New York/Twin Towers

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Borden Avenue, Queens — © Brian Rose (digital camera)

Several months ago I spotted a 9/11 mural in an obscure location underneath the Long Island Expressway in Queens. I was driving back from one of my son’s baseball tournaments on Long Island. It took me a while to get back there — in fact, re-finding it was a difficult. But thanks to Google maps I was able to track down the spot.

Using an app on my phone called Helios, I was able to determine exactly what time the light would be best on the mural. So, I went out early in the morning with my view camera, and walked about 15 minutes from the closest station on the #7 line in Long Island City. I couldn’t quite make out the signature at the base of the mural, painted on the side of an auto body shop in this gritty industrial part of Queens. Trucks thundered by as I set up my 4×5 camera under the elevated LIE. (The image above was taken with my digital camera.)

Although I have been calling my World Trade Center book project complete for some time, this seemed like a worthwhile addition to the series. A ghostlike rendering of the Twin Towers surrounded by calligraphic tags. The inscription says: “Dedicated to all the victims of September 11, 2001.” There are, or were, many such murals around the city, but they are gradually fading away.

It’s time to get this book published.

New York/Philip Glass/Suzanne Vega

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Philip Glass, Suzanne Vega, and Anton Sanko, 1989 — © Brian Rose

I heard recently from a friend looking for a photograph I had taken years ago during a recording session with Suzanne Vega. So, I dug back into my archive, found the film, and began scanning the negatives. I remember that it was difficult lighting, and I didn’t want to use flash in the studio. So, it’s grainy film pushed in processing to get a little more speed out of it.

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Anton Sanko and Philip Glass, 1989 — © Brian Rose

It was the end of 1989, and she was working on her third album, which would be called “Days of Open Hand.” One of the songs, “50/50 Chance,” included a string arrangement by Philip Glass. Present in the studio were Glass, Vega, producer Anton Sanko, and a string quartet.

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Suzanne Vega, 1989 — © Brian Rose

Stephen Holden of the New York Times later wrote:

This song about an attempted suicide, a pop-minimalist answer to a Sylvia Plath poem, has a simple, lovely string arrangement by Philip Glass that underscores the sparseness of Ms. Vega’s language. It also sets off the emotional flatness of her vibratoless singing, which maintains a deadpan objectivity even in the words ”I love you.”

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Brian Rose, 1989 — © Suzanne Vega

At one point I handed the camera to Suzanne, and she took the photo above. Here is the finished song from the album:

New York/Williamsburg

Williamsburg 2011-2015. Four photographs made on the same corner — N 6th Street and Bedford Avenue.  The wall painting changes frequently, every couple of weeks, and life passes by — people dance, compose poetry, make music, and otherwise maintain the cool vibe. But watch out for the baby strollers.

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Atlanta/Coca-Cola

I’m a little slow keeping up with things — one day in Atlanta, the next in New York, two days later in Amsterdam. So, let me finish my Atlanta trip with a few pictures and observations.

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High Museum with Roy Lichtenstein’s “House” — © Brian Rose

While the rest of my son’s baseball team hung out in the pool of their hotel, my son Brendan and I took the Marta train to the High Museum in Atlanta. It’s a wonderful museum with brilliant architecture by Richard Meier. The permanent collection is excellent for a regional museum, and the Alex Katz exhibition of the artist’s less appreciated landscape work, was revelatory.

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1915 Coca-Cola bottle

Atlanta, being the home of the Coca-Cola corporation, the Coke logo is ubiquitous, and the High Museum had mounted a large exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the iconic Coke bottle. The show included different artists’ takes on the bottle, but also many who incorporated the actual bottle into their work. There was a whole gallery of images by well-known photographers, particularly those attuned to the vernacular, like Walker Evans and southerner William Christenberry. At the center of the show was a gallery of Andy Warhol works all featuring the Coke bottle. I was especially interested (and amused) by several short films featuring former Velvet Underground musicians Lou Reed and Nico taking swigs from Coke bottles.

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Andy Warhol film and bottles — © Brian Rose

A few days later we visited Cartersville to the northwest of the city, a small town that survived the Civil War mostly intact. We were there looking for a place to eat after one of my son’s tournament baseball games, and despite the preponderance of Chick-fil-A’s and other fast food chains in the suburbs of Atlanta, we did very well all week at local restaurants. Special kudos to Gumbeaux in Douglasville, Georgia, which offered Cajun food that was both delicious and cheap.

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First Coca-Cola wall sign from 1894, Cartersville, Georgia — © Brian Rose

In Cartersville we found a wall painted with a retro-looking Coca-Cola logo that turned out to be the first such mural — painted back in 1894 — of course, restored over the years. We also saw Confederate flags, another historic logo, in the suburbs of Atlanta, usually flying from the backs of pick-up trucks. It had only been a few weeks since the Confederate Battle Flag was removed from the South Carolina capital grounds a few hours away in Columbia, and the issue remains raw. My guess is that most white Georgians feel ambiguous about the flag, and while some may regret its new pariah status, they are also not eager to align themselves with the guys parading it around on pick-up trucks in the parking lot of the Cartersville Walmart, which happened a short time before our visit.

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Stone Mountain, Georgia — © Brian Rose

Atlanta is a sophisticated city with a large black population, and to my eyes, one of the most integrated places I’ve experienced. So, the brazen flaunting of racist symbols — like the Confederate Flag — was hard for me to make sense of. On the last day of our visit, Brendan and I drove out to Stone Mountain to see the giant bas-relief sculptures of Confederate heroes carved into the sheer granite wall of the mountain. We listened to an audio description of the carving, which referred to Robert E. Lee as one of South’s most beloved leaders. Like the city of Atlanta itself, there were African Americans everywhere, visitors as well as employees, I recalled Martin Luther King Jr.’s words “let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!” and once again it was all difficult for me to compute

jesusaves.Stone Mountain, Georgia — © Brian Rose

Finally, as we were leaving the commercialized them park at the base of the mountain, I snapped a picture of a kiosk selling religious t-shirts and knick knacks. On one of the t-shirts were printed the words: JESUSAVES. And above it: “est. 1776.” Anecdotal evidence of the common conflation of a particular brand of Christianity with the founding of America itself, it’s not unlike the way in which Coca-Cola as a brand, and a logo, has become synonymous with U.S. and its values.

And so ends our visit to Atlanta.

 

Atlanta/Baseball

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Bats and balls — © Brian Rose

More than 300 teams (with parents) have descended upon the Atlanta area for one of the major baseball travel team events of the year. The Gothams, my son’s team, alas, will not advance to the playoffs, but has performed well at times against some of the best teams in the country.

Atlanta/Two Aspects

My son and I are in Atlanta for a baseball tournament. Many of the best travel teams for 16 and under have gathered here for what is billed as the national championship. We’ve done okay, but will definitely not be winning the tournament.

I’ve never been to Atlanta before, though I have family roots in the area (see my recent post about the Confederate Flag). As a New Yorker, it is difficult to comprehend cities like this that are so dependent on the car for just about everything. The traffic is daunting, the summer heat punishing, but people are friendly, and as one gets around and sees things, it becomes a more comprehensible, even livable place.

Here are two aspects of Atlanta — anecdotal — but representative of the extreme contrasts evident throughout.

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Buckhead, Atlanta — © Brian Rose

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Grant Park, Atlanta — © Brian Rose

New York/Stars and Bars

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Jefferson Davis grave, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, the one time colonial capital, and now restored town. It’s a place steeped in history, a place that played an important role in the founding of the United States, and I lived just a few miles away from Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. My ancestors can be traced back to the south side of the James River, and at least one Rose came aboard one of the first ships to Jamestown. Not far away is Yorktown, where the last major battle of the Revolutionary War took place, and it appears that my great, great, great — I’m not sure how many great — grandfather fought and died in that war.

On my mother’s side of the family, I have equally deep American roots. The Berryhills emigrated from Scotland to North Carolina, and some of them headed south to Georgia, marrying into the Creek Indian tribe, which was driven west in the “Trail of Tears.” Despite this Native American heritage, my Berryhill line was clearly white, though my sister and I used to joke when we were kids, that we had slightly asiatic features. That was long before we had any idea that there might be a reason.

Some time before the Trail of Tears, my family traveled from Georgia to Mississippi and settled in the area around Jackson, named for President Andrew Jackson, who, ironically, is responsible for vanquishing the Creek Indians from their homeland. My ancestor Alexander Berryhill was a corporal in the Confederate Army and died in the battle of Vicksburg. His grandson eventually made his way to Richmond, Virginia, and finally to Portsmouth, Virginia, where I was born.

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Berryhill marker, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Growing up in Virginia the symbols of the old South were ubiquitous, and I was accustomed to seeing the Confederate flag displayed, sometimes in official settings, but more often in an ad hoc fashion, as a statement I usually associated with red neck no-nothingism, or a solidarity with suspect southern values, one of which was racism. On the other hand, I knew a number of people who participated in Civil War battle reenactments in which the flag was integral, and although it isn’t my kind of thing, I’ve always understood the way in which both sides in the “War Between the States” were given equal respect. That was what I grew up with correct or not — that Robert E. Lee surrendered with honor at Appomattox — that the South may have been wrong, but it is our heritage, and is part of the history of who we are as a nation today.

So, I am a descendant of families that came to Jamestown, fought and died in the Revolution, married into the Creek Indians, and fought and died in the Civil War. My father once told me that my grandfather was a Republican, which was the party of Lincoln in the old South, and he said that he woke one night to the spectacle of a cross being burned in the front yard. I left the South to make my home in the Yankee city of New York, and lived for 15 years in Amsterdam, among the people who founded that city, New Amsterdam..

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Jefferson Davis and Confederate flags, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
© Brian Rose

Recently, I returned to Richmond for a funeral in Hollywood Cemetery, the gravesite of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy, and the burial ground for 18,000 Confederate soldiers. There were visitors to Davis’s monument, tourists, or perhaps, those who venerated what he represented — I don’t know. And there were Confederate flags. Seeing the flags sent a chill through me on that already cold November day. The Stars and Bars as historical object is one thing, but when flown, (with a calculated impunity) is something else.

Let us remember those who died, right or wrong, in the Civil War. Let us show respect for that history as we seek to learn from it. But it is long past time for the Confederate Flag to fly over any capital in any state, and it is time to acknowledge, finally, that what is a symbol of heritage to some, is clearly a symbol of hatred to others. And as such, should be relegated to museums and text books once and for all.

New York/TSA

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On the floor of the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport — © Brian Rose

I recently traveled to Virginia for a family visit, and I brought along some of my work to show a former high school classmate, who is an avid photo collector. But it seems that he was not the only one eager to check out my portfolio. At least the TSA was kind enough to retape the box of prints. I hope they enjoyed the photographs.

New York/Co-op City

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Co-op City behind Harry Truman high school  in the Bronx — © Brian Rose

In many ways it’s a forbidding place, Co-op City behind Harry Truman high school in the Bronx. Tall housing blocks sprouting from nondescript parkland. The school is an architectural horror from the 1960s, and the housing towers are not much better. Co-op City may be home to tens of thousands, but to me it all feels cold and dehumanizing.

Nevertheless, as my son’s baseball game came to a close, a freshening breeze swept away the day’s clammy humidity, the sun broke through, and this place — so desolated much of the time — took on a certain presence — call it beauty, perhaps — in the fading sunlight as coaches and players drifted off the field.

New York/Letter to Attorney General

Following up on my recent post about the situation at Cooper Union, I drafted a letter to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on behalf of the Cooper Union Alumni Association expressing our support for his ongoing investigation of the college’s board of trustees and administration. Additionally, the letter makes an appeal for the AG to intervene to save the school. It calls for the removal of the current president and the replacement of certain members of the board of trustees. and it calls for a return to tuition free education, the cornerstone of Peter Cooper’s mission as stated in the charter of 1859..

The proposed letter was first presented on the Save Cooper Union Facebook page, and was then submitted to the Cooper Union Alumni Council, which made various improvements to the original. After extensive discussion, the council voted overwhelmingly in favor of sending the letter to the Attorney General. We now await his action.

The final text is below. An easier to read version is also available here.

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New York/Whitney Museum

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The Whitney Museum from the High Line — © Brian Rose

Yesterday on the High Line, a beautiful evening. The Whitney Museum, just opened, an odd jumble of forms and outcroppings, industrial, metallic, not quite elegant, but a strong presence from this angle.