Around 1992, I was recording songs for a possible album — Suzanne Vega was producing. We needed a portrait for PR. I wanted something strong, without artifice, something like a picture I had seen of one of my writer heroes Raymond Carver. So, we went to the source, the great Marion Ettlinger. I went to her studio downtown. No lights, no props, black and white film, salt and pepper hair.
Atlantic City is complete. The pictures are sequenced, the quotes and comments finalized, and the essay by Paul Goldberger written.
Trump, for all intents and purposes, milked Atlantic City, and left it even poorer and more troubled than he had found it. The dream that casino gambling would turn Atlantic City into Las Vegas was never realistic in the first place, of course, and so it cannot be said that it was destroyed entirely by Donald Trump. But Trump saw a city down on its luck and did all he could to exploit it, and to take more out of it than he put into it.
The city is now as bleak as ever, as Brian Rose’s magnificent photographs show us. Indeed, it is bleakness that is the constant theme of these images, a sense of emptiness and an utter lack of urbanity.
— Paul Goldberger
Everything now goes to the printer, and we should have books in January or February. You can pre-order Atlantic City now, and these sales directly offset the cost of producing the book. So, please consider purchasing.
Thoughts on hearing of the death of Robert Venturi.
When I think about my early influences as a young photographer, I always return to the fact that I was an urban design major at the University of Virginia in the early ‘70s. I left the field to go to art school, but my path as a photographer has always circled back to that original interest – a fascination with the built environment.
Planners and architects want order, by and large, and great buildings often stand apart from the riff raff of the visual turmoil of the city. I was torn between the ideas of order and chaos in photography. I wanted both. I wanted formally rigorous photographs, but I also wanted to include the random detritus of urban life. I struggled with this dichotomy at first, but eventually came to celebrate it.
At some point during the ‘70s I came across Complexity and Contradiction in Architectureby Robert Venturi, and subsequently, Learning from Las Vegas by Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Complexity and Contradiction called for a more inclusive way of looking at architecture, and Learning from Las Vegas expanded on the idea that vernacular architecture was a legitimate expression of the world we lived in, and should be embraced, not denigrated.
It was an easy jump for me to apply these ideas to photography, and I was certainly not the only photographer inspired by Venturi and Scott Brown’s writing. Although I loved the elegantly minimalist work of artists like Donald Judd and Agnes Martin, I found that the more reductive photographs became, the less they interested me — the less they seemed to utilize the descriptive power of the medium. As Venturi wrote: “I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non sequitur and proclaim the duality.”
In 1975 Venturi commission Stephen Shore to make photographs for an upcoming exhibition at the Renwick Gallery in Washginton, D.C. called Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City. It was a match made in heaven: Shore’s omnivorous eye and Venturi/Scott Brown’s inclusive architectural philosophy. Shore said later, “I traveled from Los Angeles to New York and photographed along the way, keeping in mind a list of different kinds of architecture that Scott Brown and Venturi had given me.”
In 1975 I was in Baltimore studying photography, and although I was unaware of the show at the Renwick, I did discover the work of Stephen Shore along with the color photographs of William Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz. They are each very different artists, but all share an interest in giving expression to the commonplace – the world as we find it.
Aaron Betsky, the architectural critic, recently wrote:
Toward the end of Complexity and Contradiction, Venturi quoted art historian August Heckscher when he said that he wanted a “unity which ‘maintains, but only just maintains, a control over the clashing elements which compose it. Chaos is very near; its nearness, but its avoidance, gives … force.’ ” He then ends the book with a call for us to look at the “everyday landscape, vulgar and disdained,” to inspire “architecture as an urbanistic whole.”
Photography has been connected to architecture and the urban landscape from the very beginning – from Niépce’s first fleeting image of buildings outside his window – to Atget, Abbott, and Evans. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s ideas about landscape and architecture have inspired, directly or indirectly, a whole generation of photographers. We have all absorbed their method of keen, but non-judgmental, observation, whether we’ve thought about it or not. We take it for granted, a fact that illustrates the depth and breadth of what Venturi called his “gentle manifesto.”
An interview I did with Hannah Frishberg of 6sqft, a website about New York City urbanism, real estate, and architecture. It focuses on Metamorphosis, my book about the Meatpacking District, includes comments about my Lower East Side and World Trade Center work, and touches on my recent photographs of Atlantic City.
For those of you who missed my Kickstarter campaign, I am taking pre-orders for Atlantic City. Please consider buying now, not just to save a little money, but because it helps directly in defraying production costs.
Atlantic City is very close to completion, and I”m really excited about how it is turning out. I’ve often used personal commentary in support of my pictures, but this time I bring in carefully selected external quotes. Text has been used, of course, in other photo books, Atlantic City extends the concept in a way that I haven’t seen before.
A few loose ends from the last day or two of our vacation to Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We walked to Springers Point, a nature preserve on the Pamlico Sound, and along the way we encountered the sign above. We did not see any slow children, but we kept an eye out for them.
Springers Point is the highest spot on the barrier island of Ocracoke and features a well-maintained nature trail that leads to a small beach on the sound. Someone left a cooler with bottles of water next to the trailhead — $1 each on the honor system.
The Coastal Trust website says: “This tranquil Preserve was opened to the public on May 20, 2006 and encompasses more than 120 acres of maritime forest, tidal red cedar forest, salt marsh, wet grasslands and sound front beach. You’ll pass ancient, gnarled live oaks as you make your way along winding trails to the sandy beach overlooking the infamous Teach’s Hole.” Teach was Blackbeard, the pirate, and his hole was where he hid out from the Colonial navy. They got him eventually, and beheaded him right there on Ocracoke.
On the beach, we encountered a pelican, which came right up, and was apparently unamused by the fact that we had nothing to offer in the way of food. Being a dutiful photographer, I stepped back and documented the attack of the angry pelican. Just in case you’re concerned, Brendan and Renee survived unscathed.
As someone who loves going barefoot, Ocracoke is great. You can go anywhere and do anything shoeless. But every now and then the sandy soil gives way to gravel parking lots. This stuff should be illegal.
There are a lot of good restaurants in Ocracoke, but we’ve come to the conclusion that the simpler the better. Sitting outside in the evening having steamed shrimp with a beer is the way to go. And the local 1718 craft beer is terrific. That didn’t exist, of course, on our previous trips to Ocracoke. And another place that did not exist, Eduardo’s, a taco truck next to the Variety Store, has the greatest seafood tacos ever. No lie.
The best place to watch the sun go down over Silver Lake, Ocracoke’s harbor, is from the Jolly Roger dock. About 20 or 25 people gathered when I was there. We had a week of almost perfect weather — a few stray showers here and there — but mostly sunny, breezy, with almost no mosquitos or flies, which we’ve encountered in the past.
Leaving Ocracoke we drove north up the Outer Banks to Norfolk — about four and half hours — where we flew back to New York. In the airport there was a painting of the battleship USS Wisconsin.
From high up in the tower of the former life-saving station. Perfect weather, about 85 degrees with a steady breeze, which made the bug spray we had brought along unnecessary. The landscape in the abandoned village was part wild, part tended, with grassy pathways and wooden bridges between the various structures. We didn’t see anyone else there besides our party of four.
On vacation on Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We took a boat trip across the inlet to Portsmouth island. Portsmouth was once an occupied village of 500 people, but life on a constantly shifting sandbar proved unsustainable. Today, there is a scattering of empty houses, a church, post office, and lifesaving station. The National Park Service maintains the remnants of the village.
What follows is a series of images taken on Portsmouth Island, a spare landscape,
Atlantic City Steel Pier — © Brian Rose
Monday night I reached my goal, though you may have noticed it was a bit of a nail biter. Several pledges came in during the last couple of hours and I made it over. One large one came from an unknown pledger who has backed hundreds of Kickstarter projects. Another came from a friend — thanks Bill.
Anyone experienced with Kickstarter knows, however, that you have to have plan B ready if it appears you’re going to fall short. The last thing you want is to lose all the money pledged in the campaign, and at the same time, let everyone down who made a commitment to your project. So you need a friend or relative standing by with credit card in hand able and willing to make a last minute pledge just large enough to make sure your goal is reached.
Nevertheless, only 36% of Kickstarter campaigns are successfully funded. Having now completed four campaigns, the only thing I can figure is that many people far underestimate their ability to generate interest in their projects, or they set an unrealistic goal.
One thing you learn in utilizing crowd funding, is that it’s not just about raising money. Obviously, that is the critical task at hand, but what you are seeking, ultimately, is to build a community of support for your work. I’m speaking about creative projects as opposed to the many product-oriented campaigns you’ll also see on Kickstarter.
In my case, of course, there is a product — a book — and a story. In making the pictures for Atlantic City, I worked from a sense of urgency, a highly motivated response to what I saw as an existential emergency in the election of Donald Trump.
I believe we will prevail, but it will take all of us acting individually and collectively to turn things around. I still remember when I was 16, and had just gotten my first camera, that I wanted to change the world, and I believed, perhaps naively, that you could do that as a photographer.
All these years later, I understand quite well the limitations of art in the political sphere. But I also understand the power of art as a catalytic agent, whether pursued by an individual painter alone in a studio, or a photographer engaged in the social landscape.
Thank you all for your support and for your pledges. The next step is to finalize the design of the book and then put it into production. I am hoping to get it out as early as possible after the new year. I’ll be keeping you up to date along the way.
Coming down to the last couple of days of my Atlantic City Kickstarter campaign, I came to the conclusion that I’d cajoled and pestered everyone pretty much to the limit, and it was time to let this thing ride out on its own. So, rather than sit staring at the Kickstarter campaign pledge graph on my computer, I decided to make a drive down to Atlantic City to visit Levi Fox and his pop-up Trump museum.
The Trump Museum, Levi Fox (left) and Brian Rose (right) — © Renee Schoonbeek
I knew about Fox from a couple of articles I’d found while researching Trump and Atlantic City, and I knew he was setting up his display in front of the now abandoned Trump Plaza on the boardwalk. It was a blisteringly hot Sunday in August, and everyone was heading to the shore. So, sitting in traffic to and from the beach actually consumed more of the day than the time I spent in Atlantic City.
I found Levi and his card table museum without any difficulty. A woman was talking to him and said that someone should take a pictures of all the former Trump casinos and say, this was Trump’s, and this one was once Trump’s. At that precise moment I stepped up and said, that’s what I’ve done, and I handed her a copy of my book dummy.
I introduced myself to Levi Fox, and he showed me the artifacts and tchotchkes that comprise his Trump museum. He carefully unwrapped a Trump bobblehead doll, and unfurled a Trump Taj Mahal bath towel and a bathrobe with a golden Trump logo. Levi is both museum director and carnival barker as he calls out to passersby to step right up and see his Trump objets d’art. Bigger than anything in his collection is the museum sign itself that says “The (Pop-Up) Atlantic City Trump Museum” on one side, and “The (Pop-Up) Atlantic City Anti-Trump Museum” on the other side.
Step right up — © Brian Rose
In addition to manning his pop-up museum Levi Fox gives tours of Trumpian Atlantic City, and he teaches history and writing at the local university. Watching him at work on the boardwalk, his affably puckish demeanor spurred impromptu conversations with a wide array of people, and virtually everyone had an opinion about the recently departed king of Atlantic City. He is now, of course, king of the United States of America.
Trump Plaza, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose
Trump’s businesses in Atlantic City filed for bankruptcy five times.
#1: The Trump Taj Mahal, 1991
#2: Trump Castle, 1992
#3: Trump Plaza and Casino, 1992
#4: Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts, 2004
#5: Trump Entertainment Resorts, 2009
On the presidential campaign trail Trump boasted of his ‘success’ in Atlantic City, how he had outwitted Wall Street and leveraged his own name for riches. He would do for America what he had done for Atlantic City, he said. And so it came to be. Brian Rose has documented what remains of the city in the aftermath of the casino explosion. The images are haunting. Atlantic City may never recover. — Paul Goldberger
Self portrait in a convex mirror
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes
– John Ashberry
Tech II (Meister Hall), The Bronx, designed by Marcel Breuer — © Brian Rose
A little commentary on making a photograph. A few days ago, I wrote about visiting the Bronx Community College campus — originally New York University. In the ’60s the campus was transformed by Bauhaus trained architect Marcel Breuer.
This amazing view of Meister Hall was made with my pocket camera, a Sony RX100, which shoots RAW and produces 20 megapixel image files. It’s been my visual note taker, preview camera when shooting 4×5 negative, and all round backup. Pictures from this camera have even been used in my books, and most of the images in this blog were made with it.
So how does a tiny camera make a photograph with this kind of clarity and monumentality? First of all, it helps that the Sony is a brilliant camera, but you can’t just point up at a building like this and expect to make a fully realized architectural photograph. Here’s how it was done.
Since it was not possible to get the whole rectangle of the building into the frame of the camera even using the widest focal length, I made multiple images — two verticals left and right, and one horizontal that included some of the plaza. I opened each image in Photoshop in camera raw, adjusted the exposure and color — made them low contrast — and saved them. I then roughly corrected the perspective of each of the images so that the lines were not converging. I then used photomerge, a feature in Photoshop that stitches together overlapping frames to form a single image. From there I fine tuned the perspective of the overall image, and cropped out empty areas left when the three frames were merged. Finally, I worked on the color and contrast of the image. It all took two or three hours. The stitched together image file is about 250MB.
Most of the time it isn’t necessary to do something this elaborate. None of the other pictures I took walking around the campus needed that kind of treatment. But sometimes there’s no other way.
Two weeks ago I visited Bronx Community College, originally the uptown campus of New York University. The main quad is anchored by a symmetrical grouping of neoclassical buildings by Stanford White, the designer of many New York buildings from the turn of the 19th century including the now demolished Penn Station. Behind White’s Gould Library is the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, which I wrote about in a recent post.
In 1956, NYU hired Marcel Breuer to create a new masterplan for their University Heights campus. Breuer, a Bauhaus trained architect, who left Nazi Germany in the 30s, worked in a style now called Brutalism. The name came from the French, beton brut, which refers to raw concrete. At NYU, he combined expressive form with utilitarian bands of bricks and glass, and throughout, there are low stone walls, not unlike those used in local farmer’s fields.
After visiting the Hall of Fame, we first encountered a classroom building with a swooping concrete entrance canopy, similar to Breuer’s UNESCO headquarters in Paris. I climbed the hill adjacent, topped with a decrepit war memorial — utterly neglected. Dozens of window air conditioners disrupted what was once a clean uninterrupted composition.
Walking past this building we arrived at terrace with a low horizontal building and freestanding trapezoidal structure known as Begrisch Hall. It contains an auditorium, which is accessible by a pedestrian bridge. The streaking in the concrete above is not intentional — the entire complex is in shamefully bad condition.
Begrisch Hall has been named an official city landmark, but as far as I know, not the entire ensemble of buildings. As I walked on further, I became more and more astonished and dismayed. It was like stumbling upon a lost archaeological site, crumbling, yet mostly intact. Of course, it is right here in the Bronx, perched high up over the Harlem River, chosen because of its prominent location.
Completed University Heights campus. “Now, the University will no longer be hidden under a bushel, but will be set on a hill-top and there will be not the slightest doubt as to its existence in the mind of anyone who passes University Heights.”
– University Quarterly magazine, 1894
But NYU at University Heights did not become another Columbia or Fordham University flourishing outside the center of Manhattan. Lehman College to the north, however, which also has two Breuer buildings, remains a thriving campus.
And then around the corner, another amazing sight. Two bridges supported by concrete pillars lead to a slightly curved dormitory building, set down the slope of the hillside. No air conditioners here, but there are vents in the brick banding, and the window glass and mullions seem heavier than what was likely there originally.
Marcel Breuer — © Brian Rose
From here we walked back to the quad and stood opposite Meister Hall, which we had passed by on our way to the Hall of Fame. All four walls of the quad have been completed with the recent addition of a library designed by Robert Stern. It attempts to bridge the gap between Stanford White’s Pantheon-inspired Gould Library and Breuer’s vigorously modern Meister Hall — and in doing so it falls somewhere, or nowhere, in between.
Tech II (Meister Hall), Marcel Breuer — © Brian Rose
Meister Hall was originally named Tech II, and in 1970 it was the last of the Breuer buildings to be completed on the campus. It housed the university engineering and science departments. There is a clear distinction between the elevator and stair towers with yellow brick matching the earlier campus buildings. Along the street a low structure is raised up on concrete feet with the main body of the building set a distance behind. Between the two structures was a courtyard with paving stones. It all felt very European to me — France, or perhaps, Italy.
As someone who has photographed New York extensively in all five boroughs, I know the city better than most, and its urban landscape continues to provide fresh surprises. But nothing prepared me for the visual drama of what came into view around the back of Meister Hall.
A vast wall of indented concrete panels rose up above a minimalist plaza — windowless — extreme — an uncompromising expression of space and material and nothing else — an opening in the base, the only sign that there is anything habitable behind this eyeless facade. Several interlocking pavilions stood on the plaza with cracked concrete slabs beneath them, like fallen columns.
What can I say. I teared up. Stanford White built his Pantheon echoing Thomas Jefferson on one side of the University Heights quad. Marcel Breuer erected his Parthenon, his Greek temple, on the other side — modernism and classicism melded together as pure sculpture and image.
This, I believe, may be the greatest architectural statement in all New York.
It was the summer and few students were around. There were no other visitors.