Scott Rossi’s Pleasing Portraits of People in Central Park

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Common Place by Scott Rossi
Photography by Scott Rossi

“Within Central Park, New Yorkers can find what they need,” says Scott Rossi, whose first photo book captures the idiosyncratic people and places within the city’s iconic landmark

Common Place coincided with my own quest to understand New York City,” says Scott Rossi of the journey that led to the publication of his debut monograph, a photographic documentation of Central Park and the people who frequent it. Born in Vancouver, Rossi moved to New York in 2020 to pursue a master’s degree at the International Center of Photography. Though the move was meant to represent the beginning of a new chapter in his life, the abrupt change of scenery initially left Rossi “lost and uninspired”. It wasn’t until he started wandering around the city’s so-called green lung that he was finally able to embrace New York and what it had to offer him.

Co-published by Pomegranate Press and Guest Editions, Common Place draws on the photographer’s personal story to illustrate how, “within Central Park, New Yorkers can find what they need” – be it a refuge from the urban jungle or a source of creative inspiration.

“The project explores the results of intentions set forth by the park’s chief architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who believed that, by recreating the peacefulness of nature, parks would soothe and restore the human spirit,” Rossi tells AnOther. An archive of the places and faces that caught the photographer’s eye during his frequent strolls through Central Park, Common Place is especially evocative of what the space meant to its visitors at the height of Covid-19. “It is unthinkable to not have Central Park in New York,” says Rossi, reflecting on how, especially over the last two years, “outdoor public spaces have been key to the physical and mental health of everyone living in a big metropolis.”

The opening spread of the book features an image of a tree trunk with dozens of names etched into its gnarled surface. Something of an homage to Central Park’s visitors, these barely decipherable scrawls remind us of the generations of people who have enjoyed the park since it opened in 1876. Elsewhere, a man is pictured kneeling down in prayer on a carpet of fresh snow; a couple embrace, wrapped in each other’s arms; young girls have their sparkly, light blue outfits checked by their mother ahead of a party, and a young father holds his sleeping daughter close to his chest.

“Central Park feels like home to me now,” says Rossi, explaining how, from time to time, the space has allowed him to escape his small Hell’s Kitchen flat and recharge. Balancing the influence stemming from Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, Tod Papageorge and Irina Rozovsky’s portrayals of New York’s public parks with his own creative instincts, Rossi persevered in engaging with Central Park’s “magic” atmosphere as a means of carving out his own place within a new city. “I’m fortunate to have met people coming from distinctly unique backgrounds who are based in all five Boroughs of the city,” he says of the characters he encountered.

Using poetry – including his own – to understand the more internal narrative of Common Place as the project progressed, Rossi developed a collection of images that is not only visually compelling but also charged with historical meaning. “For nearly two years, I visited the park almost every day,” says Rossi. “I have been down nearly every pathway in Central Park and many of the moments I was able to photograph were simply because I was there,” he continues. “This book is the result of committing myself to the work, being open to chance, and being in the right place at the right time.”

Common Place by Scott Rossi is co-published by Pomegranate Press and Guest Editions and is out now.