Rosenfeld photos ‘meant to be seen’

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Yachting photographers Morris and Stanley Rosenfeld are the subject of a new exhibit at Mystic Seaport Museum

Yachting photographers Morris and Stanley Rosenfeld are the subject of a new exhibit at Mystic Seaport Museum

In 1984 Mystic Seaport Museum purchased the Rosenfeld Collection, an archive of nearly 1 million photographs and negatives taken or acquired by legendary father-son yachting photographers Morris and Stanley Rosenfeld.

After more than 20 years of restoration and cataloging, a selection of images from this immense collection of mostly black-and-white maritime photography is open for public viewing. “The Art of the Boat: Photographs from the Rosenfeld Collection” is a new exhibit at the Mystic, Conn., museum.

“Since the museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, we figured there’s no better time than now to get this collection on display,” says museum spokesman Michael O’Farrell. “We’ve never shown these images to people in this way before. The photos truly capture the beauty of the sea. They’re stunning.”

O’Farrell says the Rosenfeld Collection is the largest single set of maritime photographs in the world and includes images of sailboats, powerboats, naval vessels and every America’s Cup race from 1885 to 1992. (The Cup photographs from 1885 to 1910 were acquired by the Rosenfeld family and are the work of noted photographers Arthur F. Aldridge, Charles E. Bolles, James Burton and Edwin J. Carpenter.)

Included in the 40 prints on display is one of the most famous Rosenfeld photographs: “Flying Spinnakers.” Shot in 1938, it features the 12 Meter yachts Gleam and Northern Light running down Long Island Sound, and appeared as a full page in Life magazine.

The Rosenfelds’ images are captured in a number of formats, including glass plate negatives, color transparencies, glossy prints and photographic murals. The prints feature a platinum palladium print process that O’ Farrell says dates back to 1875.

“There certainly is a wow factor associated with this collection,” says O’Farrell. “I haven’t seen anyone who’s gone in not gasp when they see some of these prints. These are more than just photos; they’re art.”

The Rosenfeld Collection is taken from the inventory of the Morris Rosenfeld & Sons photographic business, founded by Morris in New York City in 1910. As the business grew and his sons David, Stanley and William joined him, Morris Rosenfeld began to focus specifically on maritime subjects. For decades the Rosenfelds were regulars at yachting events along the Eastern Seaboard, earning the respect of yachtsmen and gaining unusually close access to the largest regattas. During the 1958 and 1962 America’s Cup matches, Foto III — one of four Rosenfeld chase boats to bear the Foto name — was the only vessel granted unlimited access to the race course.

Upon Morris’ death in 1968 his son, Stanley, took over the business, producing his own collection of remarkably dynamic nautical photographs. Stanley died in December 2002.

Visitors also can view prints that aren’t on display, and can purchase reproductions from a computer kiosk inside the museum. Proceeds from reprint sales go into a museum fund for the preservation of the collection.

“These prints bring out the fascination, dangers, challenges and joys of ocean sailing,” O’Farrell says. “They speak for themselves and are meant to be seen.”

The Rosenfeld Collection will remain on display until October 2006. Mystic Seaport is open daily year round. Admission is $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and $9 for children. There is no additional admission for the Rosenfeld exhibit. For more information call the seaport at (860) 572-5315 or visit www.mysticseaport.org.