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Legendary Nelson photographer publishes new book

Fred Rosenberg has been photographing the people of Nelson for 40 years
Fred Rosenberg’s book Anecdotal Evidence, which contains 116 of his photographs of Nelson people over the past four decades, will be launched at Touchstones on Sept. 10. Photo: Jeremy Addington

When Fred Rosenberg was a teenager thumbing through the pages at a magazine stand, he would stop and study the pages with black and white photos and skip the coloured ones.

A magazine or book with photos all in colour was of no interest to him.

“It was my first fine jolt into what black and white imagery meant to me. Like, just get the colour out of the way,” he says.

Rosenberg studied photography and then moved to Nelson in 1982. Over the ensuing decades he has taken thousands of black and white photographs of local people. He never intended to be a chronicler of the city, but that is how he is seen by many who recognize him as a fixture on the streets, roaming with his camera at public events, births, deaths, ceremonies, and chance encounters on the street.

His new book, Anecdotal Evidence, containing 116 photos of people in Nelson taken over several decades, was edited by Anne DeGrace with an introduction by the photographer Jeremy Addington. The book will be launched on Sept. 10 at Touchstones Nelson.

DeGrace says the idea for the book began at an exhibit of Rosenberg’s work a few years ago at the Nelson library.

“I just looked at the wealth of beautiful images, and the show just made me feel like it wanted to be a book,” she says.

She envisioned a book that would contain beautiful photographs and also acknowledge Rosenberg’s unique role in the community.

On the cover of Anecdotal Evidence: Kootenay Co-op Radio records a show at the Kootenay Bakery, 2005. Photo: Fred Rosenberg
On the cover of Anecdotal Evidence: Kootenay Co-op Radio records a show at the Kootenay Bakery, 2005. Photo: Fred Rosenberg

“Fred basically documented Nelson over the last four decades, warts and all, the really beautiful parts and the sensitive parts and the very, very human parts. It’s a human chronology.”

In his introduction, Addington cautions readers of the book: “Slow down, take your time. There is more here than meets the eye.”

Addington writes that the photographs capture the internal processes of “people deeply reflecting on things we can’t know, or caught in the moment between thought and action or thought and feeling.”

Rosenberg is known for his ability, with candid shots, to capture something essential about the people in his photos even though he may not be acquainted with them.

He says he is not interested in what things or people look like, not trying to capture how the people in his photos present their persona. He wants to pierce that mask and go deeper.

Fred Rosenberg on Baker Street. Photo: Jeremy Addington
Fred Rosenberg on Baker Street. Photo: Jeremy Addington

“I choose to see the seeds of beauty, that beauty that is buried deep in chaos, emotional upheaval, psychological conundrum, hesitation, doubt, trauma, grief, dissonance and paradox,” he writes in the introduction to Anecdotal Evidence. “Beauty that’s disguised, held back, begging to be expressed.”

The internal life of the people in his photos is what motivates him, and he wants to capture it even though it is unknowable.

“What happens internally is as vivid and colourful as what happens in the world,” he writes.

Digital, black and white

Rosenberg, who learned his craft with film and a darkroom, never went digital.

“It’s a hands-on, three-dimensional craft, even though I’m producing two-dimensional photos, and I love it,” he says.

“Digital just cuts the knees out from under all of that. A digital photographer doesn’t have to know anything about how a camera works.”

He says digital photography “essentially gives up the handcraft to a computer. I want to claim that my hands are in the clay.”

Piggyback ride during flood, Lakeside soccer fields, 2012. Photo: Fred Rosenberg
Piggyback ride during flood, Lakeside soccer fields, 2012. Photo: Fred Rosenberg

Rosenberg’s favourite light is the dark of night, where edges blend.

He says the first cells in our retinas that receive light are our black and white receptors. It’s the most primitive way that we see.

“Black and white cuts to the chase. It innately points to what is beneath the surface.”

Addington writes that Rosenberg’s hallmarks are his advanced intuition and his refusal to be rushed.

“Fred senses intuitively where to stand and when to press the shutter in order to achieve the most compelling compositions. Due to his love for photography and his reserved excitement, Fred feels around people, returns more often, stays longer and investigates more thoroughly…

“His photos are straight, unmanipulated, uncropped, focused, sharp, and tonally full … and he resists seeking the photogenic.”

Fred Rosenberg. Photo: Jeremy Addington
Fred Rosenberg. Photo: Jeremy Addington

Photographing Nelson

Rosenberg says he is grateful that Nelson has accepted him. He says only three or four times in 40 years has anyone questioned his presence as a photographer at any public event or on the street.

“I’m part of the play and the interplay of how Nelson works. I hope I’ve given as much as I’ve received from doing my work.”

If he seems to be a chronicler of Nelson, that is a byproduct of his work and only part of his intention, he says. He’s also an intensely curious photographer, still learning how to capture what makes us human.

“I’m a guy who’s finding out what is really going on with me, and you, and with this whole thing,” he says, gesturing toward the world.

Rosenberg’s book launch will be limited admittance because of COVID-19 protocols. Preregister by calling 250-352-9813 or emailing

Related: Why film photography is less work (and more rewarding) than digital

Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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