Interview with photographer Taffi Rosen, an artist who defies convention with a unique artistic sensibility

"This is not a time to look back & wish things were different. I try to be here now and not project the future of music or life as we know it..."

Taffi Rosen: Beyond The Limits

Possessing an uncanny eye and a unique artistic sensibility, award-winning photographer Taffi Rosen imbues each photographic effort with her unmistakable signature. Whether it's shooting for fashion, editorial or advertising, some of the most recognizable names in the world have benefited from an artist who insists on producing images that defy convention, command attention and serve the project. In recognition of her startling originality, her work has been showcased in numerous exhibitions and featured in many prestigious international publications, including a number in her native Canada.

Taffi Rosen, Photo © by Melleny Melody

But still photography isn't her only medium. Rosen worked as a videographer for Canada's Arts Channel, Bravo! from 1994 to 2002 and branched out into filmmaking in 2004 to produce the insightful, critically acclaimed interview series In the Mind of... now in its second season on the Bravo! and Biography Canadian television networks. Also in 2004, Rosen launched the independent Toronto production company Redhead Entertainment Inc. to produce videos and photography for cultural and corporate clients including the City of Toronto and The University of Toronto.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the Photographic Art?

When I was 16, My DAD gave me a NIKON camera. I photographed everything.

Basically I was learning how to see. But it became photographic art a decade later.

I was able to transfer my ideas onto film. I could create the scene in my head and with props, location, and most importantly, Lighting I could create my idea. Now I knew I was on to something. It was not copied it was my voice coming through.

How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

One time I was photographing DAVID CASSIDY (Partridge family fame) and I decided to set the mood with LED ZEPPELIN songs. When he arrived he was happily surprised at my choice. I think it made a statement as to my taste and led to a brilliant photo session where he was generous in spirit and good natured.

I particularly love Rachmaninoff. In fact I first heard his music on Bugs Bunny cartoons. When I was a kid. I played first violin in the high school orchestra. I suppose I could have been very accomplished at that but I was drawn to the alternative culture. The Visual Arts and the Movements of the 60s and there was not much alternative creativity in classical music for me at that time. I did not have the vision there would be a crossover. That one day Jimi Hendrix’s PURPLE HAZE would be covered by a classical trio. (hear the music while viewing images on MUSICIANS-ONLY.com)

The Fusion of ideas was happening in ART, INTERIORS, FASHION, & MUSIC.

"Taffi Rosen knows how to select with her camera. She adds her own and modern aura to the photographies" -- Corky Laing / Corky Laing © by Taffi Rosen

What has been the relationship between Music and Image in your life and art? What characterize Taffi Rosen’s work and artistic philosophy?

I am completely mad about the film BURLESQUE. Starring Christina Aquilera and Cher. The girls sing and dance their hearts out. The dance moves are inspired by my favorite all time choreographer and director, Bob Fosse. I am inspired I am transformed I am outside of myself when I watch this stuff. I do watch it over and over again. That is the height of theatrics, dance and music for me.

I suppose I could describe my work like this: sexually suggestive imagery with a sense of humor.

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas most frequently for your photos?

I am drawn to turn of the century visuals... exotics, fashion, feathers, nudes, and nature. Lately flowers. and those wedding pictures of great grandparents in bxw with enormous bouquets of flowers and head pieces....The music from Burlesque the movie always gets me..

Looking up Art Imagery on the Internet I can browse through thousands of works. What catches my attention. Ideas that take something and transform it so we see it in another way.

Recently I saw a 10 foot high clutch of color. I mean 5 enormous hanging balls of color which were actually huge stuffed animals.

I was also moved by an installation of chairs, piled on top of each-other like a dome. You could sit inside on a chaise lounge.  A new Environment....

I am drawn to repetition, and color alliteration, alternative worlds, burlesque, and dance.

"When music fails to agree to the ear, to soothe the ear and the heart and the senses, then it had missed the point." - Maria Callus

There are many things that contribute to photographic ideas. It never stops, something always takes me there. I am moved by anything BOB FOSSE has done with music.... and dance...

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?

Well not much, I am going through an intense period of self adjustments...

"Taffi Rosen is a multi-artist with great variation and breadth. " -- Bjarne Meldgaard, Danish Museum of Photography / Leslie West © by Taffi Rosen

You have pretty interesting projects with musicians to “In The Mind Of”. Where did you get that idea?

I had pitched another show about photographers that did not get picked up however when it was shifted to an idea that would be interviews, with luminaries, people who have contributed to our world, it was picked up by Biography Channel and Bravo! in Canada Nationally.. I looked at it this way... how do I make a headshot interview interesting... and so the layering of the image with visuals, double screen imagery of the person being interviewed, and moving the head around to different corners on the screen... to keep your attention along with the questions coming up punctuated with a musical chord I played on the piano.

The other motivation was the last page of Vanity Fair Magazine.

The Proust questions answered in text only.

Capturing on camera People answering the The Proust Questions, gives you new insight into the artist that you may not know. Not regular interview questions...

Do you remember anything funny from Ronnie Hawkins, Pete Tork, and Warren Haynes?

Ronnie Hawkins -- He is a big bruiser of a guy who looked to me more like Santa Clause then the Ronnie Hawkins I knew years before. He was surrounded by a dozen Chihuahua’s on the couch...while he answered questions.

This was not the dog breed I would have imagined him with.  I kept all that to myself...

Leslie West ---Always irreverent...Leslie West answered the question- what career would you hate to have

with the response-- being a proctologist... what would make a guy want to look up peoples asses for a living...

Peter Tork ---consummate performer

In Vegas we ran into Peter Tork who sat down in the hotel for an interview. After the entire 22 questions I discovered the camera was NOT on so we had to do it again.. Peter answered all 22 questions again with the exact inflections in his voice and exact attitude.  He didn’t even change his answers... he gave the consummate performance....

Nothing particularly funny about Warren, he was just great and easy to work with.

"The first thing you'll notice about Taffi Rosen is that she has taste. That is to say she shoots with discretion as well as with a certain visual acuity such that subjects as potentially ungainly or outrageous as pregnant women emerge as tasteful, intriguing and alluring." -- Moses Znaimer, former president of Bravo! Photo: Ronnie Hawkins and Peter Tork / In the Mind of 

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which memory makes you smile?

David Cassidy - Was walking around in his skiveys and a long shirt, smoking a big fat cigar. I got a glimpse of a scar on his stomach. He explained it was a gull bladder scar and I showed him my brain tumor scar on the back of my head but it went further. I was massaging his shoulders prior to shooting and the makeup artist Kelly, (who was a big fan) came over and insisted that she could do a better job than me and bumped me off....she had posters of him in her room as a kid... this was a big deal for her.

When David was a teen idol, I was into the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. I never had a David Cassidy poster.. so I was happy to move over for her...that always makes me smile....

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the Art and the Music?

I have learned that there are no secrets. Everything is out there for you to find if you dig deep enough...

Why did you think that the Mountain continues to generate such a devoted following?

In my opinion Mountain was a unique power band that even after the death of Felix Pappalardi the boys rocked on. Corky Laing’s powerful hard hitting beat and song writing sensibilities coupled with Leslie West’s incredible voice and guitar riffs. Their musical collaboration resulted in world wide hits such as MISSISSIPPI QUEEN. That song alone made a memorable difference that has lasted all these years. The content of the Albums has been consistently great over the years. MASTERS OF WAR (Mountain does DYLAN) is one of my favorite albums. Corky even sings his version of Like a Rolling Stone...with his voice and drums only…Very impressive...and Leslie’s take, on these Dylan Classics -- dazzling.

And that is why there are loyal fans...

"In my opinion Mountain was a unique power band that even after the death of Felix Pappalardi the boys rocked on. Corky Laing’s powerful hard hitting beat and song writing sensibilities coupled with Leslie West’s incredible voice and guitar riffs."  Photo © by Taffi Rosen

Are there any memories from Corky Laing and Leslie West which you’d like to share with us?

I was shooting video on stage in Toronto. Leslie was walking towards me from across the stage while playing. It made me a little nervous; as you know Leslie is an impressive character... fortunately he used the opportunity to give me a big fat kiss for all to see...

Another time on tour somewhere in the USA I was in the pit shooting, I saw Corky and Leslie have a snit on stage. While playing, Leslie was sending messages to Corky which I imagine he understood because he responded aggressively throwing sticks at him. It appeared like part of the show - two bull elephants having a jousting session... It was quite brilliant

Another time in the UK on tour Corky was playing especially fast and speedy. Backstage after the set you can imagine with that Leslie Voice of his giving shit to Corky for playing so fast..... cause he could not keep up vocally.. I mean who could... if you’ve ever seen Corky when he takes off...

What is the usual funny story that you hear from Corky’s life?

Corky always talks about being born into a band. He had older triplet brothers. Triplets at that time were big news! They got a lot of attention. He felt like a complete unknown until he started drumming. Now he was hard to disregard... Now he was being noticed!

Another one he talks about…

He was 13 years old working in the catskills sweeping the stage for the act THE INKSPOTS coming in to perform.

When they arrived, they found out that there was no drummer so they asked if Corky could make some noise on the drums- keep the beat,  while they performed and it was at that moment on stage, for the first time looking out from behind the kit and seeing the audience respond so positively to seeing a little white kid playing with these consummate black performers that Corky Got the Performance Bug... and the rest is history

Taffi Rosen & Corky Laing's wedding, LasVegas 2012. Photo © by Melleny Melody

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future?

This is not a time to look back & wish things were different.  I try to be here now and not project the future of music or life as we know it...I feel grateful that I was there in the 60s to feel that decade, that most unusual time when everything was new and exceptional, when I could feel the wave of it all...I remember thinking that to be a boy was everything, that they had the stage literally and could do anything with it...I would have switched places with David Lee Roth at that time in a nanosecond....

I have come to really love my musical discovery years in the 60s, 70s and the 80s. Especially when I was a teen because that was all you could call your own. You’re too young to get work and live on your own but choosing musical tastes was the beginning of self discovery.

So after saying all that... I loved the Beatles, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones first. I still listen to those albums..

Which incident of music history or a personality you‘d like to be captured and illustrated to one photo of you?

Freddy Mercury was an incredible performer. The guy just let it go and gave his performances everything. I would have loved to have had a session with him, one to one...

David Lee Roth and all his physical antics was another performer at the time who blew my mind. Yup the guys had the STAGE... I wish I could have photographed them in their hay day.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would go back to the set of Cabaret 1972 - set in war time Berlin directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse and I would magically BE  LIZA MINELLI when she performs Life is a Cabaret & MONEY with Joel Grey...WHY? Why not LOOKS LIKE A TON OF FUN!

Taffi Rosen - official website

Photos © by Taffi Rosen

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