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.



Some shots look fairly risky (the subway photos, the construction workers, etc.) Can you tell us anything about the experiences of taking these images?
Rob and I don’t feel we’ve done a successful Tarzan shoot unless we’ve been insulted, yelled at, threatened with arrest, or chased at least once. Our scariest moment was coming off the B train by the Museum of Natural History. We had been shooting in the train between Lincoln Center and the American Museum of Natural History and a couple of subway workers had called in an “EDP” report — “emotionally disturbed person” loose on the subway system. At the 86th Street Station, we were approached by a cop and threatened with arrest. We had to convince him that Rob was a model and not a danger to society. Fortunately, the officer finally relented and agreed to let us go on the condition that Rob put his pants back on. The cop didn’t feel that a leather loincloth was “decent.” I’ve become well versed in the city’s nudity laws and pointed out to the officer that all critical body parts were covered. Next time we used the Q train. We’ve also been chased out of the Rockefeller Center gardens by security guards. Rob made that worse by calling the security guard “Bart the Mall Cop,” daring him to pull out his toy handcuffs. I don’t run well at my age, but we did. To be honest, Rob is so believable as Tarzan that 90 percent of the time people want their picture taken with him. Women and men want to jump in his arms and play “Jane.” The construction workers started laughing and comparing muscles to Tarzan. When we go into businesses, people generally behave as if we’re just one of the customers. There are advantages to shooting in New York. People take pride in pretending not to notice or care. And pushing that gives both of us a tremendous amount of pleasure.