“He has brought to the White House the values of a failed Atlantic City casino owner turned reality TV star.”
David Ignatius, Washington Post
Mike Lupica in the Daily News:
On the eve of another anniversary of Sept. 11, terror from the sky created by madmen, it is always worth remembering that ever since that day 16 years ago, we have worried about somebody coming for us again, Al Qaeda or ISIS or the Taliban. And we have done as much as a city and country can do to make sure that does not happen. It is the storms that keep coming.
WTC — available here.
Back when I took this picture, Miami Beach was not the place it is now. The art deco hotels were shabby and low income elderly slumped on the porches and stoops along Ocean Drive. I wish I had taken pictures of the place back then, but I was only passing through.
Over the years, I made many trips to Florida to visit family. My mother lived in Hallandale Beach, just north of Miami — she is in Virginia now — and I’ve seen the extraordinary transformation of the whole area, the palisade of skyscrapers that now lines the beach for miles and miles.
My wife, Renee, and I made a wonderful trip to Key West about 20 years ago — we had a memorable romantic dinner sitting on a deck overlooking the sea as the sun went down — and we returned with our son, Brendan, a few years later. I got seasick on a glass bottomed boat, much to my son’s amusement, saw a shark and barricuda below, and survived. We also had a magical late afternoon visit to the Everglades, strolled a wooden walkway above an alligator hole teaming with so much life that it you could hear it as well as see it.
I’m expecting Hurricane Irma to do a lot of damage. Like a lot of beautiful places, no matter how civilized by man, nature remains wild and beyond our control.
It’s been a while since I last walked the High Line on Manhattan’s west side, an overly popular attraction that is often uncomfortably thronged with tourists. A rainy morning followed by cloudy skies dampened the mob mentality enough to make the walkway quite tolerable. It looked incredibly lush at the end of the summer, and the new architecture springing up alongside is impressive, even astonishing.
Perhaps the most remarkable is an apartment building by the late Zaha Hadid, which Curbed has already placed on its list of 35 most iconic New York buildings. I have always had mixed feelings about Hadid’s work — its extreme expressiveness — its rejection of rectilinear discipline — its sheer self-aggrandizing voluptuousness. But here, wedged tightly in the dense urban fabric of Chelsea, it is a wondrous outlier, an aggressive interloper in the often buttoned down conservatism of New York architecture.
A few steps uptown is Hudson Yards, a mega project exploding into the air above the Long Island Railroad train yards. Most notable are two not exactly compatible structures seen above: Vessel, an interactive sculpture by Thomas Heatherwick, and the Shed, designed by Diller Scofideo + Renfro. Having already seen renderings of Vessel, and now viewing its erection — about halfway up — I am can say with conviction that it is a horror — a series of interlocking stairs sheathed in shiny Trumpian copper emerging like an alien mushroom in the midst of the skyscraper forest.
The Shed, adjacent, is a moveable structure that rolls on tracks over the Hudson Yards plaza. It’s an ingenious and elegant design intended to create an indoor/outdoor space for performances of all kinds. I have a couple of concerns, particularly the jamming of so many structures together in such a tight space. it is visually chaotic. And conceptually, I have doubts about the overall programming. Does New York need more spaces for theatrical events as opposed to more intimate artist centered venues?
Just a few blocks away in Chelsea one finds a calmer world composed of simple shapes and subtle colors, a more modest Morandi-like still life, hushed and empty on a holiday weekend.
Jefferson Davis gravesite, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia — © Brian Rose
Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond is the final resting place of Jefferson Davis the president of the Confederacy. His statue is visited regularly, and Confederate flags are often placed around the monument. Elsewhere in the cemetery, John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, is buried. Staunchly pro slavery he aligned himself with the Confederacy. And there are 18,000 Confederate soldiers buried in the rolling hills of this hauntingly beautiful place perched above the James River. I wrote about Hollywood a few years ago here and here.
I have mixed feelings about the removal of Confederate Civil War monuments for a number of reasons that have not received much attention in the wake of the the shocking events in Charlottesville, Virginia. And I’d like to explore the subject especially with regard to Richmond, a city I know well. Although I have lived much of my life in New York City, I was born and raised in Virginia, and went to the University of Virginia for two years. My family lived briefly in Richmond, but most of my childhood was spent nearby in Williamsburg, the restored Virginia capital.
First of all, let me be clear. I do not regard Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, or any of the other Confederate leaders worthy of veneration. Whether they were brave in battle or noble in defeat makes no difference. As W.E.B. DuBois wrote about Lee in 1928: His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing–one terrible fact–militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery.
Many historians and commentators have pointed out that most of the Civil War statues were erected well after the war was over – after Reconstruction – when Jim Crow laws institutionalized segregation and the repression of African Americans. Mitch Landrieu, the mayor New Orleans, gave an eloquent speech just hours before the removal of the city’s Confederate statues pointing out the facts in a compelling manner:
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
The Henry Ward Beecher statue in downtown Brooklyn honors the leading abolitionist of his day — some called him the most famous man in America. His sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But even Beecher’s statue has a problematic element. A supplicant slave reaches up to the great man in gratitude.
While it is true that these monuments were intended to promote the myth of the Confederacy as a noble cause, they were also an expression of the Beaux Arts movement, which transformed American cities by creating broad boulevards, public parks, and grand classically inspired architecture. The Beaux Arts period, running from 1890 to 1920 corresponds almost exactly with the commissioning of Civil War monuments. In the North, most of the statues, of course, portrayed Union heroes like Ulysses S. Grant or William Tecumseh Sherman. In the South, it was Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. These statues were typically situated in prominent ceremonial places in major cities throughout the United States.
The best sculptors of the time were commissioned to produce these heroic monuments. The most prominent was Augustus St. Gaudens who created the Sherman statue at the corner of Central Park and Fifth Avenue. An angel leads the beatifically rendered Sherman on his path of destruction and victory. St. Gaudens’ masterwork is the Shaw memorial on the edge of Boston Common, completed in 1897, which depicts, in meticulous detail, Colonel Robert Shaw leading a black regiment down Beacon Street on their way to battle.
In the South, the civic goals corresponded with those in the North — to elevate public space with works of grandeur and nobility. Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy best exemplifies the city beautiful movement. A grand boulevard was envisioned west of downtown with designated sites for monuments at major cross streets. The first to be erected was an equestrian sculpture of Robert E. Lee created by the French artist Antonin Mercié, fabricated in France, and shipped to the United Sates, much like the Statue of Liberty.
Henry Shrady was the creator of the Robert E. Lee equestrian sculpture in Charlottesville. The city’s decision to remove the statue led to protest marches by hundreds of neo-Nazis carrying weapons, torches, and Confederate flags. Three deaths resulted. Shrady was also the sculptor of George Washington at Valley Forge, a powerful presence at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, New York.
The J.E.B. Stuart monument in Richmond was created by Frederick Moynihan, who produced sculptures in the North and South depicting both Union and Confederate heroes. He and other artists of Monument Avenue were American, but all studied with the leading sculptors of the time in Europe. In Charlottesville, Virginia, the now infamous Lee Statue was sculpted by Henry Shrady who also is responsible for the Grant monument directly in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. I have no idea if it mattered to Shrady which side of the “War Between the States” he was memorializing.
There were many, however, who understood what Lee represented to the dominant white society of the South. When the Lee monument was proposed in the 1890s, black members of the Richmond city council opposed it. One of them, John Mitchel, the editor of the Richmond Planet wrote: “The capital of the late Confederacy has been decorated with emblems of the ‘Lost Cause,” and the Lee statue represented a “legacy of treason and blood.”
The Grant monument on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn was designed by William Ordway Partridge who also was commissioned to create a sculpture of Pocahontas in Jamestown, Virginia. Few New Yorkers know the Grant monument, but the Pocahontas sculpture is popular, and the image of this Native American icon is a fascinating study in itself of American mythology and history.
That’s where we are today. Richmond, a greatly rejuvenated city of over 200,000 people, about evenly divided black and white, is grappling with the future of its monuments. Ten years ago the city sought to balance the story of Monument Avenue by erecting a statue of Richmond native and former tennis great Arthur Ashe. The statue is awkwardly executed, too small in scale for its site, and comes off as an add-on rather than an integral part of the avenue’s overall ensemble. Are there contemporary artists who can do life-like sculptures worthy of St. Gaudens? Should we even try?
The people of Richmond will decide for themselves what to do, but I see two possible scenarios. One is to keep the monuments, and introduce a serious and comprehensive program to provide historical context, which will require an honest appraisal of Robert E. Lee, one that sets straight the fictitious myth of the noble warrior. The other is to relocate the statues – a major task presenting its own set of quandaries – and the commissioning of new works to replace the old – installations that respect the urbanistic and historic nature of the boulevard, but address contemporary issues and new aesthetic visions.
I agree that maintaining the status quo is no longer tenable. The Confederate battle flag should certainly not be flying from public buildings, and it’s time to acknowledge that the Lost Cause of the South belongs in the dustbin of history. But if it’s possible in the heat of the moment to slow down, let’s consider the options available for our monuments, Civil War and otherwise. In many cases, these are significant works of art that reflect the rebuilding of American cities, North and South, at the beginning of the 20th Century. The wholesale removal of monuments is an erasure of history rather than an attempt to understand it and learn from it.
The principles of JEFFERSON are the definitions and axioms of free society. And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success. One dashingly calls them “glittering generalities.” Another bluntly styles them “self-evident lies.” And others insidiously argue that they apply only to “superior races.”
These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect — the supplanting the principles of free Government, and restoring those of classification, caste and legitimacy. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads plotting against the people. They are the vanguard, the sappers and miners of returning despotism. We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Thursday, April 6,1859
Trump Plaza wall — © Brian Rose
I returned to Atlantic City to continue working on my project — Atlantic City: In the Wake of Destruction Left by Donald Trump. I intended to spend part of my time on the Boardwalk, which in mid-August is filled with people and activity. But I ended up mostly on Pacific and Arctic Avenues just to the west of the beach. Even at the height of the summer, the streets were strangely quiet.
The photograph above was taken in the area adjacent to an immense outlet mall and a large fishing and camping store — efforts by the city to generate tourism and commercial activity. The former Trump Plaza stands empty, a black and white shell, its parking structure denuded of the Trump logo, though its possible to just make out the letters to the left and right of Trump’s golden crest.
Next to Trump Plaza is Caesars, a casino still doing business on the Boardwalk, Atlantic City’s homage to the Roman Forum.
Just a block or two from Caesars and Trump Plaza — the white tower in the background — it’s a different world. Junkies and alcoholics mingle on the corners while beach goers drift toward the Boardwalk carrying umbrellas and towels. The arched wall at center is the site of the former Trump’s World’s Fair, another failed casino.
A vacant building and empty lot just behind the outlet malls on Christopher Columbus Boulevard. In the distance is the Sheraton Hotel, which primarily serves the Atlantic City convention center. A man approached from a shop just to the left of the pink structure and asked what I was doing. it turned out he was the owner of the place called The Fishmarket. I explained a little about my project, and asked him whether he thought Atlantic City was coming up or going down. He gave a thumbs up, and told me that business was good. I don’t know if I share his optimism, but I felt encouraged by his attitude, nevertheless.
Just in the next block, the neighborhood of Ducktown remains largely intact with densely packed blocks of row houses. On the corner is White House Subs, which was probably not Donald Trump’s inspiration to run for the presidency. It is, however, a wonderfully funky and happening sub shop, which was packed with a diverse melange of people at lunch time.
My family came along on this trip — I deposited them on the beach while I was shooting — and we had lunch at White House Subs.
Across from me in the booth a grinning Jimmy Fallon from 10 years ago looked me in the eye holding one of White House’s classic Italian subs. Yes!
A couple of book notes. WTC, my latest book, was included in the Athens Photo Festival this summer. The selected books were placed on tables in the gallery so that viewers could pick them up and page through them. It would have been fun to go to Greece, but I’ve had a busy summer.
Athens Photo Festival
WTC is available for sale on my website. PLEASE GET YOUR COPY.
And one of my photographs has been selected for what promises to be a terrific photo book about Brooklyn. Brooklyn Photographs Now, written and edited by Marla Hamburg Kennedy features the work of well known and emerging photographers. Some of the recognizable names include Joel Sternfeld, Mitch Epstein, and Joel Meyerowitz. Lots of newcomers as well.
Brooklyn has seen exponential change over the past fifteen years, and this book presents the best work of the photographers from all over the world who have been capturing those changes and movements in cityscapes, portraits, vignettes, and process-oriented photography.
The book will be out in the Spring of 2018. You can read more about it here.
I’m just going to park these here with only a few specific comments. It’s a very quiet, very spare series of pictures. Rather than the raucous sounds of an amusement park, it feels hushed, somnolent. Rather than throngs of people crowding the rides and games, it is almost empty, desolate.
In the fourth picture, on the wall it says “Film by Ray Wisniewski.” He was an avant grade filmmaker of the ’60s and ’70s. Associated with Andy Warhol. Was I was aware of who he was? Possibly. I can’t recall.
Below, Uncle Sam says he wants you to win. See Dracula’s head chopped off. Bar & Grill. Screechy Nell and Shaggy Sam. Clams on the half shell. Corn on the cob. Spook-A-Rama menu.
Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose
The Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose
The last black and white photographs I took were in 1977 when I first came to New York. After that it has all been color — 35mm in the beginning, and 4×5 negative up until the present. I was in a hurry in those days, and just did not get around to printing the black and white I was shooting. I took a class taught by Larry Fink, who constantly told me to move in closer, and I insisted on staying back. (I love Larry Fink.)
All I remember is that I made lots of walks with my camera in downtown Manhattan, and I took the subway to far flung parts of the city. Inevitably, I ended up in Coney Island, which was a gloriously decrepit wreck of a place in the late 70s. Much of it was abandoned, though there were still rides, funhouses, cotton candy and Nathan’s hotdogs. The Cyclone and the Thunderbolt roller coasters were still running, clattering wooden structures that did not inspire confidence in their safety.
I’m not exactly sure when these pictures were made. It was obviously still warm, but the summer crowds are not present in the pictures. So, I’m guessing it was September or early October. As run down as Coney Island was, I wasn’t necessarily documenting social conditions. I had just arrived in New York, and I accepted the shabby state of things as normal. I was interested in the texture of the cityscape as raw visual material, and I carefully, albeit quickly, made rigorously formal compositions.
One of the great things about Coney Island — then and now — is the dense urban structure of it. The city streets run right to the boardwalk and beach, and there are narrow alleys and passageways. Most present day amusement parks are, not coincidentally, parks. They are built adjacent to freeways, are surrounded by huge parking lots, and feature pastoral landscapes. Coney Island is an urban playground, like Times Square, and in 1977 it had some of that same allure of sex and danger. The increasing prosperity of the city has drained some of that “authenticity” out of Coney Island, but it remains a crazy quilt of planned and spontaneous urban profusion.
From the Steeplechase Pier, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose
Coney Island boardwalk, 1977 — © Brian Rose
From the Steeplechase Pier, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose
I kind of want a larger format negative — or high resolution digital — with more detail for these images, especially the one above. But they are beautiful, nevertheless. Atmospheric tokens of another time, a young photographer finding his way in a city teetering on the edge, a wondrous rediscovery for me all these years later.
More Coney Island pictures to come.
New York, unknown location, 1977 — © Brian Rose
Although my early black and whites are without question documents of time and place, I did not, as a student, consider myself a documentary photographer. There was never any question about the goal, which was to make photographs as art. Not some hybrid mixed media animal — though I did make a painting in school where I stuck a photograph onto the canvas — but photographs pure and simple — crystallized reality, but not reality at the same time. To me, there was power in that. I still think there is power in that.
One of the basic, and profound, truths of photography is that the moment preserved, is fleeting. It seems “decisive,” to quote Cartier Bresson, but it remains fugitive, unknowable, When I look at the man above crossing the street in the fedora (they were not so common even in 1977) I cannot know what he is thinking, or where her is going, or just came from. But he strides, nevertheless, through the frame as if there is meaning. It is an awkward meaning in a slightly awkward composition, but somehow compelling, cinematic. To me. Maybe not for you. I’m keeping this one in the mix for now.
New York was a mess in 1977, and you can see it in many of these pictures — in the scraggly vegetation in the parks, the trash on the streets and sidewalks, the frayed edges of the landscape. But the photograph above was not a critique on the condition of the city. I was aware, of course, that a small tree lay uprooted in the left foreground of my picture. It’s a notation, not central to the motive for the photograph. There are two verticals — the trees — and a tangle of limbs, benches, and shadows in between. There is a perfect sunlit square hovering left of center. Several people bask in the winter light, talking, dozing.
Tudor City Place, 1977 — © Brian Rose
I wanted the camera frame to take in everything evenly — non hierarchical. This was learned from Friedlander especially, and my teacher at Cooper, Meyerowitz. Composition was not just side to side, but front to back as well. Each shot was an experiment in seeing and describing the fabric of things not necessarily the things themselves.
East 40th Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose
I look at many of the pictures I made in 1977 and wonder what the hell I was thinking. Pointing the camera at what seems like nothing. Baffling to me now.
But then — there’s the image above…
As I was scanning my 35mm black and white negatives from 1977 I came across a series of images that I could not locate in the city, at least at first. I remember roaming the five boroughs with my camera, sometimes taking the subway to the end of the line, with no particular goal in mind other than satisfying my curiosity.
Looking at the image above, I was not sure where it was — and I could not remember ever taking it. I knew it was not Manhattan because of the relatively low buildings and the fact that the street was passing underneath my position behind a balustrade and a row of telephone booths. That doesn’t happen often in Manhattan. But having spent a lot of time in the Bronx the past few years going to my son’s basketball and baseball games, I knew it had to somewhere along the Grand Concourse, the broad boulevard that runs through the center of the borough.
Bisecting the Concourse is Fordham Road, a busy shopping street that for a half mile or so defines the southern edge of the Fordham University campus. In 1977 it was a visually cacophonous place, and it still is today. The creeping blight, the fires and abandonment, of the South Bronx never made it up to Fordham Road though it threatened.
The RKO Fordham Theatre was showing Star Wars, the cultural touchstone that premiered in 1977. The theater was demolished years ago and replaced by a nondescript retail building. And back then, there were still stores that specialized in “hosiery.”
Alexander’s was a big discount department store that dominated the corner of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse. The building is still there, but divided up into smaller retail outlets. That’s a Checker Cab to the left and Ford Mustang to the right.
Hair on Face Removed Forever. We Dissolve the Roots. These buildings are still there, but the Dollar Savings Bank is now an Apple Bank, and the parapet decorations to the right have either been stripped off or are obscured by new cladding.
I was able to locate this photograph by reversing it in Photoshop and identifying the Ascot Theater across the street. It was demolished in 2016.
This one was hard to find, but I eventually located a small triangular park on Google street view at 181 Street and the Grand Concourse. It’s still scruffy looking, but there are now a half dozen trees behind the benches.
A story I’ve told many times — 40 years ago, today, i arrived in New York and found an apartment on East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue. At 9:34PM the lights went out, and I spent the night in Penn Station unable to get my train back down to Washington, D.C. where I was living at the time. It was eerie in the station, but there were cops around, and I was unaware of the riots and fires raging elsewhere. A few days later I was back to this scarred and battered city with my stuff, mostly clothes, a guitar, and photography materials.
I set up a darkroom in the bedroom of my tiny apartment, and that summer began roaming the street with a 35mm Nikkormat, mostly shooting Tri-X film.I didn’t print much of it, however, because I had already begun working in color, and I soon left black and white photography behind for good. This is the second installment of scans made from that work — most of it from 1977 and 1978. As I said in an earlier blog post, I do not remember taking any of these pictures. It’s like discovering an unknown self intently searching for a style, for a formal approach, for a subject, which to a great extent turned out to be New York City.
1977 — it was the summer of Son of Sam the serial killer, the Bronx was burning, and the Yankees won the World Series. It was my entree to a city that would become central to my life and career. In that first year or two I attended Cooper Union, wrote songs and hung out in clubs with my friends, met my musical comrades in arms, Jack Hardy and Suzanne Vega, and took a lot of photographs. In 1980 I teamed up with Ed Fausty to photograph the Lower East Side in color using a 4×5 view camera. It was an exciting time — though wistful nostalgia is tempered by the fact — which I have not forgotten — that it was also a difficult time, financially and emotionally.
Stay tuned for more pictures.
Long Beach, New York — © Brian Rose
Behind the backstop.
Adrian Jovanovic was a hero to me. He is, tragically, gone — and the Cooper community is reeling from the loss.
From the Committee to Save Cooper Union’s statement:
But it was Adrian’s creation of CSCU that channeled that broad community passion into a cogent legal argument and lawsuit that would succeed in validating the core intent of Cooper Union’s Trust, driving out managers and trustees who would not (or believed we should not) continue the fight for a free Cooper, and instituting critical board reforms and oversight. Without Adrian’s leadership, unstoppable optimism, and conviction, none of that would have been achieved.
During the heat of the battle to save Cooper Union, I frequently posted on Facebook, despairing that important information was not getting out because of ongoing litigation, gag orders, and even self-censorship. Although we were all on the same side, there were disagreements, even rancor within the ranks.
Several times, Adrian called me at night, patiently telling me what he could from his perspective on the inside as one of the petitioners in the lawsuit against the school. He was always optimistic, confident, and believed fervently that we would prevail. We did prevail — although the ultimate goal of returning to free remains elusive.
The photograph above was made during one of the high points of the past few years — we had just returned from the courthouse downtown where the Cooper Union and CSCU lawyers informed the judge of their agreement to the consent decree brokered by State Attorney General Schneiderman. It was a shining moment of triumph, and an ecstatic Adrian led the brief victory ceremony in front of 41 Cooper Square.
That unnamed building, and the onerous mortgage attached to it, has been a symbol of everything that went wrong with Cooper Union. Let’s do what my friend M’Liz Keefe suggests, and forever wipe it clean of the taint of bad history. Let’s make it the Adrian Burton Jovanovic Building.