New York may be the city that never sleeps, and yet born-and-raised New York photographer Jeff Rothstein is never exhausted by its sights.
"NYC never gets tiring to photograph," he says. "If you're out on the streets shooting enough, you'll be constantly surprised."
Taking part in a new group show at Greece's Chania International Photo Festival, Rothstein has a relentless work ethic, committing to shooting the city's streets almost daily. He finds something magical and magnetic about the urban metropolis constantly sprawling with life, energy and people.
Having captured the Big Apple since the early 1970s, Rothstein is currently most intrigued by how the pandemic has shaped his city – and its inhabitants. Considering himself an 'urban observer', he's fascinated by how people interact and tries to document fleeting moments between passing pedestrians. Since Covid, he has realised how physically drawn he is to the people he's photographing, seeking to transfer the intimacy and chaos of his photography process through the frame.
"When the original Covid lockdown happened, I had to change my style for the duration," says Rothstein. "Getting up close to people with my wide-angle lenses wasn't viable, and there were no people to be seen anyway. I've moved closer to my subjects when shooting on the streets. Sometimes I'm no more than a couple of feet away from the focus if I'm in the middle of a crowd. I want people viewing my images to feel like they're on the streets with me."
Returning to street photography after some experiments in urban abstracts and still lifes, Rothstein has noticed how the city's pace has resumed post-pandemic – and how people seem happier than before.
"Despite people working from home some days a week, New York's midtown area is still pretty crowded with workers and tourists on weekdays," he adds. "The Soho area, where I like to shoot on weekends, is chock full of people. A few years ago, people on the streets seemed stressed, angry and distrustful. Now, it feels like they are ready to enjoy themselves again."
But perhaps newly-reclaimed freedoms aren't the only reason for this. Rothstein cites the safety of New York as something that he has noticed during his five-decade-long career as a street photographer.
"NYC, back in the day, was a lot grittier and scarier, though that's what made it great for street photography," he says. "Despite recent uptick in some crimes, it's still light years safer than in the '70s to '90s. As far as shooting, the backdrop is a bit more bland, with many pharmacies, banks and nail salons dominating the urban landscape. And don't even get me started about the Disneyfication of places like Times Square. But New York is still probably the best city for street photography, and I'm fortunate to have photographed here for so many decades."
While the city's infrastructure might have evolved to keep up with modern demands and changing industries, the same rules apply to Rothstein as a photographer. He has to keep his eyes peeled, pre-empting spontaneous moments of absurd interactions between passers-by and accepting whatever may come his way.
Revealing his process, he refers to the image featuring the soldiers, saying: "I was shooting for a while on a corner that had pretty heavy pedestrian traffic during lunchtime. Suddenly, I saw a group of these German soldiers coming down the avenue, and I spotted two punk-looking girls out of the corner of my eye. I waited for the moment they crossed paths, and I believe I caught the amalgamation of their styles and mix of worlds to create a truly interesting and multi-layered photo."
As a native Brooklynite and having lived in Manhattan for many years, Rothstein knows that it's the city's people that keep New York so interesting. Or at least that's what he finds most curious about his hometown.
And it's something he's sure he'll never get bored of: "Even though I'm a lifelong New Yorker, I'm not jaded enough to think I've seen everything here. New York is always an adventure!"
Visit Jeff Rothstein's website to follow his latest works.