New York/Finding Vivian Maier

maier_libertyPhotograph by Vivian Maier — From Liberty Island looking toward Ellis Island

I saw the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” the other day at the IFC theater on Sixth Avenue. It’s reminiscent of “Searching for Sugarman,” the film about the singer-songwriter Rodriguez, who made a couple of commercially unsuccessful albums in the 1960s and then essentially vanished — vanished at least everywhere except South Africa where his music was circulated like samizdat during the struggle against apartheid. In both films, the central artist is a mystery, known only through the discovery, or rediscovery, of his or her work.

Finding Vivian Maier tells the story of how John Maloof became the custodian of her negatives, and how he assiduously sought to find out who she was and what her motives were as a photographer. As is well known at this point, Maier made her photographs in isolation, never showed them to anyone, and died completely unknown aside from the various families she worked for as a nanny over many decades. Although the film does show a number of her images, and photographers Mary Ellen Mark and Joel Meyerowitz speak eloquently about the quality of her work, most of the movie focuses on interviews with her “families.” Even Phil Donohue, the Chicago based talk show host, was a Maier client early in his career. All were aware of her photographic obsession — her dangling Rolleiflex — which is not a snap shooter’s camera, but none ever saw her pictures, or for that matter, showed an interest in seeing them.

Various questions are posed in the film. Why didn’t she make any attempt at getting her work seen? Was she satisfied simply making pictures for herself? Would she have approved of the attention her work is now getting? To most of us, it is all hard to fathom, and the mysterious nature of Vivian Maier only adds to the almost cultish attraction to her and her work.

maier_yardUntitled by Vivian Maier

Looking at her photographs, it is striking how many self-portraits she did, and how carefully staged they were. There is even now a book of them. She was clearly a self-aware individual on a serious mission. She collected newspapers and magazines and photographed the headlines. She visited museums. She referred to herself as a spy. But despite this engagement with the world around her, she remained essentially separate, an observer. There was a solipsistic nature to her photographic endeavor, not unlike Diane Arbus, whose images were as much about her interior psyche as the outside world.

As a photographer, I am familiar with the territory — the sense of solitude that comes with being the observer. The internal dialogue that sometimes acts as surrogate for social interraction. I’ve taken thousands and thousands of pictures, and relatively few have been seen or exhibited. There have been long dry spells with little attention, but I’ve continued to work doggedly. It is easy for me to understand Maier’s commitment to her work.

But of course, that’s where the comparison ends. I have a family. I work for clients. I teach. I publish books. The point I’m trying to make, however, is that her strangeness as a person — and she was an extreme eccentric — and became more so late in her life, should not be allowed to distort our appreciation of her visual intelligence, nor should it  be used to explain away her apparent lack of ambition. To my eye, she was as ambitious as they come as a photographer. And I have no doubt had someone discovered her work before her death, that she would have been fine with museum and gallery exhibitions of it. She just didn’t seek it.

The truth is that once the pictures have been made — the electricity of those split second moments passed — the prints on the wall feel oddly distant, almost like the work of someone else. You’re grateful for the kudos, and the money, if you’re so fortunate. For Vivian Maier, living in her relatively self-contained world, talking to herself, repeatedly documenting her presence in the street — saying I was there – that was enough. Like Fred Herzog, the Vancouver based photographer, who I wrote about recently, you do the work regardless of the outcome. Vivian Maier knew she was good. It was her secret, her validation. That’s all we need to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York/Clayton Patterson

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Clayton Patterson, the documentarian of the Lower East Side, whose raw videos of the Tompkins Square Park riots of 1988, brought him to prominence, has decided to quit New York for the Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. Okay…

A few choice quotes from the article in the New York Times:

“There’s nothing left for me here,” said Mr. Patterson, who, at 65, is still a physical presence, with his biker’s beard, Santa Claus belly and mouth of gold teeth. “The energy is gone. My community is gone. I’m getting out. But the sad fact is: I didn’t really leave the Lower East Side. It left me.”

Maybe for Detroit? For Berlin? For deep into Brooklyn — maybe even the Bronx? It’s true that things have changed in Lower Manhattan, profoundly changed. There was a period of time that began in the ’70s and gradually tapered in the ’80s, when the LES was cheap and edgy (and scary), a place where an underground scene could flourish. These moments are always fleeting, and at some point you realize as an artist that you have work to do that is independent of the scene that nourished you. If your work is about the scene, then follow it wherever it goes.

 “What Clayton is telling us is that his world is gone and that he’s going too,” said Alan Kaufman, a writer and a friend of Mr. Patterson’s. “This ought to send up a red flag for someone. It’s remarkable, really. It’s kind of like Atget quitting Paris.”

Kind of like, I guess. Atget, whose work documenting the changing face of Paris, is indeed synonymous with that city. But what has always connected me to his work is not so much Paris itself, but the eye of Atget, his visual intelligence, and the expression of beauty as he found it.

To Daniel Levin, who directed “Captured,” a 2008 documentary about Mr. Patterson and his work, the plan to leave New York was further evidence of the city’s cultural decline. “Sadly, ironically, New York is displacing the people that made it what it was,” Mr. Levin said. “The entire city has become a playground for money, wealth and sterilized housing, and that’s not what’s traditionally made it interesting.”

People tend to think of Manhattan as New York. And historically, Manhattan was an all inclusive place with slums and mansions, industry and offices, white collar and blue collar side-by-side, the entry point for foreign immigrants and young strivers alike. In the past two decades, Manhattan has shed a good deal of that diversity and become more homogenous. While many urban centers in the United States declined, Manhattan absorbed more and more people and money. But New York, “the entire city,” remains as diverse as ever. Except for certain enclaves, perhaps, the other boroughs are not exactly “a playground for money, wealth and sterilized housing.”

Tell the hundreds of thousands of people schlepping every day on overcrowded subways to get to work that the city is a playground. And who are these newcomers who have swelled the city to the highest population in its history? Are these the 1% who occupy the “sterilized housing.” There is something wrong with the way we are talking about this city and what is actually happening to it.

***

I wish Clayton Patterson well in his move to Austria. There is a time to leave, and a time to find more comfort in life. I’ve written in the past about Patterson’s work here. It’s not so much about individual pictures, but ensemble, as installation. I really liked the last exhibit I saw of his work. He’ll be missed around here.

 

 

New York/Kickstarter Success

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The Kickstarter campaign for my Meatpacking book is now over with 163% of my goal reached. Now we can take that posh vacation in the Caribbean that we’ve been dreaming about all through this — barely over — snowy winter in New York.

No, no, no. Just a joke. The money raised only pays for part of the production of the book. We’re still stuck here in this, so far, shivery spring, as baseball season begins, with lots of work to do to make this book a success.

The good news is that over 250 books have been sold out of a first printing of 1,000. And the book hasn’t yet shipped from Hong Kong. That’s a spectacular start. My 210 Kickstarter backers came from all over the world — in fact, 25% of them were from outside of the United States. It proves what I’ve been saying all along, that books like this about New York City have a potential reach far beyond the sometimes parochial view of things here in this little burg.

There are a lot of people to thank for helping make this Kickstarter campaign successful, particularly Jeremiah Moss, who wrote the foreword to the book, and got things rolling with a terrific post on his blog Vanishing New York. A number of other blogs picked up on the story including Bowery Boogie, Curbed, Untapped New York, Reciprocity-Failure, and the Swiss news/entertainment site Watson.

I’ll be providing details later, but mark your calendars. Exhibition opening and book launch, July 15th, Dillon Gallery, West 25th Street in Chelsea, just a few blocks north of the Meatpacking District.

 

 

New York/Curbed

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At the bottom of the article:

… there are still a few more days left to donate to Brian Rose’s Kickstarter campaign. He’s raising money to fund his book of fantastic Meatpacking District photos from 1985 and 2013. Good old Jeremiah over at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York wrote the preface.

 

New York/ICP Class

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I will be teaching a class at ICP this spring called Photographing New York: The Lower East Side. Each student will photograph some aspect of the neighborhood, and the class will put together a book using Blurb, the print on demand web platform. It’s a lot of fun, for me and the students, but it’s also a pretty challenging assignment because it all happens in a relatively short period of time. For those who are not used to making photographs on a deadline, it can be quite a shock. And then a book has to be laid out and printed in time for the last class.

Both times I’ve taught the class it has been nerve wracking, but then, exhilarating, once the finished book was in hand. It’s a little bit like I what I just did in putting together my book on the Meatpacking District. It all came together in a matter of months — photography, image sequencing, and book design. If you’re up for it, there are still spots open in the class. Just go the ICP education website and sign up. I’d love to have you.

ICP Education

 

 

 

 

 

New York/Bowery Boogie

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An interview in the blog, Bowery Boogie.

BB: What do you hope people will take away from Metamorphosis?

BR: More than anything I hope that people will learn to see what is around them and in front of them everyday – the city hidden in plain sight.

Read the whole thing here.

 

New York/Lower East Side

NYT_spuraPhotograph from Time and Space on the Lower East Side in the New York Times — © Brian Rose

One of the photographs from Time and Space on the Lower East Side appeared in the Sunday New York Times .

50 years ago a number of blocks of densely occupied tenement housing along Delancey Street were razed and thousands of low income families, mostly Puerto Rican, were displaced. Robert Moses attempted to build a freeway across Lower Manhattan directly through Soho and the Lower East Side, and these blocks were the first to be cleared. The highway was stopped, but the vacant lots remained a political battleground for decades. A rebuilding plan, reached by neighborhood consensus, is finally moving forward. This article explains why it took so long.

It’s a shocking story of corruption and racism. It centers around Sheldon Silver, the New York State representative from lower Manhattan, and one of the most powerful politicians in Albany. If there is justice in the world, it signals the end of his ignominious career.

 

New York/Spirit of Marville

marville_05Place Saint-André-des-Arts, c. 1865 — Charles Marville

I went to the Metropolitan Museum last weekend to see the Charles Marville show, the photographer who documented Paris during the time of urban planner Baron George-Eugène Haussmann. Haussmann, under the supervision of Napoleon III, razed large sections of the old city in order to create the grand boulevards and monumental squares and traffic circles we associate with contemporary Paris. Photography was still new — only two decades old — when Marville was commissioned to photograph the transformation of Paris. And today, 180 years since the invention of photography, the documentation of the urban environment remains an essential and vital focus of the medium.

marville_08Boulevard Henri IV (de la rue de Sully) (fourth arrondissement), c. 1877 — Charles Marville

I was familiar with Marville prior to seeing the exhibition, but not in great depth. The inspirational touchstone for me was always Eugène Atget, who also photographed Paris with a large format camera. I have always found Atget’s work central to my understanding of what documentation could be — that even the most clear-eyed description of place can evoke emotion and mystery. Marville, however, is Atget’s immediate predecessor, and as such, progenitor to all of us who make architecture and the urban landscape our subject.

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Entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts, c. 1870 — Charles Marville

To Marville and his contemporary audience, I can imagine that everything recorded by the camera was new and wondrous. The organized elegance of Marville’s compositions belies his training as an artist, and appears almost modern to our eyes. But Marville was not employing today’s self-conscious visual strategies. He was a pioneer discovering the medium of photography while simultaneously carrying out his commission to photograph the changing visage of Paris. It was the beginning of a long violent transfiguration initiated by Haussmann, the great destroyer and creator of the City of Lights. And indeed, some of Marville’s most architecturally precise images show the newly designed gas lamps that brought that light into the heart of the formerly dark medieval city.

marville_09Top of the Rue Champlain, 1877-78 — Charles Marville

Old Paris is gone (no human heart

changes half so fast as a city’s face)…
There used to be a poultry market here,
and one cold morning… I saw

a swan that had broken out of its cage,
webbed feet clumsy on the cobblestones,
white feathers dragging in the uneven ruts,
and obstinately pecking at the drains…

Paris changes . . . but in sadness like mine
nothing stirs—new buildings, old
neighbourhoods turn to allegory,
and memories weigh more than stone 

A translation of The Swan by Charles Beaudelaire

In the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman writes about Paris: ”An architecturally harmonious capital rose from the rubble, a city of spectacle, built for a new, modern economy, but homogeneous and no longer welcoming to many of the poor souls who had helped make the place run and had always been deep in its cultural lifeblood.”

Some of the same dynamic is taking place in New York City, though without the wholesale physical destruction of Haussmann or New York’s own Robert Moses, who leveled neighborhoods to create his parks and parkways. But what has happened in Manhattan represents a dramatic shift of capital back to the center city from the periphery where it fled in the ’60s and ’70s, and Manhattan has increasingly become a safe parking place for vast sums of foreign money. No, there were no visionary utopians like Haussmann or Moses this time, but there was Michael Bloomberg, businessman extraordinaire, who took up the reins of a city reeling from the devastation of 911 and set the city on its present track.

marville_07Drilling of the Avenue de l’Opéra — Charles Marville

Kimmelman also writes: ”I wonder, here in the early third (millennium), whether photographers are now out and about, in the spirit of Marville, documenting 57th Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and East Harlem, Willets Point, Long Island City and Hell’s Kitchen. Big cities change. That’s urban life. But the best cities don’t leave the vulnerable behind.”

At least some photographers are out and about, despite a trend these days toward staged reality and the ultimate myopia of selfies. I’m certainly out and about. And the vulnerable citizens of this ever changing metropolis ride the jammed subways day and night commuting to and from increasingly far flung quarters of a city that still attracts immigrants from around the globe. Where this all leads — all this constant motion — all this restless energy — I have no idea. But the spirit of Marville remains alive among contemporary photographers, and the visual history of these times will be preserved.

 

New York/Goal Reached — Again

metamorphosis_backcoverMetamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013, back cover image — © Brian Rose 1985

Reached my Kickstarter goal — again. Yesterday, I announced that I had succeeded in my fundraising goal, and began receiving congratulations. But within a few minutes, a $500 backer cancelled his pledge, which I didn’t even know you could do. My moment of triumph was coldly snatched away. Do you think people do things like this on purpose? Anyway, I was not too worried that I’d make up the lost ground soon.

So, a little muted cheer for the second time around. The balloons have already been released, the champagne uncorked and flat, and the band disbanded — except for the tuba player. Blurp Blurp.

Thanks once more to all my supporters. Keep the momentum going. There are still 13 days to go.

 

New York/Book Proofs

cover_proof_smallCover mockup of Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

At 65% of my Kickstarter goal with almost three weeks to go!

Metamorphosis is no longer an abstraction. Yesterday, I saw the first proofs of the cover and the inside pages. They look terrific. The book in the photo above is actually a proof print of the cover wrapped around a  blank dummy of the book. The blank let’s us see and feel the weight of the cover boards, paper, and the overall heft of the book. We placed it next to a copy of Time and Space on the Lower East Side for comparison. The red pages are the endpapers that line the inside of the front and back covers.

It’s exciting seeing the book turn into a reality. But your support is needed now as the financial reality of taking on this project looms. Pre-order via Kickstarter and get your copy of Metamorphosis at a discounted price. It’s going to be a really cool book.

 

 

 

 

 

New York/Williamsburg

vespucciMetropolitan and Graham Avenues, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

A random view of a Williamsburg street corner with pigeon.

I am now at 50% of my goal 9 days into the Kickstarter campaign to help fund the printing of Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013. Pledge $50 and pre-order a copy of the book to be released in July. Other reward levels available. The campaign runs through April 1.

Your support is greatly appreciated.

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New York/Kickstarter Campaign

metamorphosis-cover_700pxFinal Cover Design for Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

Please help make this book a reality.
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In the winter of 1985 I spent several days wandering the streets of the Meatpacking District with my 4×5 view camera. It was different city then. Edgier, less peopled. While the Meatpacking District bustled in the early morning hours as the city’s primary meatmarket, it slumbered, almost abandoned, during the day.

I never printed my photographs of the Meatpacking District, and went on to other projects. But last year I retrieved the box of negatives from my archive and began scanning. I was stunned to rediscover these images, made with little artifice, unforced in their clarity. It was like looking at New York as a stage set while the actors were away taking a break.

In the summer and fall of last year I re-photographed the Meatpacking District repeating many of the earlier images and making a number of new ones. The result is a book that shows the profound transformation of the neighborhood from abottoir to the epicenter of fashion and art.

 

 

New York/Bookstores Still Essential

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Time and Space in the Tenement Museum shop window — © Brian Rose

Prior to my recent book — Time and Space on the Lower East Side — I worked with established publishers in the Netherlands and here in New York. The results were mixed, both in terms of quality and distribution. I can’t complain too much in that I did not have to bring money to the table for any of them. But I never made a dime on those books either. The Lost Border, the Landscape of the Iron Curtain was available in a few bookstores, but most of the sales were on Amazon. It’s still available on Amazon, but I have acquired a number of copies and plan to offer signed books on my website sometime soon.

By the time I got around to doing Time and Space, the publishing landscape had changed, and I knew that I would probably have to pay for the book myself — either that, or send out dummies and wait months and months for someone to respond, if ever. So, I decided to take control, put up the money (partially raised on Kickstarter), and distribute the book myself. I ended up working with Bill Diodato, a photographer with a publishing sideline called Golden Section Publishers.

I realized from the start, that the economics of my book — in an edition of 1,000 — would not make it possible to sell via Amazon, which demands a much larger cut of the retail price than any brick and mortar store. I would lose money on every sale. So, I began seriously cultivating relationships with independent book stores. It helped that I could tell them that Amazon would not be undercutting them, and it helped that I had a book with a local New York theme. Nevertheless, I expected my online sales to equal or approach store sales.

I’ve done pretty well online, but the reality is that 75% of my sales have been through bookstores. It depends, of course, on the kind of book you have. There are photo books that sell primarily to collectors, and you’d rarely find them in local shops. Dashwood Books on Bond Street in Noho caters particularly to the collecting crowd. As far as I know, it’s the only shop in New York that exclusively sells photo books. The other stores sell to the general public, albeit a rather sophisticated NYC public. They curate their offering carefully, and simply do not have the space to carry everything.

Time and Space and my upcoming book Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013 were designed to stand out on display tables, which is where you have to be in stores. Once your book is on the shelf with only the spine showing, you’re dead. My assistant and I have spent days visiting the stores that carried Time and Space making sure that the book was prominently displayed. Ultimately, you want a stack of books — it’s psychologically more enticing — and you have to make sure the stores reorder before they run out. Otherwise, weeks can go by before they get  around to calling for more. No matter how good your distribution, nothing replaces these in person visits.

We all know that bookstores are under severe pressure with ebooks replacing hard copy, and amazon.com undermining prices. Moreover, independent stores are not always as savvy as they could be. But unless you are famous, or have a big promotional budget, the primary way to reach the public is still through these stores. You know who they are in Manhattan: The Strand, St. Mark’s, McNally Jackson, Rizzoli, and the various museum shops. And ironically, Time and Space has done really well at John Varvatos, the clothing shop that occupies the former CBGB on the Bowery. Photo books can be fashion accessories.

Despite the digitization of photography — or perhaps because of it — we are in a golden age of photography books. There are now numerous websites, blogs, and Facebook groups that review or sell photo books, and all of that virtual infrastructure helps build community and encourage sales. But without local bookstores, where one can browse, discover, pick up and feel, fewer photo books will reach the public. Simple as that.

 

 

New York/Super Bowl Blvd.

Ok, if you’re a New Yorker I don’t need to tell you this. Don’t go to Super Bowl Boulevard — the stretch of Broadway between Times Square and Herald Square that has been turned into a writhing mass of football/commercial hysteria. You don’t need to line up for an autograph with — I couldn’t tell who it was — or line up for a slice of Papa John’s Pizza — or get your picture taken with a Disney character — or line up to see the actual Vince Lombardi Trophy — or line up to see whatever is going on in the various temporary structures set up in the street. There must be something in them to see because everyone is lining up.

But I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures for those of you with the common sense to avoid the area at all costs. Here are six random pics.

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New York/Momentous Occasion

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Renee, Brendan and statue of Henry Ward Beecher — © Brian Rose

A family snapshot — frozen grins — it was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. But a momentous occasion. My wife Renee had just taken the oath for her U.S. citizenship in the Federal Courthouse nearby. Cameras were not allowed inside for the ceremony, so we looked for an appropriate spot outside.

The statue in the rear is of Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most important abolitionists of the 19th Century. He was the pastor of Plymouth Church located a few blocks way in Brooklyn Heights. His sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel about the cruelties of slavery, which was instrumental in galvanizing the abolitionist movement.

From Wikipedia:

In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent Beecher on a speaking tour of Europe to build support for the Union cause. Beecher’s speeches helped turn European popular sentiment against the rebel Confederate States of America and prevent its recognition by foreign powers. At the close of the war in April 1865, Beecher was invited to speak at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where the first shots of the war had been fired; Lincoln had again personally selected him, stating, “We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of raising the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise.”