Digesting stacks of books to prepare for the live debates on contentious public issues he organizes for Intelligence Squared U.S., with a dense daily schedule of meetings and presentations at his offices for insurance and investment concerns, his calendar complicated by frequent travel to far-flung places and punctuated by his service to distinguished cultural and policy institutions; graced, moreover, with a full social life in cities around the world, many friends, an accomplished wife, and a large extended family, Robert Rosenkranz is scarcely a man with time on his hands. Yet he takes the time to photograph.
Were he to devote himself entirely to the art, I have little doubt that Rosenkranz would repeat in this medium his marked success in the larger world, but he picks up the camera only episodically. If he lived in retired isolation far from mundane concerns, his artistic activity might be favorably compared to that of the Chinese literati, those elite scholar-officials turned poets and painters who demonstrated their sensitivity and virtue through the practice of these arts. However, Rosenkranz’s pursuit of art is subsidiary to his executive functions and perhaps serves as something of an antidote of the best sort to an over-full life.
In this, he reminds me of British and French men of means who took up the camera in the mid-nineteenth century when photography began to replace sketching, watercolor, and painting as the medium of choice for the visual self-expression of the educated classes. Many of those gentlemen were busy professionals or landowners who, despite multiple responsibilities, found themselves lured to practice a time-consuming and complex art because of its poetic capacity — its uncanny ability to recast the familiar and fleeting into a permanent aesthetic form. Rosenkranz is similarly smitten with the way photography reallocates his attention from its usual haunts — business management, investment strategy, public policy, and other global issues — to the world he normally passes by: the world not in his head or in the news, but the one actually in front of him.
His eyes were opened when his parents gave him a camera for his thirteenth birthday. An enthusiastic hobbyist, he took to photography with relish, cajoling his neighbors on the Upper West Side to pose before his flood lamps. A few years later he was exploring Manhattan jazz clubs, pushing his Kodak Tri-X film in the darkroom to retrieve the features of Lionel Hampton and other jazz greats from the smoky blacks of his exposures.