New Public Library exhibit showcases titans of Broadway photography

A new exhibit at the New York Public Library is highlighting the works of two of the most prominent Broadway photographers. 

Whether you’re a regular theatre-goer or not, if you’ve opened a newspaper to the arts section anytime in the past three decades, chances are you’re familiar with the work of Joan Marcus and Carol Rosegg.

They estimate they’ve shot more than 7,000 shows between the two.

Their work from the 1980s to the present is now the subject of a new exhibit at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts titled "The Theater Photos of Joan Marcus and Carol Rosegg."

Doug Reside, the curator of the theatre division at the library, says Marcus and Rosegg are, "in many ways, the historians of New York theatre."

"And their work is that record," he said, adding that he wanted to put together this exhibit because the pair have shot "basically everything" in the city’s theatre scene for the past 40 years.

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"I was never a theatre person," Marcus said in an interview. "I never would have thought of [theatre photography] as a career."

Marcus always enjoyed photography, specifically the printing process. A photographer job that opened up at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, was how it all began.

"I knocked on his door and I asked if he needed help?" Marcus recalled, saying he asked her if she knew how to print. "And I was a really good printer… and that was it."

Since so many Broadway shows got their start at The Kennedy Center, that was her gateway to the Great White Way.

The exhibit features her favorite images from shows like The Little Mermaid, The Who's Tommy, Gypsy, and Angels in America.

For Rosegg, hiding behind the camera, she says, may have been a part of the draw. She always wanted to be a part of the performing arts, just never on stage.

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"You get to pick up the newspaper and see your name, and you get to be involved in theatre in a really unique way," Rosegg said.

Rosegg worked under dance photographer Martha Swope, which was a big reason that, for her, a glass ceiling was never an obstacle. But there were other challenges.

"Very often people will say to me, if I'm shooting a one-person show, ‘Oh, that must be so easy.’ I'm like, no, that's harder than shooting a big Broadway musical," Rosegg said. "[With a one-person show] everything in the photo has to be perfect: the hand, the eyes, the mouth. If you're shooting a big show, if there's one guy in the back who's a little off, it's not so bad."

One of her favorites is a photo of Daniel Radcliffe making his New York theatre debut in the play Equus.

She’s also partial to a particular photo of actor Michael Urie, from the play Buyer and Cellar—not because of the show but for what the shot symbolizes.

And working in the theatre makes her happy. 

The best part of theatre photography for Marcus: meeting people that you kind of might not meet in your normal life.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 28 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.