Leslie was one of our Merit award winners, chosen by our juror Joanne Teasdale.
“I choose this photograph for a merit award. The composition is great! I like the way the image is divided in two, that there is movement up on the right and away on the left, wonderful dynamic. Graphically, there is a lot going on yet the child catches the eye, making the image about a person rather than everything else. The high contrast intensifies the graphic quality, strengthening the photographer’s choice and the flowing white dress of the child brings balance.” Joanne Teasdale
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a documentary fine art photographer based in Pasadena, California. Born in Boston, Massachusetts and a graduate of UCLA film school, I started photographing in New York City. There was a very invigorating sense of intimacy, that I could wander the streets with a camera and discover the many kinds of emotional situations that presented themselves. I was drawn to make pictures in New York because the city is so vibrant and unique, but also very accessible – a lot of life is happening right in front of you. Sometimes the everyday moments that make up people’s lives provide the richest visual tapestry for a photograph.
How did you get started photography?
My love of photography came to me from my father. Beyond his encouragement, my father instilled in me an enduring respect for the story within the image. He gave me my first real camera, one of his old Nikons, when I was in high school and I have been out on the streets with a camera ever since. I strive to create images that capture human intimacy and tell stories about people and the amazing lives they live.
Which photographers and other artists work do you admire?
That’s a difficult question to answer, because I feel the influence of many great photographers. First perhaps, is Henri Cartier-Bresson. His work was a source of real inspiration for me. The power of the decisive moment, human emotion combined with a sense of immediacy and spontaneity. I also love the work of Brassaï, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and Helen Levitt.
Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day for you.
My process depends on what I’m trying to shoot. Am I working on a continuing story or am I looking for a new story? Also sometimes my choice of equipment or capture mode – film or digital – can also affect the way I approach shooting. I’m a wanderer at heart; so my perfect day would dropped in some amazing place, somewhere in the world and to just discover it with my lens.
If you spend a day with another photographer living or passed who would it be?
This is kind of time travel question; do you want to explore the drama of Parisian nightlife with Brassaï in the 30’s, or go road tripping across the South with Robert Frank in the 50’s, or hike through Yosemite with Ansel Adams? It’s a tough choice, but I’d hitch a ride with Frank!
How do you view this time in the history of photography?
This seems to be a time of incredible possibility in photography. Images can be made and created in so many different ways. Anything you can think of you can create; it’s really exciting and possibly a little overwhelming.
How do you over come a creative block?
Keep shooting! Sometimes I come back from working and I feel I haven’t taken one good shot. I might feel tired, or bored or that I’m shooting shots I’ve already taken, so I might take a break, focus on something else and then come back to the project with fresh eyes. But, no matter what, just pick up your camera and keep shooting!
What do you hope the viewer takes from your images?
When I shoot I’m always looking for those special moments in time – those chance scenes occurring in the blink of an eye, that reveal an emotion or a truth or a little human drama. I hope the viewer feels a connection to the image and maybe even finds new realizations about themselves within that world.
Would you like to share a story about one of your images?
I spent several years shooting a documentary project about a skate rink in Glendale, California. At the Moonlight Rollerway, the Friday Night Skate is high school on roller skates and for a few hours, the rink is essentially an adult-free zone where kids who don’t yet have license to drive a bigger set of wheels, gather on a couple of smaller ones, to spin and race, date and preen, maybe just to hang since it’s Friday.
These kids, mostly from working class families, feel overlooked by society. And as teens often do, they feel out of sync with their own families as well. But inside the roller rink, this band of high-schoolers have created a place where they belong. When I first walked into the Moonlight Rollerway, I was struck by a profound spirit of youth and liberation, and for many Friday Skate Nights thereafter I sought to capture this energy with my camera. I tried to make images that were both immediate and evoked in the viewer a sense of themselves as a teenager, even if they had never once ventured inside a roller rink. The kids proved to be fascinating subjects, utterly open and unguarded, around this adult and her camera and remarkably willing to let my lens show everyone exactly who they are. As one regular told me, “Everything stops when you’re at the rink. It’s just you and your friends and your skates.”
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
I think being a photographer completely affects they way I see the world. It forces you to be open and in-tune with what you see happening around you. As Jack Kerouac said, it makes me want to use my camera to “tell the true story of the world.”
Where can we see your work, and would you like to share any upcoming projects?
On my website I was recently told that my new work was all about horses, and I guess that’s partially true. I’m currently working on two documentary projects, one about rodeo-life in Salinas, California and a second about a day in the life of a racetrack – from the horses, to the breeders, to the cast of track regulars.
Thank you Leslie for sharing your work with us.
To learn more about Leslie Rosenthal please visit her site at, Leslie Rosenthal Photography.