Today’s Special, New York City Images 1969-2006

Today’s Special has been quite special for over five decades and still counting really. Photographer Jeff Rothstein’s images are taken in NYC from 69’-06’ culminating what would typically be a disparate greatest hits collection, often of which you find in those small popular Photo Poche books of the classic street photographers.
They serve as a convenient way to get a gist of a major photographer’s life work while really having no cohesive expression beyond that as far as the flow of a good photo book would go.

It was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the review of a photo book that would suggest a similar sentiment….and was pleasantly surprised although I couldn’t on first viewing place what makes the photos work together. The photos aren’t in anyway chronological nor do the portray the city within that zeitgeist which would be NYC at the height of Vietnam (Cold War) to the troop surge in the Iraq war.
Instead it is an atmosphere of transience…places, people and activities that exist no more serving as a more personal zeitgeist of what a New Yorker would have seen through there decades with Muhammad Ali and John Lennon in between…seriously.

So it is this objective eye that he captures things as they are. There are no exclamations signifying historical events they just simple exist int he photos either anti-nuclear cold war sentiments in the newspaper a person is holding or the masks people were right after September 11th… it isn’t about this events but they are there in the daily life he depicts.
So upon the second third viewing of this photo book your eye catches these details and that begins to creative the cohesive atmosphere of the book. Reminds me of a Japanese director who did make films during the war that were criticized as being propagandistic.
I viewed them last and found them to make entire sense, where in his post war films the kids were wanting to become baseball players and idolizing Gary Cooper (the American influence) during his war films the characters wanted to become soldiers and idolized generals…it was simply just an objective reflection of the moment anything else would of subjective because it becomes imposed. Recalls the famous Dziga Vertov quote, “I’m an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it…” in speaking to the objectivity of the camera.

You also notice the intimacy in regards to the distance he shoots. There are no sprawling landscape shots or typical city street shots with no real point of focus that I see a lot of recently. Nor is he interrupting any of his subjects lives’ by being to close. Everyone is within 5 feet or so with the exception of an older gentlemen walking in the snow and a couple kissing under a bridge which is entirely understandable for the photos to work.
I can’t say I have seen editing such a breath of work that keeps such consistency in its perspective distance. It serves to warm the whole character of the book.

From there just a lot of the individual photos are a real treat. To seeing kids break dancing in the 80s, people hating disco at the close of the 70s, Ali at MSG at the beginning of the 70s, or a women using a payphone right at the onset of the new millennium. Alone to just have taken a photo of Bob Dylan or John and Yoko is astonishing but I like how it just fits right in. Hate how forced random shots of celebrity feel in a bunch of street photos but unless you knew who they were one could easily pass right over John Lennon in here because it really is just apart of the scenery in NYC. 


Today’s Special, New York City Images 1969-2006, contains 48 black-and-white images over 63 pages that includes an introduction by art historian Robert  C. Morgan and can be yours for 30 USD. Here is a link:

Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
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