Photojournalist Lonnie Schlein worked as a photo editor at The New York Times for over 35 years, including a tenure as photo editor of the newspaper’s “A Nation Challenged” section in the months following the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Now, the former photo editor resides in Cuddebackville, New York with his family and photographs heartbreaking social issues on volunteer trips around the world. Schlein’s work is taking center stage in this month’s exhibition at Roost Studios in New Paltz, with a little help from art students at SUNY New Paltz.
At a gallery talk on Saturday, Feb. 19, Schlein shared the story of his illustrious career at The Times. According to the photojournalist, his love of photography started at a young age. At the newspaper, he started as a “copy boy,” running copy from desk to desk, and worked his way up to photo editor of the newspaper’s Metro section. Just one day after coming home from vacation to his new position at The Times, two planes struck the Twin Towers in New York … and the rest is history.
“How do you prepare for something like that?” Schlein asked the audience. “No one can. It was my first day on the job, really.”
Schlein and his team worked tirelessly to photograph the aftermath of the terrible event. He led a team of 12 photojournalists, whose work landed them a Pulitzer Prize, he said.
Throughout the rest of his tenure at the newspaper, Schlein directed photographers and shot some of his own work. In 2004, he made his way out of the newspaper world. Now, he works with UBELONG, an international volunteer organization that brings photojournalists around the world to document some of the world’s worst modern-day atrocities, like human trafficking in Africa or copper mining in Peru. Schlein also works as a consultant for the Amsterdam Film School, which will soon become the Amsterdam Media Academy, he said.
For this month’s photography exhibition, the folks at Roost reached out to professor Daniel Belasco’s fall 2016 Museum Studies class at SUNY New Paltz. Each student in the course chose one of Schlein’s photographs from a selection of 30 or so of his works and researched the historical context of the image. The students then condensed their research into 100-word narratives, which were hung below Schlein’s colorful, evocative photographs in the gallery. Schlein was impressed with the work and dedication of Belasco’s students.
“I was sort of overwhelmed with this experience,” he said. “What these students did in 100 words … it was really amazing.”
According to art educator Marcy Bernstein, president and director of Roost Studios, the brunt of the prep work for Schlein’s exhibition fell in the hands of third-year art education major Cheyenne Rossler. When the team at Roost reached out to Belasco and his students for help writing labels with historical context for Schlein’s work, Rossler jumped on board to spearhead the collaboration and organize the show.
David Wilkes, vice president and director of Roost Studios alongside Bernstein, shared his personal connection to Schlein. Wilkes knew Schlein personally during his post at The Times, he said, and the duo has traveled together on photojournalism trips abroad in Africa.
“It’s a privilege as a Roost director to have the opportunity to bring Lonnie’s personal work to our local community, especially to connect him as a mentor to college students at SUNY New Paltz,” Wilkes said.
Roost Studios is a not-for-profit organization started by Bernstein in 2016. Its origin was the “silver lining” of an awful point on Bernstein’s life, she explained: almost two years ago, she suffered severe injuries in an accident and was unable to continue her work as an art teacher. She used the free time she had in the recovery process to actualize her dream of creating an art gallery and shared space to unify members of the local community. Members of Roost’s collective pay dues that keep the gallery afloat, Bernstein said, and the well-lit, studio-style gallery space has truly become something of a community fixture.
The team at Roost hosts all sorts of events, ranging from Tai Chi classes to movie screenings. They’ve even opened up their gallery to submissions from up-and-coming artists for their Rising Artists exhibition, opening Thursday, March 9.
Schlein’s exhibition opened on Thursday, Feb. 9 and will run until Sunday, March 5. The gallery at Roost Studios, located at 62 Main St. in New Paltz, is open Thursdays through Sundays. For hours and more information about Schlein’s exhibition or upcoming events at Roost Studios, visit roostcoop.org.