New York/MIT Museum Interview

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In front of Delancey Street photo, MIT Museum

The exhibition I am a part of at the MIT Museum (Photographing Places: The photographers of Places Journal, 1987-2009) includes interviews with the various photographers, which can be listened to through headphones at audio stations in the gallery. The interviews are broken up into short thematic bites.

My interview was done live over the internet with some editing done later. It’s fairly spontaneous commentary about my thinking and way of working. When I refer to “my book,” I’m talking about Time and Space on the Lower East Side, which is now sold out. And when I refer to “Cervin,” i’m talking about Cervin Robinson who was a consulting editor to the original Places magazine — an architectural photographer — and author of Architecture Transformed: A History of the Photography of Buildings from 1839 to the Present.

Here are the clips:
 
The Lower East Side project:

 
 

New York/WTC

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Behind the Colgate clock, Jersey City, New Jersey (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a book about the World Trade Center for some time. Just before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I came to the realization that I had in my archive a remarkable series of pictures — made at different times in different formats — that focused on the Twin Towers as a presence ( and absence) on the New York skyline. It was too late to produce a book in conjunction with the anniversary, but I began putting together a dummy based on what I had. And at the same time I continued to make photographs that showed the emergence of the new Trade Center, specifically One WTC, now completed, which stands as tall as the former Twin Towers.

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Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

None of my Twin Towers photographs were ever primarily about the buildings themselves, but rather they were urban landscapes that included the towers as architectural signposts. As the new tower of One WTC rose to fill the hole in the sky left by the destruction of 9/11, I chose to treat it the same way, as part of something, as opposed to an object all by itself. Nevertheless, I did not feel that I had one singular image (or a few) that adequately described the new tower as a prominent architectural expression.

So, when the weather broke earlier in the week, soaring into the 50s, I dashed out with my 4×5 view camera and spent a day stalking One WTC from various vantage points in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Jersey City. Three days later, I’m still a bit sore from the exertion, but it was a great day, and I’m pleased with what I came up with.

There remain many unanswered questions about One WTC. Does it command the skyline as powerfully as the Twin Towers did? Does the design make the kind of iconic statement that many wanted from it? What does it mean to people across the political spectrum — some still insist on calling it “Freedom Tower.” And was it necessary to build it at all? My book will not settle any controversies about the new building, but ending the narrative with several strong images of the tower seemed a necessity in bringing the story around full circle.

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Fulton Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

There was a time during the 20th century when the skyline of lower Manhattan had an almost romantic storybook aspect. It was defined by a number of thin towers with spires like the neo-gothic Woolworth Building from 1913 and later, the Art Deco styled Cities Service Building. The first significant disruption to the stalagmite look of lower Manhattan was the Chase Manhattan Bank building, a modernist slab uncomfortably inserted among its svelte neighbors. The building itself, arguably, is one of the best early modernist office towers in Manhattan, but it began a trend of ever bulkier boxes that eventually obscured many of Manhattan’s most iconic skyscrapers.

Nevertheless, when the Twin Towers went up in 1974 they dominated the skyline in almost every direction. When I did my pictures of lower Manhattan in the early 80s they were ubiquitous, poking up and between other buildings, visible from a million different vantage points. It helped, of course, that there were two of them, and the vertical pin striping of the skin — the vulnerable exo-skeletons of the towers — seemed always to lead the eye upward.

One World Trade Center, despite its height, seems lost in the crowd much of the time. And while the Twin Towers often visually lined up with the erratic street grid of downtown Manhattan, the new tower seems rarely to do so. One exception, is Fulton Street where I photographed it juxtaposed with a richly articulated cast iron building from more than a hundred years ago. And as before with the Twin Towers, One WTC appears at its most commanding from across the Hudson in New Jersey.

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Fulton Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is ongoing, and construction will dominate the area for years. But several WTC towers have been completed, and Santiago Calatrava’s winged transportation center is getting closer to taking flight. The memorial fountains and the 9/11 Museum, most of which is underground, will not be a part of my narrative, which is focused on the skyline of New York, its mythic nature, and its more workaday reality as seen from the ground — on the street — the democratic commons of New York.

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One WTC entrance — © Brian Rose

There is no doubt, however, in the post-9/11 political climate, that the democratic commons is under assault. The Trade Center site crawls with police officers and other agents of what is now painfully called Homeland Security. And various private security guards hover about at the ready to correct the wayward tourist or local who finds him or herself caught in the blurring confusion between public and private property. These zones of ambiguity are multiplying around the city, not just at the World Trade Center.

The photograph above shows the entrance to One World Trade Center, a strangely beautiful, but chilling place — the glinting sunlight reflected onto the street, the regimented rows of steel bollards, the striping of the colored glass behind the revolving doors, the solitary black-suited sentinel awaiting anyone brave enough to step forward with the idea of entering this silent fortress.

 

MIT Museum/Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Exhibition entrance with wall-size print of Delancey Street 1980

A few weeks ago, an exhibition opened at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Photographing Places: The Photographs of Places Journal, 1997-2009. Places Journal was originally a print magazine dealing with issues relating to architecture and urbanism. Each issue featured an extended photo essay centered on a particular location. In 2004, just after I had begun re-photographing the Lower East Side I was asked to contribute to the magazine. I was approached by Cervin Robinson, the architectural photographer, who was a contributing editor to the magazine. Cervin is also the author of a Architecture Transformed: A History of the Photography of Buildings from 1839 to the Present. I knew Cervin from all the way back in 1980 when I first exhibited by photographs of the Lower East Side. Cervin was for me, and many other photographers, a mentor and great friend. I’ve written about Cervin here and here.

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Blow up of a Places Journal cover by Joel Sternfeld — © Brian Rose

I traveled up to Cambridge with my wife to attend a reception for the exhibition, which included four of my photographs, one of which was printed wall-size at the entryway to the show. The exhibition, curated by Gary Van Zante of the MIT Museum, features the work of about a 20 photographers whose images ran in the print version of Places. Places still exists, by the way, as a multi-dimensional website, and still presents photo essays focused on the built environment.

Almost a third of the photographers in the show were present at the reception, which was great. A couple of us had barely made it on time because of snow-delayed trains coming up from New York. I had very nice chats with Kate Milford, who was showing her photographs of downtown Brooklyn, and Lyle Gomes, who had photographed the landscape of the Presidio (former military base, now park) in San Francisco. I also spoke with Lisa Silvestri who has photographed post Katrina New Orleans. And best of all, the ageless Cervin Robinson was present.

Inside the door of the exhibition there is a blow-up of a cover of the former magazine with an image of the High Line by Joel Sternfeld in its former wild state. And two more images from that series are in the show.

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Lower East Side images — © Brian Rose

Above are my prints in the show — two from 1980 done by me and Edward Fausty working together, and two from 2004 when I had just begun re-photographing the Lower East Side. This is the work that eventually comprised Time and Space on the Lower East Side, my now sold-out book. It was in Places Journal before anywhere else.

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Brian Rose in front of Delancey Street 1980

Here I am standing in front of Delancey Street 1980 at the entrance to the exhibition. I knew that my image was going to be used big, but I didn’t realize it would be this big. Pretty cool! The next day my wife and I walked all the way from MIT to the Back Bay station in Boston through the frozen snow clogged streets. Spring is just around the corner.


New York/Blue Dress

Like practically everyone in the world attached to the internet, I’ve been perplexed by the conundrum of the blue and black (or white and gold) dress. No, I can’t solve the puzzle, nor explain things from a scientific perspective. However, the subjective nature of color is something I am acutely aware of — it can be baffling when you discover that an image you’ve worked on assiduously one day, looks wrong when you come back to it the next day. There is no doubt a psychological component to the perception of color.

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Original photograph

So, the dress. My son showed it to me first, and I saw it immediately as blue and black, which, it turns out, are the actual colors of the physical dress. However, my son and my wife both saw the dress as white and gold. We did not have a family meltdown, but the discussion was lively. Since then, I’ve read a number of articles explaining the phenomenon. But none of them, Wired and Scientific American included, are correct.

Process of elimination. Scientific American seems to think it has to do with all the different screens and devices with widely varied color balances. That’s pretty easy to shoot down when you have, as in our case, three family members all looking at the same screen and two seeing a different color dress. It’s not the screen.

Wired seems to think it has to do with color constancy and they provide a couple of examples of how the brain is fooled into seeing colors differently based on context. A simple example is shown below. The center blue squares appear different because of the lighter or darker blues surrounding them. The problem with this explanation is that almost everyone sees this phenomenon the same way — unlike the dress where people see two widely divergent color schemes. It’s not color constancy.

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Example of color constancy

Some people have written about the bright background fooling the eye in some way, so I cropped out the background and showed it to my white and gold family members. They still saw white and gold. It was not the background.


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Background fill using Photoshop sample of the blue of the dress

I then selected the blue of the dress in Photoshop and replaced the background with that blue. See above. Some experts have suggested that different people have different numbers of blue sensitive cones in their eyes and therefore are better able to distinguish blue. My wife and son now saw a white and gold dress against a blue background! It’s not the cones.

My son suggested that we print the images on paper and compare them with viewing on a backlit and luminous computer screen. I printed the original image and my blue background image, and my family still saw the dress as white and gold. Again, it has nothing to do with the screen.


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Setting white point of the image to the blue of the dress

I then opened “curves” in Photoshop and designated the blue of the dress as the white point of the image. Presto! The dress became white and the black trim became gold. But the blue background also became close to white. My family was seeing a white and gold dress on a very blue background. Mmm. I had been thinking that it had to do with a different perception of color balance, but that should affect the blue throughout the image, not just the dress. It is not just white point and color balance.

Clearly, the white/gold phenomenon is occurring only with the dress itself. It’s a low contrast image, hazy, with muddied and mottled blacks and a relatively unsaturated blue color. There’s a warmish light hitting the dress, which further distorts the color relationships. And the blue and black of the dress are not solid RGB color like my Photoshop background. My son, however, says he sees a cooler. bluish light hitting the dress, while I see a warmer light coming from the right, particularly visible in the blacks. There’s obviously some kind of psychophysical aspect to what is going on.

That’s as far as I can go with it. As Republicans are fond of saying when challenged on the veracity of global warming, “I’m not a scientist.” I am convinced, however, that what we are seeing here is explainable, but perhaps falling into an area of visual perception not well understood. Certainly, the answers offered so far by the experts miss the mark.

Now enough about the damn dress!

 

 

 

 

New York/Central Park

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The Great Lawn, Central Park — © Brian Rose

Frozen New York, 2 degrees fahrenheit this morning. Walked through the park in the afternoon. Almost no one around. Peaceful. Quiet.

The thin building at center left is 432 Park Avenue, the 15th tallest in the world. And tallest in New York if measured by roof height. One WTC’s spire is taller.

My slide talk at the library three days ago went well. Over a hundred people showed up despite several inches of snow earlier in the day. Sold some books, met some interesting people, had a great time.

New York/Library Talk

nypl-announcement

I will be doing a slide talk at the New York Public Library Mid-Manhattan branch on Tuesday, February 17 at 6:30pm. I’ve done two programs there before — one on my Lower East Side photos, and one on my World Trade Center pictures. It’s free, and everyone is invited. Hope to see you there.

Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1980 + 2013
with Brian Rose, Photographer

Mid-Manhattan Library
Tuesday, February 17, 2015, 6:30 p.m.
455 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY, 10016
(212) 340-0863

 

 

New York/Meatpacking District

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Washington Street and W12th, 1985 — © Brian Rose

After finishing up my Meatpacking book, Metamorphosis, I somehow discovered the negative for the image above in another mystery box in my archive, too late for the book. It’s a view down Washington Street looking toward the Twin Towers and shows how the High Line used to go further south passing through Westbeth, the commercial complex repurposed as artists’ housing in 1970.

The building in the foreground with the Victor Auto Service sign is now the restaurant Barbuto, and the red house to the left contains Tortilla Flats, the Mexican restaurant. At some point after this photograph was taken, three blocks of the High Line were torn down between Gansevoort Street and W12th. The vacant lot under the High Line in the picture now contains an apartment building and garden entryway. See below.

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It took a good while for me to get around to scanning and working up this image. These old negatives are difficult to color correct, and the image above represents probably six hours of careful coaxing in Photoshop. It’s mostly open shade, and strongly backlit, which makes it all the more problematic.

So, It didn’t make it to Metamorphosis, but it will be perfect for WTC, my next book, about the World Trade Center.

New York/Berlin

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Lichtgrenze (border of light) in Mauerpark  — © Brian Rose

It has taken a while to scan my Berlin negatives from last November. I was there on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the wall, November 9, 1989, to be exact. The first couple of days were dark and grey, typical for the season in that part of the world. And then I had two days of sun. The image above shows the installation of inflated balloons that formed the LIchtgrenze (border of light) that marked the trace of the former wall through the city. At night, LED lights mounted in the balloon bases, made them glow. During the day, they appeared like a string of pearls stretching across the cityscape.

I shot about 70 sheets of film in the four days leading up to the 25th anniversary, and scanned about 2/3 of them. I think there are about 15 images that are keepers. Working up the scans in Photoshop is time consuming. They are large files — about 500 MBs each — and the level of detail that I bring to coaxing the right look and feel out of the negatives is substantial. It’s relatively easy to color correct globally, but to get everything singing in an image can take hours. And something that looks great one day, can look drastically different the next. Such is the subjective nature of color.

These are the first of the 4×5 scans completed. You’ve seen some of these images before, but those were actually taken with my point and shoot, usually held on top of my view camera.

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Footbridge with LIchtgrenze — © Brian Rose

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Reichstag and other government buildings on the Spree — © Brian Rose

This was a carefully set up shot on a promenade along the Spree, the river that wanders through the center of Berlin. The domed building in the rear is the Reichstag. I felt that I needed something like this — a visual coda, a bit of photographic bravura, for my project that began almost 30 years ago.

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Bernauer Strasse display — © Brian Rose

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Berlin Wall exhibition in Arkade shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz — © Brian Rose

The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall was, of course, a moment both celebratory and reflective. Much damage was done by the division of the city and the Cold War division of Europe in general. People were killed attempting to escape the communist east. Life ambitions were curbed by repression. On the one hand, the reunification of the country meant that the democratic west with all its creative opportunities prevailed, but on the other hand, its crass excesses overwhelmed the more sober lifestyle of the east. And so here we are presented with the perfect dialectical complexity of contemporary Germany. An exhibition about the wall with fake artifacts, a kitschy reconstruction of a guard tower (a real one can be found 500 meters away), juxtaposed with riveting footage of the wall being built in 1961 and people making desperate dashes for freedom. All of it packaged and on display in the Arkade shopping mall in Potsdamer Platz.

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Topography of Terror site and former Luftwaffe Headquarters — © Brian Rose

A few blocks away from the commercialism of Potsdamer Platz one finds the Topography of Terror — the exposed foundations of the Nazi Gestapo/SS headquarters, a preserved strip of the Berlin wall, and the former headquarters of the Nazi air force. The visual compression of history here is profound.

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Wall remnant near the Nordbahnhof — © Brian Rose

There are only a few stretches of the inner wall that still exist — the easily recognized graffitied concrete slabs with the pipe along the top. People were eager to see it all hauled away after its opening in 1989. People now wish they had kept more of it. But there are many lengths of outer wall that can be found around the city especially along rail yards and abandoned industrial areas. Most people don’t even realize that these are remnants of the double walls that surrounded West Berlin.

Stay tuned for more photographs.

New York/Cooper Square

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Cooper Square, New York — © Brian Rose

As Cooper Square gets a makeover, and Cooper Union “reinvents” itself — students entering the school now pay tuition for the first time since 1859 — Peter Cooper sits protected, for his own good we are told, in a box at the center of the square.

Some of us still hold out hope, that when Peter emerges from his plywood prison, his pioneering school will have returned to the mission he set out for it: tuition free, open to all, at the pinnacle of higher education in America.

That hope now rests primarily on a lawsuit brought against the Board of Trustees of Cooper Union accusing them of violating the school’s charter and squandering its resources. We wait — alumni and friends — with mounting anticipation for a positive decision from the judge of the New York State Supreme Court.

Please visit the website of the Committee to Save Cooper Union to learn more.

 

New York/Williamsburg

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Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

JE SUIS CHARLIE.

Well, actually a more nuanced perspective. This is something I posted today on the blog Daily Kos as a reply to a diary writer who does not support the kind of provocative satire practiced by Charlie Hebdo. The full discussion is here.

Theo van Gogh

I am coming to the discussion rather late, but want to add some thoughts about another similar incident in the Netherlands, where I lived for 15 years. Some years ago, the columnist/TV personality Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist. Van Gogh was well known for his provocative statements about Islam and just about everything, and he collaborated with Ayan Hirsi Ali on a film that attacked Muslim persecution of women. But it was, in my view, a recklessly inflammatory film.

I considered Van Gogh an odious person, even though there was truth to some of what he had to say. He poured gasoline onto the fire, and didn’t seem to care about the consequences.

However, when he was attacked and stabbed to death in the street in Amsterdam, I was left with no choice in the end, but to side with those who defended Van Gogh’s right to live and to speak out. The attack on him was an attack on all of us. As is the case with the attacks in Paris.

So, while I sympathize with the points made in this diary — and I do not endorse many of the cartoons in question — I have to say, in the end, “Je suis Charlie.”

Sat Jan 10, 2015 at 09:56:43 AM PST

 

New York/Photo-Eye Review

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Photo-Eye Review of Metamorphosis

It is hard to get real reviews of photo books or exhibitions. Most articles tend to be a rephrasing of press materials. And I’ve done lots of interviews for blogs and websites. I’m grateful for all of it, of course, but an actual critique — a thoughtfully considered assessment of one’s work — is particularly appreciated when it happens. So, I’m especially happy to receive such a review from Photo-Eye, the online photography book clearinghouse and shop.

Here are the closing lines of the review:

Meatpacking District joins those contemporary re-photography projects that share a calculated return to prior subject matter, to reexamine, reframe or tap into the power of comparison. Unlike some re-photography that addresses socio-political concerns, Rose assumes a rather neutral position in his written statement on the Meatpacking District’s metamorphosis; acknowledging both loss and renewal. Much re-photography is also tied to nostalgia. While Rose has no personal ties to the Meatpacking District per se, his return to New York after years abroad, and revisiting of past work and prior haunts, pushes back against his stated neutrality.

Color plays a striking role in the conceptual tone of this work. A gray winter’s day creates a past-tense palette in the 1985 work, whereas the temperate brightness of the 2013 helps to push us forward in time. The latter images defy a perceived patina of age, teetering on the line between vibrant and garish, new and unseasoned. The re-photography premise doesn’t always hold up individual images of varying strength and interest here, yet collectively these photographs offer much food for thought. The notion of absence informs a tour through this place’s industrial past
and adoption by a marginalized culture, thriving, yet hidden, then routed out and dying off, and its eventual rebirth as a sanitized, spotlight destination of see and be seen.

—KAREN JENKINS

Read the whole review here.

New York/Meatpacking District

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Tenth Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets — © Brian Rose

A recent 4×5 film photograph of the Meatpacking District with the High Line and new retail space below. The previous techie gas station, which was also tucked under the rail viaduct, was great, but unfortunately, I do not have a photo for comparison. I think this is supposed to be “moderne.” But who knows.

 

New York/Staten Island

All eyes are on Staten Island. A grand jury there failed to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed African American, using an illegal chokehold. I have no words to add to the anguish being expressed all over this city. Let me instead share some images, and tell some stories about New York’s strangest borough. A place I would describe as Lynchian, or Hopperesque — the actor, not the painter.

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Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

I once took my family hiking in the expansive forest parks of Staten Island. We were following a series of poorly marked trails and soon found ourselves lost — or at least going in circles — lost in a dense forest in the middle of New York City. We walked for what seemed like hours before finally stumbling out of the woods onto a suburban style street with single family homes, men washing their cars in driveways, kids riding bikes, and lawnmowers droning in the background. It was as if we had stepped into a movie set. People stared.

We had no idea where we were, but thanks to an iPhone with GPS we were able to locate ourselves and re-enter the forest with the hopes of reaching our original destination. We ended up tired and dirty in a strange zone of urban abandonment, where unused highway ramps and bridges dissolved into the woods and tangled undergrowth. It was, I discovered later, a forgotten project of planner Robert Moses — another of his schemes to turn New York into a web of freeways — parks and neighborhoods be damned. For once, he was stopped. But his ruins remain.

si_002Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

Years before, when I was still a student, I visited Staten Island with some music friends. We took the ferry, a bus, and walked a mile, to a small house near a marshy area called Lemon Creek. I brought my 35mm camera and shot slides of the area, a netherworld of tumbledown shacks, factory buildings, and boats up on blocks. It felt like places I’d been to in the south, where someone might smother you with hospitality or, if you got unlucky, shoot you for trespassing. You never knew what to expect. Fortunately, we were guests.

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Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

We were there on a weekend afternoon, and our hosts were the smothering with hospitality kind, though they had guns just in case, and were eager to show us their basement, which was filled with whips and chains, and various torture implements. At some point I broke away from things, went outside, and took pictures of the house and the surrounding landscape. As I walked around and the light began to fade, things began to turn spooky — at least in my head still thinking of our hosts’ dungeon — and I took a series of photographs that I would describe — all these years later — as chilling.

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The house with dungeon — © Brian Rose 1979

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Abandoned factory and rutted pathway — © Brian Rose 1979

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Overturned car — © Brian Rose 1979

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A log, moved (how and why?), and my shadow — © Brian Rose 1979

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Beer bottles and car seats — © Brian Rose 1979

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Flesh and bones — © Brian Rose 1979

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Shards of wood, edge of forest — © Brian Rose 1979

I looked on the map to see what has happened to the area since 1979. The house is still there in all its ramshackle glory, but the big factory building — a magnificent structure — sadly has been torn down. Everything else, the wasteland where the last photos were taken, has been developed as condos.

 

New York/Freeman Alley

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Freeman Alley — © Brian Rose

Tucked inside the block behind the New Museum on the Bowery is a narrow alley that terminates in the center of the block. Access is from Rivington Street between a clothing store and a lumber yard. That’s the colliding nature of the neighborhood, which is moving upscale at a fast pace. Freeman Alley, as it is called, contains a restaurant, an art gallery, and the rear entrances to various businesses.

freemanalley_doorFreeman Alley — © Brian Rose

Not so long ago, it was a dark and fearful place just off the old Skid Row Bowery, and in fact, the Bowery Mission, which still feeds and houses the homeless, has a door onto the alley. My work space is just around the corner on Stanton Street, but two large loft buildings stand between my back windows and this inner sanctum of the block. It not a dangerous place any more, and a steady stream of diners walk through it to the restaurant Freeman’s at the end of the alley.

freemanalleyFreeman Alley — © Brian Rose

Freeman Alley has atmosphere, which is something that cannot be said about the newly cleaned up Extra Place, another mid-block alley just two blocks to the north on East 1st Street. That alley was once an equally desperate looking place just off the Bowery right behind the punk club CBGB. It was a great place to photograph your band, or perhaps, engage in other more nefarious activities.

Freeman Alley and Extra Place are two of the only alleys in Manhattan, a feature common in many cities, but almost non-existent in New York. Silicon Alley, a term used to describe the burgeoning tech industry in New York, is a misnomer.

New York/Berlin

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Lichtgrenze (light border) along the Spree with the Reichtstag and other government buildings.

I’ve just started scanning my 4×5 negatives from Berlin. So, let’s begin with the last one — the last piece of film, in fact. The light border marking the course of the former Berlin Wall followed the Spree River in the heart of Berlin 25 years after the wall came down. The Reichstag in the background.

I began this project almost 30 years ago when I made my first trip along the Iron Curtain in 1985. It may end here. with this picture.

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.
– Leonard Cohen