Thomas Roma

Twice the recipient of Guggenheim Fellowships (1982 and 1991) and a New York State Council for the Arts Fellowship (1973), Roma's work has appeared in one-person and group exhibitions internationally, including one-person shows with accompanying books at the Museum of Modern Art NY and the International Center of Photography. In 2003 he received a New York City Council Proclamation for contributions to the cultural and educational life of New York City and in 2011 the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

He has published fifteenn monographs including: Come Sunday (with an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.), Found in Brooklyn (with an introduction by Dr. Robert Coles), Sunset Park, Higher Ground (with an introduction by Ian Frazier), Enduring Justice (with an introduction by Norman Mailer), Show & Tell, Sanctuary (with and introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.), Sicilian Passage, In Prison Air (with an introduction by John Szarkowski), On Three Pillars (with text by Phillip Lopate), House Calls with William Carlos Williams, MD (with an accompanying text by Dr. Robert Coles), Dear Knights and Dark Horses (with an introduction by Alec Wilkinson), The Waters of Our Time (with a collaborative text by his son, Giancarlo T. Roma), In the Vale of Cashmere (with an introduction by G. Winston James) and most recently (2016) Plato’s Dogs (with an introduction by Giancarlo T. Roma).

In 2010, the Wallach Gallery at Columbia University exhibited his work and published Pictures for Books, a catalogue including work from four of his series. The show traveled to Tulane University’s Newcomb Gallery in New Orleans in 2011.

He has taught photography since 1983 at Yale, Fordham, Cooper Union, and The School of Visual Arts and in 1996 became the Director of the Photography Program at Columbia University School of the Arts where he is a Professor of Art. His work is in numerous collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal. He was also a founding contributing photographer to DoubleTake Magazine. 



Those who have tired of the unspoiled villages of Vermont, and have found Santa Fe too much like Manhattan, and Positano cloying, will perhaps now migrate to beautiful Brooklyn, where—on the evidence of Tom Roma’s pictures—the light comes down with such sweet sympathy that asphalt shingles and cyclone fences are shown to be as fine as marble, and where the weeds in vacant lots make us think of Eden.

                     - John Szarkowski, Director Emeritus, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, NY,  for Found In Brooklyn

Mr. Roma’s work is about describing unprepossessing materials beautifully, in the manner of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, and most immediately, Lee Friedlander.

                   - Andy Grunberg, The New York Times for Found In Brooklyn

These powerful portraits disclose a depth of black humanity and dignity rarely seen in white America—black minds, bodies, and souls in quest for spiritual meaning within sacred ritual.

                   - Cornel West, for Come Sunday

Come Sunday is an extraordinary exploration of an aspect of American “inwardness” by a distinguished photographer—one of our very best—whose moral sensibility informs his brilliantly suggestive, lyrical, and knowing visual narrative.

                   - Robert Coles, for Come Sunday

Here a camera becomes an instrument of a sharply knowing lyrical poetry that draws its moral energy from a late-twentieth-century urban scene; and here, as a consequence, a poignant vitality, an unassuming humanity, are respectfully rendered, rescued from the flow life’s events. 

                   - Robert Coles, for Sunset Park

The pictures contained in this book are made in and around the elevated train that runs through the heart of Brooklyn, like a vein in a living body. Thomas Roma has elected to follow these lines to acknowledge the people who travel them, going to the beach at Coney Island or coming home from work, marking their journey next to the vacant lots and ruined trees and along the simple frame houses in the early evening light. These pictures are as sensitive to their subjects as, and certainly akin to Helen Levitt’s depictions of the uncommon beauty of mundane experiences.

                  - Sandra S. Phillips, Senior Curator, San Francisco Museum of Art, for Higher Ground

Thomas Roma’s Higher Ground consists of intimate portraits of the passengers on Brooklyn’s elevated trains, passengers variously lost in reverie, locked in fantasies, suspended animatedly between destinations. These brilliant photographs, capturing the dialectic between desire and disappointment, anxiety and comfort, ultimately remind us of our own continuous rites of passage as human beings. Roma’s photographs are truly saving graces. Higher Ground embodies the quality of Roma’s genius and the depth of his soul.

                 - Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Afro-American Studies, Harvard University for Higher Ground

These photographs have the atmosphere of travel documents from the age of explorers, when people went places for the first tie and saw things that no one they iknew had seen before. Certainly no figure in the lives of the men and women and children shown here ever looked so carefully at them—they have been overlooked possibly all their lives and grown accustomed to it—until Tom Roma took their photographs in a public hallway in a municipal building and made them into unforgettable images radiant with the holy glow of despair.

                 - Alec Wilkinson, writer, for Enduring Justice

The hallways and lobbies of a New York City criminal courthouses are not like other places. In most buildings, people pass through crisply on their way somewhere. In these corridors they only wait—wait for adjourned court appointments, wait for a tardy witness, wait while their lawyers confer with the judge or DA—endlessly wait. And what they wait for fills them with dread, anger, sadness, shame, resentment, self-loathing, self-pity, self-doubt, or premonitions of endless loneliness. Smiles are not often seen; laughter is rarely heard; eyes most often are expressionless. Tom Roma’s camera sees all this—the grimy plaster corridors, the rancid smells, the gloomy, down-and-out dullness in the eyes, the pervasive absence of hope.

                 - Judge Pierre N. Leval, United States Court of Appeals, For Enduring Justice

What an extra-special collaboration: son and father introducing us to their pictureneighborhood!! Bravo to both!!

                 - Fred Rogers, Creator and Host Mister Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS, for Show & Tell

Tom Roma’s pictures of churches in Brooklyn are so good: so understanding of the comfort they afford and the central role they place in the poorest communities—even more than in more affluent neighborhoods. Roma’s photographs convey this without the sentimentality of special pleading; instead, they are modest and eloquent.

                  - Sandra S. Phillips, Senior Curator, San Francisco Museum of Art, for Sanctuary

The buildings we build are the embodiment of our aspirations and our achievements. Above all, they express our values. They describe how we co-exist with others and, in the case of churches, how we co-exist with God and aspire to transcendence. Making a place for God, whether on the walls of doomed buildings or within steepled churches, is the subject of Thomas Roma’s seemingly effortless study. He shows us that the place for God is anywhere within the tangled web of commerce, desire, domesticity and failure invisibly woven into our urban landscape. 

                 - Susan Kismaric, Curator, The Museum of Modern Art, NY, for Sanctuary

Thomas Roma’s striking photographs evoke one of the most magical aspects of Sicily: the way that it is possible to travel, in just a few kilometers, and even fewer hours, through centuries of a proud and heroic history.

                 - Francine Prose, author, for Sicilian Passage

Italian Americans are tied to their ancestral homeland. In this book of glorious photographs, acclaimed photographer Thomas Roma shows why.

                 - Gay Talese, author, for Sicilian Passage

This book is a timeless view into a landscape and its people. Thomas Roma’s eloquent photographs of Sicily are like beautiful poems about a land that he loves.

                 - Mary Ellen Mark, photographer, for Sicilian Passage

In this remarkable book, a renowned author and an acclaimed photographer capture the essence and rhythm of William Carlos Williams, the great physician-poet. Coles’ knowing text and Roma’s exquisite black-and-white photographs contribute to the sense of dignity and respect that Williams brought to a medical life where universal truths grew out of humble acts of kindness.

                 - Kevin Cahill, MD, for House Calls with William Carlos Williams, MD

With poignancy of heart and visual precision, this splendid book reminds us that the beauty we need in our lives is closer than we may have thought. Thomas Roma and Robert Coles take us through the landscape the cityscape, of one of American’s finest poets, William Carlos Williams.

                 - Emmet Gowin, photographer, for House Calls with William Carlos Williams, MD

When my own father, a general practitioner, was in his nineties, we implored him to take it easy – at least to give up making house calls. He conceded that he would work a little less—but he would give up everything except house calls. This was the essence of his practice, as it was for William Carlos Williams – to see patients at home, with their families, in their communities, and to treat them as full human beings. Robert Coles, himself a great literary physician, understands this keenly and writes about it eloquently. Interweaving past and present, medicine and poetry, Coles’ text with Thomas Roma’s sensitive photographs, House Calls is a moving and fitting tribute to one of our greatest poet-doctors.

                 - Oliver Sacks, MD, for House Calls with William Carlos Williams, MD

This small, powerful book of photographs pairs children’s fantasies of bravery, freedom, and power with the harsh realities of vulnerable, posturing soldiers at the edge of a terrible future. Dear Knights and Dark Horses is a call to consciousness about the realities of war and, like a short, sharp poem, a lament for last dreams.

                 - Susan Kismaric, Curator, The Museum of Modern Art, NY, for Dear Knights and Dark Horses

Thomas Roma’s Dear Knights and Dark Horses takes us right into the armory as citizen-soldiers of the Army National Guard prepare to deploy to Iraq. Their duffel bags and rucksacks are packed, filled with gear. The vehicles stand ready. And at the same time, coin-operated pony rides wait riderless in Brooklyn, their bodies frozen in flight. The ponies exist in a landscape that appears to have grown beyond them – just as the soldiers prepare to leave all they have called home. This is a subtle, nuanced collection of images that offers us its contemplation. What do we leave behind, as a nation, when we prepare for war?

                 - Brian Turner, Author of Here Bullet, for Dear Knights and Dark Horses

©Lee Friedlander

©Lee Friedlander