Interview by John Wisniewski
John Wisniewski: When did your career in photography begin, Trixi?
Trixi Rosen: The story of my photography begins in the late 1960s and early 1970s, during the feminist and anti-war movement. I had studied fine art and painting at NYU (not photography) but I had taught myself how to use a camera to shoot demonstrations and how to develop photos in a darkroom. In 1970, I returned to NYC after spending a year in Iowa – as part of an ‘underground’ radical lesbian newspaper collective- “Ain’t I a Woman.” I didn’t know any photo history so there were no boundaries to the way I worked. I was supporting myself as an Art Director for publishers and doing graphic design. I added book covers- shooting in b/w film and hand-painting the images.
I loved the sound of the click on my 2nd hand Leica and looking through the lenses. I loved the magic of the darkroom – it was always a discovery as I broadened my skills. I was the first artist to settle my loft building on Broadway and 11t h St where I had proudly built my own darkroom.
In those days, my photography was inseparable from my life. I sought to reflect the energy and rebellion and passion for social change that swirled around me and to express my personal feelings and values through my art. My style was one of collaboration, and my subjects were my friends. We were also a determined group – convinced that our energy would help change the world into a more compassionate place.
In those days of sexual liberation, however, the most widely published photos of women that I saw were in magazines- Playboy and Penthouse- the innocent big breasted playboy bunnies and the provocative Penthouse pets. Women as bunnies and pets with big boobs. They were playthings yielding to the ravishes of men. I felt exploited -the female body photographed by men, defined by men- objectified by male desires. In my work, I wanted to create a new vision of women, of women’s bodies, of women’s sexuality, and of women’s sexual imagination.
John Wisniewski: How did you meet Debbie Harry? Why did you decide to photograph her?
Trixi Rosen: I had met Debbie Harry and Chris Stein before her international breakthrough success with Parallel Lines through our good friend, Michael Sullivan. I had seen her perform live at CBGBs and had no doubt she would become a super star. She not only had a punk rock vibe that was authentic, slick and original for the time, but she was also one of the first female singers to front a rock and roll band. I thought she would be a fun and interesting woman to photograph, since we both were innovative and pushed boundaries.
I knew what direction I wanted to take with the shoot, so I asked my journalist friend, Joanmarie Kalter, to write the article and then I began shopping it around. My vision was punk rock attitude with a side of vulnerability. (I featured four of the images from this shoot in an erotic/feminist slideshow, Maitresse, at MOMA for their groundbreaking show Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978-1983. The exhibit ran from October 2017 -April 2018.)
I remember getting the leather studded bikini, knee high boots, black leather skirt and red sweater for the shoot at this fashionable punky clothes store, IAN’S, on St Marks Place. There was no budget for a make-up artist, so Debbie did her own make-up which accentuated the rawness of the look and I used a hot yellow backdrop to pay homage to her signature blonde locks. In October 1977 the article about Debbie appeared in AFTER DARK-The National Magazine of Entertainment (vol 10 #6).
John Wisniewski: what is most important to you, when choosing someone to photograph?
I don’t have a choice when it is job, but I try to do my best to allow the person to view themselves. I watch and listen. When it is my own personal project, I look for authenticity and originality, and the story in their eyes. I believe the eyes reflect the person’s inner self. See “Childhood Memories” and “Changed Landscapes”.
John Wisniewski: were there any subjects that you photographed, who proved to be difficult?
Trixi Rosen: Yes, when I photographed “Actors on Acting” in 1979. When I photographed Eartha Kitt, she dared me to look deeply into her eyes. I was overpowered by the darkness coming from the depths of her being. I understood why other photographers, such as Diane Arbus, became suicidal. I took great pictures but had to leave after the sixth shots.
John Wisniewski: Any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you wish to tell us about Trixi?
Trixi Rosen: I have three pieces currently being shown at the Harvey Milk Foundation in San Francisco as part of their Stonewall 50 Years 2019 Art + Pride exhibit.
- The Sea Change
- Faust’s Study
- Maudit in her Apartment on 6th Street, East Village NYC
These were part of my retrospective and I am glad they are being seen again.
John Wisniewski: What was the best experience that you had photographing a subject?
Trixi Rosen: In contrast, one of my best experiences was when I photographed Takami, a woman with cancer. In 1998, Takami had undergone a double mastectomy. She told me that she had been scared when diagnosed with breast cancer, assuming that she would die. Following the chemotherapy, when her hair was falling out, she made a decision to shave her head. When she looked in the mirror, she realized that she was more beautiful than she had ever been. She saw herself reborn, and knew at that moment that she was going to live.
As a photographer, I saw both Takami’s scars and her beauty. I dared to look deeper because she wasn’t afraid to show me. How optimistic and courageous to look inward, to face loss, and become stronger through the experience. The truth is that the landscape of our body is forever changing. Like a topographic map, the lines and shadings reflect our physical and psychological journey through life – through adolescence, childbirth, illness, menopause, and old age.
Link to Takami’s photo: https://trixrosen.com/changed-landscapes/
More About Trixi Rosen (Hover Mouse)
Born in Brooklyn New York, Trix Rosen is an NY/NJ based photographer. Her career has embraced the fields of fine art photography, photojournalism, portraiture and historic architectural preservation. The scope of her fine art is driven by a desire to make a difference through addressing social justice issues that can transform local and global perspectives. Her spectrum of portfolios explores gender fluidity and identity within the LGBTQ community as well as documents endangered architecture.
Her original 1980’s slide show MAITRESSE can be viewed at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, “CLUB 57: Film, Performance and Art in the East Village, 1978-1983,” October 31, 2017- April 1, 2018, a major exhibition examining the scene-changing, interdisciplinary life of downtown New York’s seminal and fabled post-punk alternative space in New York’s East Village.
In 2015 Rosen was invited to submit eight photographs from her HE-SHE Portfolio for the 5th THESSALONIKI BIENNALE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, in Thessaloniki, Greece.
In the twenty years that Rosen has been photographing the French performance artist, Fred Koenig, she’s produced images that survey gender fluid, queer identity and open up the possibility that we each hold a myriad of alternative selves within us. The images in HE-SHE showcases their daring bond of friendship and art. It depicts a vision of gender authenticity and empowers being be true to yourself. HE-SHE, (http://www.blurb.com/b/7395116-he-she), celebrates the right to self-identify anywhere along the gender path.
Portraits of her female friends document the birth of the gay liberation in New York City and the emerging feminist movement. Rosen photographed women athletes working out in gyms and posing in her studio, and published the collection in STRONG & SEXY, THE NEW BODY BEAUTIFUL, (Delilah, 1982) one of the first books to chronicle the emerging wave of women bodybuilders.
After leaving her job photographing stories that were aired as photo-essays on WNBC-TV Live at Five and News4NY in New York City, Rosen travelled to many countries in Asia. She focused on assignments in the Philippines, where she lived and worked between 1984 and 2013. She produced A KALINGA JOURNEY THROUGH TIME, documenting her work in the northern indigenous Cordillera region and the transformation that the villages of the Kalinga people experienced – a change that within a quarter-century radically restructured this tribal landscape.
She is the President of Trix Rosen Photography Ltd. Her company specializes in photographing architectural restoration and historic preservation projects for the Library of Congress, the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO), and city, state and government agencies.
Rosen was the subject of a half-hour documentary about her life and photography, URBAN STORIES, Documentary Japan, Inc. (1997)
Rosen helped to develop the INSIGHT OUT! Digital Storytelling Workshops to teach visual storytelling and empower her participants with the skills to document their lives. She taught this program in New York City, Jersey City, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Among the participants were teenagers in the Bronx NY at the Next Generation Center, gay, lesbian and transgender members at the Hudson Pride Connections Center in Jersey City NJ, and indigenous youth in the northern Philippines. The project is based on her experience as senior trainer, editor and international advisor to the award-winning InSIGHT OUT! Storytelling Project based in Bangkok, Thailand.