Artist Spotlight: Tarzan in New York

Richard Rothstein's project works as both photography and performance piece as it suggests modern-day alienation with wit and wistfulness.

BY Christopher Harrity

January 04 2014 5:00 AM ET

Richard Rothstein spent the first 40 years of his life "deeply buried in the closet and very much repressed." Part of his coming-out process was to pick up a camera in 2009 and begin to make real some of his boyhood fantasies. Rothstein tells us, "I’m now 65 and finding my joy and myself in my photography."

The Advocate: What was your thought process, or inspiration, to photograph your childhood fantasies in Manhattan?
Richard Rothstein: Manhattan is an integral part of who I am, it’s part of my DNA.  I was born on 17th Street and Second Avenue and have spent my entire life in the city. I became aware of my “difference” by the age of 5. I can remember being punished by my father all too frequently from that point on for being a sissy. The streets of the city, school, theater, parks constantly brought me face-to-face with feelings I knew I had to suppress. And I did. Finally, at the age of 40, the struggle and the suffering became too much to bear and I attempted suicide, obviously unsuccessfully. But once I had reached that point, with nothing to left to lose, I thought that, well, I could do “it” just once, and I did. But that’s a long story for another day.

Little by little I reclaimed my city and rebuilt myself. Along the way I discovered that through photography I could profoundly express and uncover myself as a proud and assertive gay man. For me, photographing beautiful men in the streets of the city spoke to my lost years and helped me take ownership of my fear and inhibitions. Some years ago, I was afraid of Christopher Street and would avoid it like the proverbial plague. Today I photograph naked men on Christopher Street. Every time I hit the streets with a model, I push the envelope, photographing nudes in all the “wrong" places. It is liberating, fulfilling, and an amazingly satisfying way to thumb my nose at everything that had worked against me for so many decades. I met “Tarzan,” Rob Eco, about two years ago, and we immediately bonded and formed an incredible bromance. Rob very much became my muse. I teased him for a long time about how much he looked like a Disney Tarzan. It was s crazy idea, but it struck me that the ultimate political protest for me would be to take my childhood fantasies and bring them to life in the streets of my city. My suppressed and hidden sexual fantasies aggressively brought to life in my city. Tarzan, Superman, Peter Pan, Zeus, Hercules … it’s a long list.

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