New York/WTC

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World Trade Center construction fencing — © Brian Rose

I am now at 26% of my Kickstarter goal. On target, but only if I can keep up the same pace for the next three weeks. I don’t have any big donors to count on. This is about individuals who are willing to step up and support artists and projects they care about. Small amounts add up. Please participate at whatever level of support you are comfortable with.

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I was downtown the other day on business unrelated to my WTC book project, and snapped the image above. It’s a construction fence with a printed photograph of the skyline. In the rear are the ribs of the transportation center, which is now open to the public, although with limited access. There is only one entrance through the lobby of 4 WTC on Liberty Street.

Yesterday, a North Carolina middle school choir singing the Star Spangled Banner at the 9/11 memorial was stopped by a security guard — you are supposed to have a permit. A couple of thoughts. How strange that a school group would travel all the way to New York to sing the National Anthem — uninvited — at the 9/11 memorial. And how weird that they chose the official anthem of the United States, as opposed to, say, a hymn like America or God Bless America. Did they expect everyone to stop and pay respect to the Anthem as they sat on benches eating their lunches or crossing the plaza to get to the Path Train?

Clearly, the group from North Carolina, like many visiting the memorial, have a very different idea of the site’s meaning than those who live and work in the area. And finally, what crazy sense of duty would compel a security guard to interrupt the singing of the National Anthem on the plaza for lack of a performance permit.

We live in strange, and often, unsettling times.

New York/”Freedom Tower”

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Paul Avenue, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

Whatever happened to the Freedom Tower? That is what former Governor George Partaki called One World Trade Center when it was still an architectural concept. And if you wander through the crowds of tourists downtown, you will still hear people refer to David Child’s 1,776 foot tall skyscraper as the Freedom Tower. The Port Authority, however, abandoned that name years ago, and few New Yorkers seem inclined to use it.

One section of my forthcoming book WTC is comprised of vernacular images of the Twin Towers — posters, murals,and graffiti. And there are books and photographs for sale in the street, many of which graphically show the destruction of the Trade Center. It has been 15 years, but helped by constant visual reminders, the Twin Towers remain fixed in the mind’s eye. Images of One World Trade, however, are harder to find.

One World Trade — or Freedom Tower — was envisioned by some as a patriotic gesture, not just real estate. Some might argue that in New York City real estate and patriotism go hand in hand. Whatever the case, One World Trade Center has only slowly begun to achieve the iconic status of its progenitors, the Twin Towers. Maybe it never will. So, I was stopped in my tracks yesterday while walking through the Bronx. There on the ground was a pizza box with One World Trade and an enormous American flag printed in red white and blue. The Freedom Tower lives…perhaps.

And then in Brooklyn — there it is again —  standing tall in support of Bernie.

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North 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Please help make WTC possible by supporting my Kickstarter campaign.

New York/WTC Cover

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WTC Cover — © Brian Rose

I’ve been showing a cover mockup for WTC that has dull gray lettering — looks good, but not inspiring. Yesterday, we got the cover proof with silver foil stamped onto a matte background.  The result is, in my opinion, stunning. The letters WTC appear almost to float in air.

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Cover proof — © Brian Rose

The rear cover will have another of the images from my WTC Frieze, comprised of close-ups of the steel piping of the Twin Towers’ skin. The spine of the book will be blue — a somewhat brighter blue than shown above — as will the endpapers inside the cover. The correct blue can be seen below.

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Blue Endpapers — © Brian Rose

The final cover design is something I’ve been playing with in recent years as the overall concept of the book came together. When I would talk to publishing people, they would almost always say, it looks nice, but of course, we’ll need a regular photograph on the cover. My artist and photography friends told me to stick to my guns.

Help make that decision the right one. Please support my Kickstarter campaign.

New York/Brooklyn Bridge Park

WTC is book about the Twin Tower, their presence and absence, and about the rebuilding of the city after September 11. It is also a tribute to New Yorkers and all who carry a piece of this great city with them. It is a book that commemorates rather than exploits, a book that preserves memories, both painful and hopeful, and celebrates, however cautiously, the resilience of this city in the face of adversity.

Please make this book possible with your support on Kickstarter.

New York/Fulton Fish Market

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nder the FDR Drive, 1981 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

A photograph made underneath the FDR Drive in 1981 in the area of the Fulton Fish Market. Early in the morning the area under the highway would have been busy with trucks and all the hustle and bustle of the market. Later in the day, like in the Meatpacking District, the storefronts were shuttered and the streets relatively devoid of people. The Twin Towers loom in the distance.

This is one of the photographs in my upcoming book WTC. Please consider supporting the book on Kickstarter. Thanks.

New York/April 9

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Brian Rose in 1980 on the Lower East Side — Photo by Edward Fausty

A little indulgence on my birthday — a photograph of myself made in 1980 while doing the Lower East Side project with Edward Fausty. We were out shooting with the 4×5 view camera, and Ed took this picture. I was 25 years old. Looking very determined and focused.

WTC, my book about the World Trade Center, is now complete. It starts with pictures made when I was 22, and comes all the way up to the present. All the pieces are in place, the last being a wonderful essay written by Sean Corcoran, the photo curator of the Museum of the City of New York. I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign on April 17, which will then run about a month. Stay tuned.

Sean writes about the way in which the book came together:

Looking through his archive recently, he realized he had created something very profound and personal that he needed to assemble and share. Serving as a form of personal catharsis, Rose’s words and pictures reflect on the nature of tragedy, remembrance and resilience. He never obtained special access to photograph from particular vantage points, but rather he stood amongst New Yorkers and captured views from the sidewalks they tread every day.

New York/Williamsburg, Virginia

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Wiliamsburg, Virginia — © Brian Rose

You reach a certain age, perhaps effortlessly if you are fortunate, aware that your time is not unlimited, but there is enough to play with, to seek further satisfaction in career and family. And just as you reach this age of fulfilling potential, your sense of hard-earned equilibrium is shattered by the fact that your parents — if they have been equally fortunate — are now bumping up against doors that signal the end, yet will not open.

They find themselves stranded in the grip of infirmity and declining capacity to care for themselves. Roles are reversed — parents become children — even as they hold onto to the belief that they can fend for themselves in a world that increasingly becomes alien, even hostile, dangerous. Things can quickly spiral out of control.

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Police Headquarters, Hampton, Virginia — © Brian Rose

Such was the case with my mother. I am not going to go into detail here, but cascading events necessitated hastily arranged trips down to Virginia, visits to assisted living facilities, discussions with a lawyer, entreaties for help from friends in the community, and even meetings with police detectives. Things are stable now. It’s been an emotional time.

New York/WTC

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Proposed cover of WTC with silver/blue foil lettering — © Brian Rose

An update on my forthcoming book WTC, the completion of my New York trilogy:

This has been the most difficult book I’ve worked on. Spanning five decades, different bodies of work, different formats — 4×5 film, 35mm slides, digital. It a slice of history, both personal and public. And while the book pivots on September 11th, it is not a book about that event per se . It attempts, rather, to embody the nature of New York City; to locate the city in our shared  cultural consciousness. It is a story told not so much through my interactions with people, but through my perception of the city as architecture, street, and as a grand stage for human endeavor.

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Jersey City, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Text is integral to the book, and I’ve worked very hard to make it descriptive and poetic. The narrative  is essentially chronological, but it takes various twists and turns. Some may find these discursive elements confusing, but to me they are what makes the book conceptually more interesting and challenging. There is a cinematic logic to the flow of the narrative.

In a few weeks I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign, and it is critical that I raise a significant percentage of the production costs. This will be the third book working with Bill Diodato of Golden Section Publishing. As before, I’m self distributing. Let me tell you, doing this is scary as hell. But I know it will be a success. I hope you will be there to help make WTC a reality.

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Norfolk Street, 2013 — © Brian Rose

New York/Borders

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The former Iron Curtain border, Germany, 1985 — © Brian Rose

It was fearsome thing up close, the walls and fences that divided Europe during the Cold War years. From a distance it sometimes appeared more benign — silvery ribbons of steel following the contours of the landscape. But the reality was plain — it was an apparatus created by autocratic governments for repression — and its dual purpose was to keep its own citizens imprisoned, and to limit the influence of western culture. Hundreds died trying to escape.

It was also a dangerous line in the sand between nuclear powers, and any incident along that line had the potential for triggering global catastrophe. I photographed the border in the 1980s, and I documented the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

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Mexican/American border 2016 — Photograph by Kirsten Luce  (New York Times article)

The border between the United States and Mexico can appear similar to the old Iron Curtain with miles of steel fencing snaking through the undulating desert Southwest. It is not the Iron Curtain — it serves a very different purpose — but it, too, is a deadly and dehumanizing scar on the land.

The leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party proposes to extend the fencing across the entire border with Mexico and make it taller, more impenetrable. A beautiful wall, as Donald Trump says.

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There Berlin Wall, 1985 — © Brian Rose

The problems of illegal immigration and the desperate flight of refugees seeking freedom will not be solved by a higher, stronger, more efficient — and deadly — wall. It’s a fool’s errand. And the antithesis of American values.

The East Germans euphemistically called their border fortifications the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall, or anti-fascist protective rampart. Trump’s beautiful wall is fascism — nakedly expressed, for all to see.

New York/The Magic Shop

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Brian Rose and Suzanne Vega, backstage at the Bottom Line — 1990

Sadly, The Magic Shop, one of New York’s great recording studios is closing. It’s for the usual reasons. As owner Steve Rosenthal said in the Times: “As the city becomes more of a corporate and condo island, some of us wish for a better balance between money and art, between progress and preservation, and we hope that one day we will see a reversal of the destruction of conscience and community we are witnessing.”

Musicians like Lou Reed and David Bowie recorded albums there. And a much less known project. An unfinished album of my songs produced by Suzanne Vega. Here is my tribute to to Steve and the Magic Shop — recorded there in 1990 — with Greg Anderson on bass, Frank Vilardi on drums, Jon Gordon on guitar, Lisa Gutkin on violin, and Suzanne Vega background vocals.

The Magic Kingdom:

 

New York/Death of Photography (greatly exaggerated)

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S1st Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Every few years someone or other, usually an art/photo critic, declares photography dead. Or if not dead, then relegated to a quaint sideshow off the midway of progress. I’ve written about it before, way back in 2007, in response to Peter Plagens’ Newsweek article “Is Photography Dead?” An article that ends with the line: “The next great photographers—if there are to be any—will have to find a way to reclaim photography’s special link to reality. And they’ll have to do it in a brand-new way.”

Last August, Stephen Mayes repeated many of Plagens’ assertions in a Time article that keeps popping up in my Facebook newsfeed, no doubt because hundreds of my “friends” are photographers. His article ends by conjuring up the old Elvis meme: “It’s very far from dead but it’s definitely left the building.” Which means, all you losers waiting for an encore should go home because the show is over. It has moved on to a new venue.

The argument for the death of photography generally revolves around how technology has stripped the medium of its claim to veracity. Never mind that photographic reality has since its inception held a tenuous grip on reality — despite the faith placed in it. Mayes believes that the nature of digital capture is fundamentally different from lens based imagery, and touts the infinite arrangeability of pixels as a transformative phenomenon.

No doubt, of course, technology has changed the medium, but Mayes flails about trying to describe what that change might look like. Having just drowned in MoMA’s inchoate “Ocean of Images,” the latest installment of the museum’s New Photography series, I can only conclude that no one seems to know where things are, much less where things are going.

Arrangements of digital data in the post internet image vortex. That’s where we are, apparently.

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“THE VIOLIN (MOZART/KUBELICK)”
Georges Braque, 1912

There is one paragraph of Mayes’s article in particular that illustrates where his argument about photography goes wrong. He compares the present image revolution as comparable to the period when Picasso, and the other Cubists, deconstructed the traditional way of seeing, which forever transformed the nature of representation. Cubism was definitely a transformative movement in the history of art, but it did not kill off painting.

True, critics have called painting dead, too. And for quite a while, it appeared that the march of art history was essentially reductive — from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism to the grave. But lo and behold, painters have continued to paint, and the medium remains alive and well within the multiplicity of ways that artists approach the task of making art — of expressing the nature of human existence — in the age of image capture.

Photography, and its tenuous tether to reality, will continue to be important to culture, as is music, film, and literature. The digital revolution will not render these things irrelevant. The act of observation, of bearing witness, will not become less important — it may in fact become more important as we increasingly live in a world alternating between the real and the virtually real. Sometimes, going to contemporary photo exhibitions is like experiencing one bad Holodeck adventure after another. I’m mean come on, let’s get real.

Here is a comprehensive list of articles on “painting is dead” vs. “painting is back.” One could easily do a similar list about photography. Actually, I think it’s the “such and such is dead” paradigm that is dead.

New York/Street Views

In the previous post I compared two images taken on the corner of the Bowery and East 4th Street made in 1977 and 1980. Now, 35 years later, I am still hanging around the neighborhood. I’ve lived overseas, of course, and have hardly been sitting on a stoop passively watching the world go by, but this part of New York remains my base of operations.

It is a dramatically changed place to be sure — for better or worse. I said to someone yesterday, that the impetus for everything I’ve done as a photographer springs from that moment I arrived in New York on a train in 1977, the day of the blackout, the summer of the serial killer Son of Sam, the year the Yankees won the World Series and the Bronx was burning. I ended up here in this neighborhood.

A few contemporary street views:

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Cooper Square at East 7th Street — © Brian Rose

Cooper Square in flux. A picture taken just after the wreath laying in honor of Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union.

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The New Museum on the Bowery — © Brian Rose

A mashup of buildings, boxes, snow, and trash — a midwinter medley.

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Chrystie Street between Houston and Stanton — © Brian Rose

More architectural wonders arrive in the neighborhood. Ian Schrager’s hotel, 215 Chrystie — forcibly wedged into the urban fabric — designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron under construction around the corner from my studio.

New York/On the Bowery

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East 4th Street and the Bowery, 1977 — © Brian Rose

In 1977 I was fully engaged in shooting color, and although I still had a black and white lab set up in my tiny East 4th Street apartment, once I began making color prints, I took down my lab and never looked back. My early color work tended toward spontaneous quick grabs of things seen while going about my business. The picture above was taken while making the three block walk to school just up the Bowery to Cooper Square.

There was a Shell station on the corner of East 4th and the Bowery, and I used to walk cater-corner across it. I came upon a family dressed in colorful plaids and stripes moving in a little group, and photographed them compressed against several other people passing by, or filling up at the gas pump. The low winter sun cast a shadow of the gas station sign against the moving mingling of coats, and that was enough to make a photograph. It was about a moment more than about place — about phenomena more than information — although one may take note of the Mercedes filling up at the pump, or the fact that gas was 75 cents a gallon. You can tell it’s New York only because of the tenements glimpsed in the rear. It’s a cool picture — a keeper.

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East 4th Street and the Bowery, 1980– © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

Three years later, standing in almost the same spot, I was onto something else all together. I had assimilated my instincts for formal elements into a carefully considered investigation of place, a documentation of the Lower East Side made in collaboration with Edward Fausty. In this picture, visual anecdotes are still present — the little knot of kids in the background, the reflection in the pool of water — but instead of chasing after them, I am allowing these moments to play out within a broader scene.

In the first image I am following my instincts and showing off (a little bit) my visual chops with the camera. In the seond image I am trusting my instincts to show rather than tell — and I am relying on the viewer to bring something to the process. In a sense, asking the viewer to look with me at this place and to discover its multi-layered details.

Interestingly, you might notice that the gas station has closed. The pavement has been torn up, and dirt and rubble have accumulated. There are abandoned cars strewn about, and the kids are hanging out in the middle of the street oblivious to traffic.The door to the apartment building at right stands open to anyone off the street to enter. In 1980, when this picture was taken, New York was still in economic free fall. Eventually, a subsidized housing project for seniors rose on this lot. A drably monolithic box of good intentions, it’s still there today.

New York/On the Bowery

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The Bowery near East 4th Street, 1980 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

When I moved to New York in 1977, I lived on East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue. It was a relatively stable block compared to East 3rd, which was the location of a large homeless shelter with dozens of derelict men milling about in the street much of the day. The picture above was taken between 3rd and 4th Streets on he Bowery. Why it didn’t make it in my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side I can’t explain. Things fall through the cracks.

The buildings in the photograph are still there, relatively unchanged, but the facades have been cleaned up, and just to the right, there is a shiny new apartment tower with a 7-Eleven in the storefront. Why anyone goes there I can’t imagine since there are any number of better stocked bodegas and delis nearby. I guess the Bowery is 7-Eleven’s idea of a flagship location. It was a pretty rough scene in those days, and I have no intention of romanticizing its gritty authenticity. It certainly was authentic — and they were not serving Slurpees.

It was also a time of great creativity. CBGB was in the next block with the usual gaggle of black jacketed musicians out front, and lots of artists occupied lofts in or near the Bowery, the legendary end-of-the world skid row of New York. The apocalyptic nature of the neighborhood was both a scourge and an inspiration — at least it was for me. I wrote songs about the place, and of course, I photographed it.

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Brian Rose in 1980 — © Alex Harsley
Masking tape on camera to make it look less attractive to potential muggers.

The reality, however, looking at the photograph of myself above, is that we artists and musicians were to a great extent middle and upper middle class expats from the suburbs, products of America’s finest schools — and white. I was going to Cooper Union. Free tuition notwithstanding, it was an elite place, and you didn’t stumble in by accident. A recent article in Artnet News postulates that most successful artists come from relatively privileged backgrounds, and certainly, from my perspective, that is absolutely true. The starving artist is largely a myth, though no doubt there are easier and more reliable ways to make a living. And the other reality is that most artists are not doing fine art, either by necessity or by choice. They are in media, design, illustration, branding, advertising, commercial photography and film, etc. New York is full of these jobs — more now than ever.

Going back to the Bowery and the Lower East Side of the 70s and 80s — art was not so much born out of the decay and poverty of the neighborhood, as it was the place we chose to make art, to reinvent ourselves, to run away from mom and dad, and for many, to waste time. It was cool, and a little dangerous. It helped that it was cheap — my parents had basically cut me off financially — and I often got by on pizza slices and falafel. When I graduated from Cooper, debt free, I began photographing the Lower East Side. But 4×5 film was bloody expensive, and I struggled to complete the project. One day, however, a check arrived in the mail — for $9,000 — which (looking it up) would be worth over $27,000 in today’s dollars. A relative had died and left me the money. It saved the day, and made the LES project a success. There was also a grant from New York State, and the Seagram Corporation bought a dozen prints for what would eventually become the collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The print sale happened because of a connection made at Cooper Union.

There’s nothing wrong with sudden windfalls or connections made in school, but let’s put aside the idea that artists are impoverished denizens of rotting neighborhoods. That’s not to say that gentrification has no impact on artists who need workspace to paint or create installations. It does. The truth is, however, that artists are entrepreneurs who calculate profits and expenses like everyone else — who network and negotiate — who create works that are often very expensive to produce. It helps to start with some money, and success breeds more success, fairly or not.

Do I still believe that art can express the highest aspirations of humanity? The deepest emotions? Can it still address the social and political issues of the day? Yes. That’s why I started, and why I’m still doing it.

But now, on to my next Kickstarter campaign.

New York/Ocean of Images

I visited Ocean of Images at the Museum of Modern Art with some trepidation – for me, any foray into the museum is a challenge given the mobs of tourists and the pervasive sense that we are all there on a sort of obligatory pilgrimage. It’s been that way for a long time, so nothing new about that.

As a working artist myself, I am of two minds about going to museum survey shows that present contemporary work. On the one hand, I want to know what is going on, or what is perceived as representing the zeitgeist. On the other hand, I want to protect and cultivate my own process of working and seeing, which sometimes requires keeping blinders in place, staying focused on one’s own path. Knowing the risks, I usually go.

DIS. A Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence). 2015

Ocean of Images is the latest installment of the photography department’s New Photography series, which attempts to target the most interesting or innovative work of the present. Although the curators assert that their selection for the current show was driven by the work of the artists rather than fitting into some preconceived idea – “post-internet,” e.g. – let me just say, it has been observed by others, that very little in the show consists of what might be called recognizable photography. Actually, there are plenty of pieces that utilize photography in a fairly direct way, but when they do, they are displayed as components of installations. The whole exhibition is itself a kind of installation of installations. A simulacrum of an exhibition, if you will.

I lasted about five minutes in there. My ability to think was overwhelmed by a loud humming. Like a lizard’s brain. Or the sound of an ocean of images roaring from a conch shell. For a brief moment I entertained the notion that I was hopelessly out of step, and that I hated installations, even though, truth be told, I am presently working on a large installation piece making use of photographs from my World Trade Center project.

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Splitting by Gordon Matta-Clark

Anyway, I wandered into another gallery, this one an exhibition called Endless House about the concept of “house” using drawings, photographs, models, and films, and I was enthralled by all of it. I watched, mesmerized for ten minutes, Gordon Matta-Clark’s grainy super-8 film documentation of his piece Splitting, in which he physically cuts a house in two with power tools and his own sweaty brawn.

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Vacation House for Terrorists by Thomas Schotte

And I was momentarily thrown for a loop by a drawing by Thomas Schütte of a glassy modernist house entitled Vacation House for Terrorists, which sent a shiver through me as I contemplated the dissonance between the bourgeois comforts of modernism and the destructive violence of terrorism, and the idea that terrorists might want or desire a vacation house. There was also an immersive and disorienting photo environment by Annett Zinsmeister, a repeating window pattern of a highrise housing project that could be walked in, and on.

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Virtual Interior by Annett Zinsmeister

And then I saw the Jackson Pollock exhibition, which is spectacular, and I felt all right again. Art can be exciting, groundbreaking, thought provoking, moving, even beautiful.

Back to work.

New York/Happy New Year!

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One World Trade Center (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A final punctuation mark for the end of the year, and for my forthcoming book WTC. This was taken with my new Travelwide 4×5 camera. It doesn’t have movements, but it is feather light and can be handheld — though this was made on a tripod.

It’s been a tumultuous year in our household with any number of highs and lows. But the new year is looking bright as it approaches. Bring it on!