. 1985” – With photographs by Amy Arbus, David Armstrong, Jeannette Montgomery Barron, Janette Beckman, Janet Delaney, Andrew Garn, Nan Goldin, Arlene Gottfried, Keizo Kitajima, Mark Morrisroe, Christine Osinski, Gunar Roze, and Brian Young, among others.