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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Read the whole review here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Checkpoint Charlie — © Brian Rose
Wall hysteria at Checkpoint Charlie. Here we are 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the interest — the obsession — with the wall is stronger than ever. “The Berlin Wall, See it Here.” A large drum-like structure contains some sort of multi-media wall experience. I didn’t’ go in.
The Brandenburg Gate — © Brian Rose
A blue sky scrim in front of the gate with the globes of the “light border” running across the stage. After several cloudy days, the real sky mimicked the artificial sky, or vice versa. TV cameras were in position, music stages prepared for bands and orchestras, grandstands were erected for VIPs.
Niederkirchnerstrasse — © Brian Rose
Before the light globes were inflated, the stands were placed along the path of the former wall, with plastic bags over the LED lights that illuminated the balloons once they were mounted. A Dutch bike was parked against a street pole. An ad for a Walker Evans exhibition stood at right. On the billboard across the street, a thank you to world leaders, notably Mikhail Gorbachev, stood next to a McDonald’s ad.
Niederkirchnerstrasse (detail) — © Brian Rose
1-2-3 Cheese! Danke! Spasibo! Thank You! Gorbachev, a hero here in Germany, gets top billing. George Bush (the father) is off to the side.
Arcadia shopping mall, Potsdamer Platz — © Brian Rose
An jarringly incongruous exhibition in the Arkade shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz featured freshly made border signs.
Arcadia shopping mall — © Brian Rose
A kitschy mock-up of a guard tower stood in the center of the mall while very real, riveting, historic images of the Berlin wall being built played on a video screen.
Potsdamer Platz rail station — © Brian Rose
A snow slide in Potsdamer Platz mounted directly along the former trace of the Berlin wall. Throughout my trip, moments of dignity and gravitas were offset by moments of commercial crassness. Potsdamer Platz is a business and shopping center, but it’s only two blocks from the Holocaust memorial, two blocks from the site of the Nazi Gestapo headquarters, and one block from Hitler’s bunker. Shopping is one thing — over the top Time Square style advertising is another.
Signs mounted along the path through the former no man’s land along Bernauer Strasse. When the wall first went up in 1961, it began as concrete blocks topped with barbed wire. Neighbors could still call out to one another over the wall. Here you can see them standing on ladders or climbing on street poles. The provisional nature of the wall gradually gave way to standardized system that was effective and deadly.
When I began photographing the wall in 1985, it seemed that it was forever. But I had my doubts. It wasn’t that I could see obvious changes on the borderline, but having traveled to the east side a number of times, I came to realize that East Germany — indeed the whole communist/soviet project was held together with brutal force and an inordinate amount of duct tape and chewing gum. I couldn’t understand why the American government couldn’t see that as well. And above all, as the 80s wore on, the push back from citizens of the East — from to shipbuilders of Poland to the students in East Berlin’s Prenzlauerberg (where this photo was taken) became more and more intense.
Nevertheless, in 1987 the New York Times editorial page insisted that the division of Germany was just “a part of the furniture” of the global balance of power. I took issue with that, and my letter to the editor was published with a wonderful accompanying cartoon from the illustrator Suter.
The wall came down two years later.
Some 8,000 illuminated balloons mark the line of the former Berlin wall as it snaked through the center of the city. Here the “light border” passes over a foot bridge above train tracks heading toward the Fernsehturm (TV tower) in the distance. On the evening of November 9th, the balloons will be released into the air.
The wall once ran directly through Potsdamer Platz, and now a double row of cobblestones marks the trace of the outer wall through the mostly paved square. A series of wall slabs with exhibition photos and text in between are placed directly on the former borderline.
The blue boxes have something to do with the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down. I’ve seen them in various locations. I suspect they’ll be stacked up and toppled.
After the wall came down Potsdamer Platz was recreated almost from scratch. Very few buildings had survived the war or the post war demolition in the border zone. Important planners and architects were brought in to make it, once again, a focal point of commercial and cultural life of the city. Commercial tawdriness has taken over to a great extent.
Topography of Terror — © Brian Rose
A short distance from Potsdamer Platz is the Topography of Terror, the former site of the Nazi SS and Gestapo headquarters. A long stretch of the Berlin wall still stands just above the excavated cellar walls of the Gestapo building. In the rear is the former Luftwaffe (air force) building.
The exhibition building, designed by Ursula Wilms, is a simple modern box with a steel mesh skin. At dusk, the lights inside can be seen through the mesh. Much of the site is covered in a grey gravel. To the left is the former Europahaus, one of the few buildings near Potsdamer Platz that survived Allied bombing, and one of the first modern high rise buildings in Berlin. To the right is Martin Gropius-Bau, a museum, that is currently exhibiting the photographs of Walker Evans.
Bornholmer Strasse, Berlin — © Brian Rose
My first day in Berlin in five years. I am here for the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin wall. I am adding to a project that began in 1985 when I traveled across Europe photographing the Iron Curtain including Berlin.
Much building has occurred in the open areas that comprised the no man’s land between the double walls that ran through the city dividing it and surrounding what was once known as West Berlin. But even now, over 60 years since World War II, and 25 years since the wall came down, Berlin still exhibits scars and wasteland. It is, however, a greatly transformed place.
The Berlin wall, physically, is mostly gone. There are strips of it here and there, now landmarked, after years of a greater desire to see it gone. But the wall exists more vividly than ever in the imagination and in history, which is always present in this city haunted by the past like no other.
I made my first photographic venture yesterday going to Bornholmer Strasse, a place I had never photographed before, the location of the first border checkpoint to open in the evening of November 9th 1989 when thousands flooded across, there and shortly after, at other crossing points.
There is a monument to that event just across the bridge that crosses the railroad tracks where the border checkpoint used to stand. Large black and white photographs show the crowds of East Germans rushing across into West Berlin. Some of the wall still stands here. Not the outer wall that faced West Berlin, but part of the inner wall on the east side next to the border checkpoint.
From there I went two S-Bahn stops away to Bernauer Strasse, the location of the main Berlin wall monument. It extends for several blocks and includes sections of the original wall as well as visual interpretations such as the row of steel rods seen above. There are large images fixed to the plaster walls of apartment buildings — blank walls created when residents were evicted and buildings torn down to create a wider and more enforceable no man’s land. In the early days of the wall, Bernauer Strasse was the scene of many dramatic escapes as people leapt from windows that overlooked the west, and many were killed or injured.
There were many visitors to the memorial when I was there, and a motorcade of unidentified men in suits toured the grounds with police and bodyguards hovering around. Today, the S-Bahn drivers are going on strike for part of the day, and will operate fewer trains than normal throughout the week. This will potentially disrupt the festivities planned around the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down — a moment commemorating national unity and the ongoing fight for human rights — and I’m guessing their action will not be much appreciated by anyone.
Professional photographer hard at work. Leaving this evening for Berlin to photograph the wall that no longer exists — that came down 25 years ago on November 9th. Will be using view camera and film rather than iPhone.
My 15 year old son Brendan had a school photography assignment to do this weekend — to make pictures of his family. When given the option to take painting or drawing, or architectural rendering, Brendan thought it would be “easier” to take photography, given that’s what his father does. We had a little time Saturday afternoon to take pictures before guests came over for dinner. So, Brendan and I walked around the Williamsburg waterfront together taking turns shooting with my Sigma DP 1.
Brendan wanted to take off the cuff pictures of me walking around, and we did some of those. But one of my favorites is something in between. Despite all the development in this part of Williamsburg, there are still desolate areas — some fenced in industrial sites — that will not be there long. I stopped along a chain link fence with the skyline behind me. The light was beautiful.
Here’s Brendan’s photo of me:
And finally, a snapshot I did looking, more or less, in the other direction.
Metamorphosis is on sale at the Friends of the High Line shop, both online and at their outdoor kiosk. Today, I did a quick box count of my inventory, and determined that I have 475 books left out of 1,000 printed. Over 50% sold since the book was released at the beginning of June.