New York/Blue Dress

Like practically everyone in the world attached to the internet, I’ve been perplexed by the conundrum of the blue and black (or white and gold) dress. No, I can’t solve the puzzle, nor explain things from a scientific perspective. However, the subjective nature of color is something I am acutely aware of — it can be baffling when you discover that an image you’ve worked on assiduously one day, looks wrong when you come back to it the next day. There is no doubt a psychological component to the perception of color.

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Original photograph

So, the dress. My son showed it to me first, and I saw it immediately as blue and black, which, it turns out, are the actual colors of the physical dress. However, my son and my wife both saw the dress as white and gold. We did not have a family meltdown, but the discussion was lively. Since then, I’ve read a number of articles explaining the phenomenon. But none of them, Wired and Scientific American included, are correct.

Process of elimination. Scientific American seems to think it has to do with all the different screens and devices with widely varied color balances. That’s pretty easy to shoot down when you have, as in our case, three family members all looking at the same screen and two seeing a different color dress. It’s not the screen.

Wired seems to think it has to do with color constancy and they provide a couple of examples of how the brain is fooled into seeing colors differently based on context. A simple example is shown below. The center blue squares appear different because of the lighter or darker blues surrounding them. The problem with this explanation is that almost everyone sees this phenomenon the same way — unlike the dress where people see two widely divergent color schemes. It’s not color constancy.

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Example of color constancy

Some people have written about the bright background fooling the eye in some way, so I cropped out the background and showed it to my white and gold family members. They still saw white and gold. It was not the background.


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Background fill using Photoshop sample of the blue of the dress

I then selected the blue of the dress in Photoshop and replaced the background with that blue. See above. Some experts have suggested that different people have different numbers of blue sensitive cones in their eyes and therefore are better able to distinguish blue. My wife and son now saw a white and gold dress against a blue background! It’s not the cones.

My son suggested that we print the images on paper and compare them with viewing on a backlit and luminous computer screen. I printed the original image and my blue background image, and my family still saw the dress as white and gold. Again, it has nothing to do with the screen.


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Setting white point of the image to the blue of the dress

I then opened “curves” in Photoshop and designated the blue of the dress as the white point of the image. Presto! The dress became white and the black trim became gold. But the blue background also became close to white. My family was seeing a white and gold dress on a very blue background. Mmm. I had been thinking that it had to do with a different perception of color balance, but that should affect the blue throughout the image, not just the dress. It is not just white point and color balance.

Clearly, the white/gold phenomenon is occurring only with the dress itself. It’s a low contrast image, hazy, with muddied and mottled blacks and a relatively unsaturated blue color. There’s a warmish light hitting the dress, which further distorts the color relationships. And the blue and black of the dress are not solid RGB color like my Photoshop background. My son, however, says he sees a cooler. bluish light hitting the dress, while I see a warmer light coming from the right, particularly visible in the blacks. There’s obviously some kind of psychophysical aspect to what is going on.

That’s as far as I can go with it. As Republicans are fond of saying when challenged on the veracity of global warming, “I’m not a scientist.” I am convinced, however, that what we are seeing here is explainable, but perhaps falling into an area of visual perception not well understood. Certainly, the answers offered so far by the experts miss the mark.

Now enough about the damn dress!

 

 

 

 

New York/Central Park

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The Great Lawn, Central Park — © Brian Rose

Frozen New York, 2 degrees fahrenheit this morning. Walked through the park in the afternoon. Almost no one around. Peaceful. Quiet.

The thin building at center left is 432 Park Avenue, the 15th tallest in the world. And tallest in New York if measured by roof height. One WTC’s spire is taller.

My slide talk at the library three days ago went well. Over a hundred people showed up despite several inches of snow earlier in the day. Sold some books, met some interesting people, had a great time.

New York/Library Talk

nypl-announcement

I will be doing a slide talk at the New York Public Library Mid-Manhattan branch on Tuesday, February 17 at 6:30pm. I’ve done two programs there before — one on my Lower East Side photos, and one on my World Trade Center pictures. It’s free, and everyone is invited. Hope to see you there.

Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1980 + 2013
with Brian Rose, Photographer

Mid-Manhattan Library
Tuesday, February 17, 2015, 6:30 p.m.
455 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY, 10016
(212) 340-0863

 

 

New York/Meatpacking District

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Washington Street and W12th, 1985 — © Brian Rose

After finishing up my Meatpacking book, Metamorphosis, I somehow discovered the negative for the image above in another mystery box in my archive, too late for the book. It’s a view down Washington Street looking toward the Twin Towers and shows how the High Line used to go further south passing through Westbeth, the commercial complex repurposed as artists’ housing in 1970.

The building in the foreground with the Victor Auto Service sign is now the restaurant Barbuto, and the red house to the left contains Tortilla Flats, the Mexican restaurant. At some point after this photograph was taken, three blocks of the High Line were torn down between Gansevoort Street and W12th. The vacant lot under the High Line in the picture now contains an apartment building and garden entryway. See below.

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It took a good while for me to get around to scanning and working up this image. These old negatives are difficult to color correct, and the image above represents probably six hours of careful coaxing in Photoshop. It’s mostly open shade, and strongly backlit, which makes it all the more problematic.

So, It didn’t make it to Metamorphosis, but it will be perfect for WTC, my next book, about the World Trade Center.

New York/Berlin

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Lichtgrenze (border of light) in Mauerpark  — © Brian Rose

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.

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Footbridge with LIchtgrenze — © Brian Rose

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Reichstag and other government buildings on the Spree — © Brian Rose

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.

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Bernauer Strasse display — © Brian Rose

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Berlin Wall exhibition in Arkade shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz — © Brian Rose

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.

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Topography of Terror site and former Luftwaffe Headquarters — © Brian Rose

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.

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Wall remnant near the Nordbahnhof — © Brian Rose

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.

New York/Cooper Square

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Cooper Square, New York — © Brian Rose

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.

 

New York/Williamsburg

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Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

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

 

New York/Photo-Eye Review

photo_eye_review
Photo-Eye Review of Metamorphosis

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.

—KAREN JENKINS

Read the whole review here.

New York/Meatpacking District

westside002
Tenth Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets — © Brian Rose

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.

 

New York/Staten Island

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.

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Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

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.

si_002Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

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.

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Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

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.

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The house with dungeon — © Brian Rose 1979

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Abandoned factory and rutted pathway — © Brian Rose 1979

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Overturned car — © Brian Rose 1979

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A log, moved (how and why?), and my shadow — © Brian Rose 1979

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Beer bottles and car seats — © Brian Rose 1979

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Flesh and bones — © Brian Rose 1979

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Shards of wood, edge of forest — © Brian Rose 1979

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.

 

New York/Freeman Alley

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Freeman Alley — © Brian Rose

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.

freemanalley_doorFreeman Alley — © Brian Rose

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.

freemanalleyFreeman Alley — © Brian Rose

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.

New York/Berlin

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Lichtgrenze (light border) along the Spree with the Reichtstag and other government buildings.

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

 

Berlin/New York

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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.

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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.

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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.

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N
iederkirchnerstrasse (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.

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Arcadia shopping mall, Potsdamer Platz — © Brian Rose

An jarringly incongruous exhibition in the Arkade shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz featured freshly made border signs.

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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.

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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.

 

Berlin/Bernauer Strasse

bernauersignsBernauerstrasse — © Brian Rose

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.

nytletter

 

 

Berlin/LIchtgrenze

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LIchtgrenze — © Brian Rose

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.