The Power of Photography

Morris Rosenfeld on the job in 1938. ©Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld Collection, Charles Edwin Bolles, photographer.

Morris Rosenfeld on the job in 1938. ©Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld Collection, Charles Edwin Bolles, photographer.

If you know Mystic Seaport, you know the Rosenfeld Collection, perhaps the finest maritime photography collection in existence. On October 27, I had the opportunity to attend the National Sailing Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Annapolis, and one of the 10 inductees was the late Morris Rosenfeld, patriarch of the Rosenfeld family and a true genius behind the lens and in the dark room. Also inducted that afternoon was Timmy Larr, former member of our Board of Trustees and the most successful female sailor of her generation. The late W. Starling Burgess, the great naval architect, spanning Herreshoff to Stephens, was inducted as well, and we are proud to have all of Burgess’s plans in our collection.  You will find a related article on our homepage under the maritime history and news section.

I had the good fortune, following the induction ceremony, to spend time with Richard and Jon Rosenfeld, two grandsons of Morris, and sons of Stanley Rosenfeld. How wonderful it was to listen to them talk about their family, their achievements, and the many wonderful publications that have arisen from the Rosenfeld Collection, including the stunning On Land and On Sea written by Richard Rosenfeld’s wife, Margaret Andersen-Rosenfeld. While the Rosenfeld Collection has become synonymous with Mystic Seaport and is often part of our exhibitions, we also have a new exhibit in the Stillman Building featuring the photography of Milton Moore and Barry Winiker, titles respectively “Working Men, Working Boats: Images of the Cape Cod Fishery in its Heyday” and “Sun Ships: Modern Cruising” respectively. They are a great study in contrast, as Moore’s images depict working fishermen, and Winiker’s the unique lines and geometric configurations found aboard cruise ships of various types.

What these two complementary exhibits capture is the same spirit and art found in the Rosenfeld’s work. What we see is the extraordinary power of the black and white and the resulting contrast that serves to accentuate the subject matter. Like Rosenfeld, Moore and Winkler focus on patterns and line, and in doing so provide a framework for storytelling and imagination. There is a wonderful simplicity about the black and white, but yet it evolves a power that can be lost or diluted when color is added into the scene. We have come to appreciate that each Rosenfeld photograph is a study on form and light as well as a foundation for a point of view on a theme or an era.

I found the Moore and Winkler exhibition a refreshing reminder of the power of photography and how critical our collection is at Mystic Seaport in depicting multiple maritime forms, particularly for visitors who are less connected to our maritime heritage. It is an impressive entrée to the maritime environment that we all appreciate, and I encourage you to visit this new exhibit on the second floor of the Stillman Building, and to also revisit the Rosenfeld Collection upstairs in the Museum Store.

Steve White