Capturing Central Park’s vibrant community, Scott Rossi illustrates the importance of public spaces

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Rossi explores the connection between New Yorkers and the city’s green oasis: “I wanted to reflect the diversity of the people, landscapes, and moments that make Central Park the extraordinary place it is today”

“New York is a confined, saturated maze,” says Canadian photographer Scott Rossi of the city he has learned to call home. “I used to be overwhelmed by it, but with this project, I finally felt like I had my own thing going.” A love letter to Central Park and its passersby, Rossi’s debut photobook Common Place draws on a rediscovered sense of purpose to demonstrate how, through spending time in the park, each visitor can find new, unexpected meanings.

Rossi was informed by the vision set forth by the park’s chief architect Frederick Law Olmsted ahead of its opening in 1876. Olmsted imagined the park refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. A green oasis that, by allowing everyone “an expansive landscape where to unwind, escape, or love”, can uplift the human spirit. 

Shot over the last two years, Rossi’s images advocate for the need for public space during a time of global crisis. During COVID-19, “New Yorkers found what they needed within Central Park,” he says. “Central Park is much more than a tourist destination; not only is the park a cultural icon, but it is also essential to the wellbeing of New York’s people… It is a magical place full of wonder.” 

From Common Place by Scott Rossi, co-published by Pomegranate Press and Guest Editions. © Scott Rossi.
From Common Place by Scott Rossi, co-published by Pomegranate Press and Guest Editions. © Scott Rossi.
From Common Place by Scott Rossi, co-published by Pomegranate Press and Guest Editions. © Scott Rossi.

Wandering through the park, the Brooklyn-based photographer captures “people willing to share and be present with me”. From children and elderly people seeking to be at one with nature, to couples embracing in the hazy sun, Rossi’s photographs radiate with comfort, intimacy and freedom. One of the images [below] was selected as a single image winner in this year’s Portrait of Humanity award.

Whether playing in the midst of a snowstorm, practising martial arts, or contemplating their surroundings alone, the faces inhabiting the book – mostly New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds – speak of the photographer’s interest in people’s stories and his desire to candidly engage with them. 

Elsewhere in the book, Rossi’s focus shifts to areas of the park that have been left untouched by human presence. Juxtaposed with his documentation of the landmark’s lively community, these idyllic snapshots remind us of the beauty which lies within our connection with nature.

Image from Common Place by Scott Rossi, co-published by Pomegranate Press and Guest Editions. © Scott Rossi.

Rossi did not always want to be a photographer. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a professional race-car driver. Born in Vancouver in 1991, from the age of five he spent 13 years driving go-karts around the world, before abandoning his racing aspirations. For him, photography represented a new beginning. At first looking at it as a means of “capturing beautiful, fleeting moments”, Rossi rapidly grew to value “the process of interacting with subjects, establishing an intent to the work that previously lacked”. 

Now a graduate of New York’s International Centre of Photography, Rossi is deeply influenced by fellow image-makers including Sheron Rupp, Sabiha Çimen, Alec Soth, Gregory Halpern, and Mark Steinmetz, and filmmakers like Michelangelo Antonioni – “I always pause his films in awe” – the photographer finds poetry, film, and photography to be in conversation with each other. Talking about the inspirations behind Common Place, he describes Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, and Tod Papageorge’s 20th-century documentation of Central Park along with Irina Rozovsky’s book In Plain Air as crucial to the making of his first monograph. 

“It’s a blessing to be able to make photographs in such an iconic place, following in the footsteps of other groundbreaking photographers,” says Rossi. As for the intent of the book, “I’ll leave that up to readers,” he adds. “I wanted Common Place to reflect the diversity of the people, landscapes, and moments that make Central Park the extraordinary place it is today… This project broke me out of my shell: it taught me how to get to know people and listen to them. Whether it’s love, hope, or sadness, I hope the book makes you feel something.”

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

Gilda Bruno

Gilda Bruno (1998) is an Italian-born, London-based writer, editor and photographer. With a focus on visual art and culture, her work has been published by titles including AnOthermag.com, DAZED, i-D, HUCK, The Face, VICE, and Vogue. She also works as an Editorial Assistant on the print edition of AnOther.