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Roz Joseph (1926-2019)

  • Roz Joseph was born in the Bronx, NY in 1926 and later studied photography in New York City. In a style easily compared to that of Henri Cartier-Bresson (a French photographer and the “father” of modern photojournalism), Roz Joseph captured sublime and transcendent “little moments” while traveling in Europe, North Africa, and beyond in the 1960s. She said, “without distortion or trickery I try to uncover the eloquence in what would otherwise appear to be ordinary, common situations, and thereby awaken sensitivities for fresh experiences.” During this 1960s period, she shot almost exclusively in black and white and processed her silver gelatin prints in her own darkroom in New York City. In the mid 1960s she won the Grand Prize in a photo competition run by the Saturday Review. The award allowed Roz to return to Europe to pursue more photography.

    In 1970 Roz moved from New York City to the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. In the new light and climate of California, she no longer found black and white photography to be the way she wanted to express her visual experience. She felt it was a “color city.” She shifted to shooting exclusively in color and began to examine two new subjects: abstracted architecture and city scenes, and the drag queen culture of San Francisco. These color architectural details became a series known as “City Art”. Regarding this body of work Roz said, “City Art expresses my interest in the impact of color found in isolated details of a larger scene. For me, color is a key to the emotions, which can unlock surprising and varied reactions from the individual, depending on experiences, taste and character.” In 1991 Chronicle Books published a book of Roz Joseph’s architectural photography entitled “ Details: The Architect’s Art”.

    Roz Joseph passed on December 25th, 2019 and was predeceased by her husband, writer Elliott Joseph in 2014.

    Selected Exhibitions (1970s-1980s):
    California Museum of Photography, Riverside, CA
    San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego, CA
    Montalvo Center for the Arts, Saratoga, CA
    Central Washington University, Ellensburg, CA
    California State Fair, Sacramento, CA
    San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA
    Stanford University, Stanford, CA
    Coos Art Museum, Coos Bay, OR
    Camerawork Gallery, San Francisco, CA
    Transamerica Pyramid’s 10th Anniversary, San Francisco, CA
    Catskill Center for Photography, Woodstock, NY
    Canon House Gallery, San Francisco, CA
    Susan Spiritus Gallery, Newport Beach, CA
    Paradox Gallery, San Francisco, CA

    Published In:
    Details: The Architect’s Art -  a book of 110 architectural photographs of San Francisco all by Roz Joseph. Published by Chronicle Books
    Artweek Magazine
    Photo Metro Magazine
    Saturday Review Magazine
    California Living Magazine
    Petersen’s PhotoGraphic Magazine
    Self-Exposures (book)
    Contemporary California Photography 1978 (book)
    A Passion for Red (book)
    Focus on New Zealand (book)

    Selected Awards:
    Grand Prize for Black and White Photography: Saturday Review World Travel Photo Contest
    Purchase Award from the Concord Community Arts Department, National Photography Competition
  • This month we take a moment to reflect on the life and work of the photographer, Roz Joseph. Joseph passed on Christmas day of 2019, at the age of 93. From New York City, to San Francisco -  from black and white, to color, Joseph’s prolific career transitioned dramatically along with her geographic changes.

    Born in the Bronx, Joseph made her way to NYC where she studied photography, honing the stylistic strategies made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern documentary photography. Her early work spans the globe, documenting her travels across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in rich noir chiaroscuro, always seeking the decisive moment. 

    Upon moving to San Francisco in the 1970’s, color and abstraction became central to Joseph’s work, inspired by the city’s vibrant palette, deeming it a ‘color city’. Shots of colorful buildings and architecture are closely cropped, creating a color block composition, mimicking the aesthetic of abstract expressionism transposed to the photographic medium, drawing the viewers attention to the inherent beauty that can be found within the urban bustle of San Francisco. She called this series “City Art”, again highlighting the notion that art can be found all around us, even in the everyday and the mundane. 

    Joseph was also known for her documentation of the drag queen community in San Francisco during the 1970’s, creating beautiful full color portraits, archiving an integral part of this city’s culture and LGBTQ visibility. Most of the works in this series were donated to the GLBT Historical Society, located in the Castro district of San Francisco. 

    In remembrance of Roz Joseph’s life and career, we are featuring a curated selection of her photographs, reflective of her creative growth in the city of San Francisco.
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