This family history begins in a little village on the Austrian-Hungarian border in 1887 when Adolph Rosenfeld, a carpenter by trade, and his wife, Lena Kendal Rosenfeld, decided to immigrate to the United States in search of a better life for their growing family. They became citizens in 1904, had a family of five children, Morris (1885-1968), Rose (1886-unknown), Nettye (1895-1945), David (1900-1965), also a photographer for the NEW YORK TIMES, and Anna (1899-early 1990’s).
Morris originally wanted to be an artist, but his parents wanted him to be a doctor. According to Everett B. Morris from the commentary in Under Full Sail, “He left school at thirteen to do a man’s work in a man’s world, armed only with the clumsy Gundlach 4×5 plate camera (bought with) his five-dollar prize (as a result of a photo contest) and a not very well-defined urge to be either an artist or a star news photographer.
“In the beginning he worked for an old German who used to photograph on wood and copper for textbook illustrations. He free-lanced for Leslie’s Weekly and Harper’s; he worked with (Edwin J.) Levick, the leading yacht photographer of those days; and studied art at Cooper Union.”
Stanley Rosenfeld, Morris’s middle son writes in the book, A Century Under Sail, that “Coming to the photographic scene early in the history of action photography (and yachting photography, in particular), my father was able to take advantage of this new role of the photographer and join the small, very active group of news photographers, photojournalists, and photographic studios clustered around City Hall and nearby Newspaper Row.” He was acquainted with turn of the century photographers Charles Edwin Bolles, James Burton and Arthur F. Aldrich.
Morris established his own studio in 1910 at 116 Nassau Street, Manhattan and began doing industrial photography, advertising photography, work for different New York City departments as well as different telephone companies. More and more his love of the sea, the ships and environment crept into his work as he photographed activities on the Hudson and East Rivers. As his business grew (at times employing from 8 to 17 staff members) Morris was able to center more on maritime subjects and his family came on board in various capacities to help.
Morris married Esther Marion Hirsch (1888-1962) in 1906 and they lived on 78th Street in Manhattan. By 1911 they were living on Wilkens Avenue and for about 15 years at 857 Crotona Park North, in the Bronx. In 1926 the family settled on City Island, New York. They had 5 children beginning with David (1907-1994), James Bernard (1911-1913), Stanley (1913-2002), Eleanor (1916-1998) and William (1921-2006).
Morris was a perfectionist who expected the best not only in his work but the work of every employee. He was very competitive which is a trait that each of his three sons have noted. This competitiveness helped to make him the master craftsman he was.
Morris was very active photographing almost up until his death at the age of 83 in 1968 and is spoken of today by older sailors with great respect. “Rosy” will forever be in the hearts and minds of all those who love the sea and attempt to capture its beauty on paper.
Morris was inducted in to the National Sailing Hall of Fame on October 27, 2013.