New York/Queens

Borden Avenue under the Long Island Expressway (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A ghostly image of the Twin Towers in Queens. I did this picture a number of weeks ago, and posted a similar digital image from my point and shoot. This is the 4×5 film version, reduced from a hi res scan of about 700 MBs. The context is hard to grasp from this frame, but the elevated Long Island Expressway was directly above my camera position, and a steady flow of heavy trucks rumbled in front of me. I knew what time to be there for the raking early morning sunlight — there was only an hour of sun each day on the slightly northeast facing facade earlier in the fall. And I didn’t try to do anything fancy.

I’m working on my book, WTC, which will tell the story of the World Trade Center from about 1977 to the present. One section will be comprised of vernacular images of the Twin Towers like the one above. The recent events in Paris (and elsewhere) gives this book project a certain urgency, not that I have any solutions to offer for religious violence or the hyper anxiety currently on display by politicians. This book is offered as an antidote to some of that toxcitity. Stay tuned for further updates.

Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus

New York/1977

A recent comment on my blog led me to do some research on the time when I first put down roots in New York. It was the summer of 1977, and I had just come by train to the city arriving before dawn, and parked myself in an all night coffee shop in the West Village waiting for the Village Voice to be thrown off the truck. It was 60 cents back then, which was kind of expensive when you think about it, but it was the indispensable weekly at that time, and if you were looking for a place to live downtown, you had to get the Voice for the classified ads.

Village Voice real estate classifieds in 1977

Since I was going to be studying at Cooper Union in the East Village, I was looking for a place on that side of town. And it needed to be a sublet because I was only at Cooper as a one-semester exchange student. I skimmed dozens of ads, most of which were advertising apartments for $200 or $250. You could easily get an apartment on the high end of that range in the West Village. Or you could get a 2,500 square foot loft for $350 a month in Soho or Tribeca. Maybe even get a 5 to 7 year lease. If you played your cards right, you ended up buying one of those lofts for $50,000, which would now be worth millions of dollars. The sticking point for me was that those lofts often came with a “fixture fee” of several thousand dollars to cover the cost of the things – heater, lights, appliances — inside what was basically a raw loft. There was no way I could come up with that kind of money.

East Village apartment listings 1977

But there were lots of more modest apartments in the East Village, and really, all things considered, I had a lot of choice. In fact, there were dozens of choices, and all in the $200 range. Never mind that many of the buildings were crumbling, and anything east of First Avenue looked like Berlin in 1945. I realized very quickly, however, that I would be making a lot of phone calls and looking at a lot of apartments.

So, there I was, planning on a long day of house hunting, when I saw this:


Cooper Square Vicinity, near NYU, New School, 2 rooms, $800 for whole year. That couldn’t be right I thought. $800 for a year! Well, it turned out to be legit. A philosophy professor at NYU was taking a temporary job teaching at Tulane down south, and decided to sublet his apartment for a year. It was in a city-owned building, pretty rundown, but on a largely intact block, East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue.

I took it, and by noon I had an apartment in Manhattan, and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the city. In the evening I headed for Penn Station to return to Washington, D.C. (where I was living) with the idea of bringing my stuff up in a week or two. As I got onto my train, the whole station was plunged into absolute darkness. Fortunately, my train had auxiliary power, and we sat in relative comfort — it was still bloody hot — and the police kept coming on board urging us to stay put. The entire city was blacked out. The following morning when power was restored we pulled into Washington and I saw the dramatic headlines about the rioting and looting that had convulsed large parts of the city overnight.

A few weeks later I moved into my tenement on East 4th Street. My professor never came back and the apartment was mine. And after a semester as an exchange student, I applied to Cooper Union and was accepted. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I was one very fortunate guy.

New York/Paris

Paris 1981 `– © Brian Rose

My first trip to Europe was in 1981 to France where I was exhibiting my photographs of the Lower East Side in the city of Nancy as part of a theater festival. The focus of the festival that year was the Downtown New York scene, and my photographs provided a visual context for the performances being presented at various venues in the city. Each day the festival participants lunched outdoors in a city park sitting at long tables laid out with cold cuts, bread, and carafes of red wine. I was there for a week, hanging out with the students who helped me install my exhibition — they were only a couple of years younger than I was — and one day my friend, Jack Hardy, the folk songwriter, showed up in my hotel lobby, fresh from a tour of clubs in Germany.

After a friendly dinner together in a cous cous restaurant, he suddenly lashed out at me accusing me of standing in his way with regards to a certain woman who shall go unnamed, and I did my best to defend my rights and my honor against his torrent of righteous indignation. It was an impressive display of romantic nonsense, and hardly justified given that I was actually quite conflicted about my feelings, and was at that very moment rather smitten with one of the aforementioned French students. Jack left town after a couple of days, and I followed a few days later, ending up sitting on the floor in a packed train stalled for hours somewhere between Nancy and Paris.

I stumbled off the train in the morning in a stupor and found a most wretched buggy hotel near the Gare de l’Est. After a brief walk around the city, I returned to my hotel for a fitful night, the halls echoing with shouted French epithets and slamming doors. I believe I went to the Louvre on that trip, though my memory is clouded, and has blurred together with subsequent visits. I had no idea where I was going most of the time, and somehow, managed to find only horrible food. But I was in Paris, broke, alone, and never happier in my life.

Jack wrote a song after he — and I — got back from Paris.

take the night train to paris
hoping to escape all the rules
take the night train to paris
you hopelessly romantic fool

I regretted leaving France without getting the address of my French student, but such was life, pre-internet, and I moved on. Weeks went by, when one day while having breakfast in my favorite spot on Second Avenue in the East Village, I looked across the restaurant, and to my astonishment, like an apparition, she was there — the French student — alone, her leg in a cast propped up on a chair. I got up, walked over, and said, “Do you need some help?” She did. And so began a short romantic episode that turned into an unsustainable trans Atlantic relationship. Alas.

I only took a few pictures while aimlessly wandering around Paris. 35mm Kodachromes. One of them is above. As foggy headed, and unsteady on my feet as I was, I was still capable of finding moments of visual equipoise. It was 1981 and U2 was playing Paris according to the poster. They just cancelled their most recent Paris engagement, 34 years gone by. The most tragic circumstances imaginable. I won’t even try to comment…

New York/Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

It has been 16 months since my book Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013 was published, and there are now about 250 books left of the print run of a thousand. Based on my experience with Time and Space on the Lower East Side, I expect it to sell out by the two year mark. I am now working on a third New York themed book, WTC, which will be a visual chronicle of the World Trade Center from 1977 to the present. Doing these books has become an important component of my career, and it has greatly extended my reach as a photographer. The books haven’t made me rich, but I have not lost money on them, which is saying something, considering how much established publishers have pulled back from fine art photography books.

I am doing a book event next week sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation at the Hudson Library located on Leroy Street. I will be there with a number of other photographers and authors to present and sell our books, all of which have something to do with Greenwich Village. It would be great to see you there!

Register for the event here.


From the GVSHP website:

A Book Fair with authors and their books about the Village

Tuesday, November 17
6:30 – 8:00 P.M.
Free; reservations required
Hudson Park Library, 66 Leroy Street, between 7th Avenue South and Hudson Street
[This venue is NOT wheelchair accessible.]

Together in one room, we are happy to assemble a collection of diverse books about the history, architecture, people, and culture of the Greenwich Village area, so you can get a head start on your holiday shopping. Or you may want to buy them all for yourself!

Authors Robert Herman (The New Yorkers), Lynn Robin and Francis Morrone (Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes), James & Karla Murray (STORE FRONT and NEW YORK NIGHTS), Janko Puls (Point of View New York City), Brian Rose (Metamorphosis), Ellen Shumsky (Decade of Progress 1968-1978), and Robin Shulman (Eat the City) will be on hand to sign copies of the books you purchase. What great gifts these will make, and all in one room!

Register for the event here.

New York/Salt Shed

I can remember back in the 90s when it seemed that New York had become an architectural backwater. I was living in Amsterdam, and a Dutch planner friend, about to leave for a trip to New York, asked what interesting new buildings to look for. I was momentarily silent — nothing immediately came to mind. I ended up recommending a few contextually sensitive projects that were admirable if not exactly innovative.

Innovation is not everything, in architecture or in other fields, but the lack of it in the 90s suggested a city treading water creatively. That sense of stasis is long gone for a variety of complex reasons — the post 9/11 vitality of the city is an area rich for exploration by journalists and social scientists. I am neither of those. But I am a photographer of the urban landscape, and there is much to observe in the swift rapids of the present.

Travel wide 4×5 camera with film holder — © Brian Rose

Architecture can be dramatic or prosaic, showy or utilitarian, but usually not both simultaneously. Let me tell you about a salt shed in lower Manhattan on Canal Street. I had just gotten a new camera to play with — a hand holdable 4×5 camera designed by a couple of guys in Chicago funded by a Kickstarter campaign. As small as a DSLR and half as light. I decided to take it out for a spin to see how it would work for me photographing a building. My wife works in the Hudson Square area, the old printing district west of Soho, and she suggested I take a look at the new Spring Street salt shed designed by Dattner Architects, a New York based architectural firm.

It is just that. A shed meant for storing the stuff used to melt ice and snow on the streets of the city. But instead of the usual metallic tent-like structure, there is, here, a multi-facetted shard of concrete looking very much like a salt crystal, or at least that’s what two different sanitation workers passing by told me while I was taking pictures. And it has walls three feet thick. They loved it.

Here it is:

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose



New York/Frances Goldin

In the Shadow of the Highway: Robert Moses’ Expressway and the Battle for Downtown
— © Brian Rose

One of my Lower East Side photographs is part of an interesting exhibition about one of Robert Moses’ last projects, a proposed elevated highway that would have connected the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg Bridge and an offshoot to the Manhattan Bridge.

Lower Manhattan Expressway brochure

New York Times article about Seward Park site — © Brian Rose

Had Moses not been stopped, Soho would have been largely destroyed, and highways would have torn through parts of the Lower East Side. A piece of that imminent destruction had already taken place when I made my photograph above — a view of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area from the Williamsburg Bridge. Thousands of mostly low income residents were evicted from their tenements to make way for the highway, and nearly 50 years  went by before a plan was approved to redevelop the site in an economically balanced way. Although they will have the right to return, it will be too late, unfortunately, for most of the original displaced residents.

Frances Goldin and Brian Rose

There were a number of reasons that Robert Moses, the powerful master planner of New York, was finally stopped. After ramming one infrastructure project after another through neighborhoods all over the city, the tide had turned, and the primacy of automobile-centric planning lost favor. Foremost in opposing Moses and his acolytes were activists like Jane Jacobs, whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities championed the fine-grained urban fabric of Greenwich Village and similar neighborhoods, and called for their preservation. Other activists took up the cause of low income people, the most at risk from the planners’ bulldozers. Frances Goldin, pictured above, was the most tenacious and eloquent of the Downtown activists.

She and Jacobs represent different perspectives of neighborhood activism, but both were essential in turning things around, and reasserting the right of ordinary citizens to defend their neighborhoods, and, in fact, participate in the planning process. While Goldin is most known for her political actions — her flare for street theater and colorful demonstrations — it was her espousal of neighborhood planning that may be her greatest legacy. Under her leadership, along with the planning expertise of her partner Walter Thabit, the Cooper Square Committee prevented the destruction of a six block strip of the Lower East Side, and in the end, saved or built a thousand units of low income housing. She also led the decades-long fight — after stopping Moses — to redevelop the Seward Park urban renewal site so that it includes a significant percentage of affordable units of housing. A lot of people were involved in these struggles, but she was the glue that held it all together.

Frances Goldin, City Hall Blue Room, 1990 — © Brian Rose

It was my privilege to work with her on the steering committee of the Cooper Square Committee. She and I were very different sorts of players — an array of adjectives come to mind to describe her — brilliant, charismatic, persuasive, indefatigable, optimistic. She was a socialist, Jewish, a quintessentially sharp-tongued New Yorker. I was an artist, soft-spoken Virginian, middle class, protestant background, a Jeffersonian idealist. We clashed at times, but my respect for her deepened over the years, and I think hers for me. One of the things I tell people about Frances is that for all her fierce radicalism, she was ultimately pragmatic and capable of compromise. She got things done. And is still getting things done at the age of 91.

Here’s a recent article in Bedford and Bowery about the history of the Cooper Square Committee.

New York/Tom’s Diner

Suzanne Vega, 1980 — © Brian Rose

Tom’s Diner again…and again…and again. Suzanne Vega’s a capella song poem set in an Upper West Side diner is back on the charts. Brittany Spears, if you can believe it, is the latest pop star to cover it — or smother it — whatever.

Here’s the song (you’ve been warned):

And believe it or not — yours truly — is forever connected to this song.

Suzanne: I have a photographer friend, Brian Rose, who has taken pictures of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Berlin Wall. He told me once long ago that he felt as though he saw the world through a pane of glass. This struck me as romantic and alienated, and I wanted to write a song from this viewpoint.

I still see the world through a pane of glass, though I’m not sure how alienated I feel these days. But I remain committed to observation, the fleeting moment, reflections, glances exchanged, the meaning derived from things, places, people passing by, the “art of facts,” if you will. Just like Suzanne’s wonderful little song.

Here’s the way is was done originally:

Here’s some recent media about the history of Tom’s Diner:
Mental Floss
Stereo Gum

New York/Hilla Becher

Hilla Becher died on Saturday at the age of 81. Her husband and partner Bernd died some years ago at age 75. A few years ago I posted the image below and the following short comment. There’s a lot you can say about the Bechers, but fewer words probably better suit their methodology.

September 9, 2011
The Museum of Modern Art

Framework Houses by Bernd and Hilla Becher — © Brian Rose

I’ve written in the past that it sometimes seems that the Bechers are overexposed. You can’t go anywhere without seeing their images, often in large grids, like the Fachwerk facades above. But let’s face it, this is brilliant work, especially this grouping. Their approach transcends genres. It is rigorous and seemingly impersonal, but in the end, suffused with pathos for human endeavor.

New York/The Walk

WTC 2 Observation Deck, 1981 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

The Walk, a new movie by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis tells the story of Philippe Petit, the French street performer, who clandestinely strung a cable between the Twin Towers – still under construction in 1974 — and proceeded to tightrope back and forth 110 stories above lower Manhattan. Thousands craned their necks upward in amazement as Petit walked the wire for 45 minutes. I haven’t yet seen the movie, a 3D extravaganza, but it is getting good reviews for its vertigo-inducing special effects. It’s a Hollywood version of Petit’s feat – or performance art – not to be confused with the brilliant documentary “Man on Wire, directed by James Marsh.

Petit was arrested at the end of his escapade, but with public sentiment in his favor, charges against him were dropped in exchange for a performance in Central Park. His breathtaking walk between the Twin Towers has become part of the folklore of New York, made all the more poignant by the horror of 9/11 a decade ago.

Philippe Petit signature and pictograph — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

Shortly after the destruction of the Trade Center, I sifted through my archive looking for photographs of the Twin Towers made over the years. One of the pictures I came across was taken from the observation deck on Tower 2 in the early ‘80s. I did a high-resolution scan of the 4×5 negative and discovered something unseen in my prints of the image, Philippe Petit’s signature and tightrope icon scratched into a steal beam. Petit’s performance masterpiece, it turns out, was signed by the artist.

As far as I know, it is the only photograph showing that long-lost signature.


I just saw the movie — it actually closes with Petit signing his name and drawing the little tightrope image as seen above. I have to admit to being surprised. It had to be based on my photograph. It’s true that someone from Zemeckis’ production staff contacted me a year ago about using one of my photographs in the film — but not the one with the signature. I expected it to be buried somewhere in the film, and in fact, it wasn’t used at all. Not to worry, I was paid decently. In the end, however, my accidental documentation of Petit’s signature plays a prominent role in the movie. I didn’t expect that.

New York/Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden on Eldridge Street, 1980 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

Adam Purple, 1930 – 2015

I knew about Adam Purple back when I photographed the Lower East Side in 1980. He was impossible to miss riding around on his bicycle dressed in tie-dyed purple. I made the photograph above of his famous Garden of Eden, which consisted of concentric rings planted with flowers and vegetables.

Purple was an eccentric character, to say the least, and from what I could tell, a man of rather severe temperament. So I steered clear. But that was a superficial judgement for sure. We all thought his garden was amazing, carved into the rubble of one of the many vacant lots of the Lower East Side, one of the many individual and group efforts to reclaim land that had been abandoned by property owners.

Later, in the 80s, Purple’s creation became caught up in a range war like the cattlemen and the sheepherders out west. The housing activists wanted low income housing, and the garden activists wanted community gardens and green spaces. Adam Purple was a single minded gardener and an artist — and he wasn’t interested in building bridges with other political elements of the community. That was the downfall of the Garden of Eden, though I don’t blame him for it. He was who he was.

Eldridge Street 2010 — © Brian Rose

Above is what got built on Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden. It isn’t lovely. It is low income housing providing shelter for dozens of families. There are no shops built along the street to provide opportunity for small businesses and to bring life to the neighborhood, and there is barely any architecture to speak of. But the apartments are decent and affordable, and the area is safe and convenient to everything.

Imagine, if you will, a different scenario in which a sensitively designed complex of affordable housing was created embracing the Garden of Eden at its center. It could have been glorious. But it would have taken vision, something the housing activists and the city planners lacked. And I’m not sure that Adam Purple with his fierce independence would have gone along anyway. After vanishing for many years, Adam Purple was seen again on his bicycle around town, carrying cans and the like for recycling. He died on his bike on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.


Wyoming/Big Sandy River

A series of photographs made in a 45 minute time period along the Big Sandy River in Wyoming. A small storm skirted the area. There were a few rumbles of thunder, but relatively little rain. As the storm passed by, the sun shone through against a dark backdrop of sky. Returning to the Big Sandy ranch, where I was staying, the storm crossed the Wind River Range of the Rockies in the distance.

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

Along the Big Sandy River, Wyoming — © Brian Rose

New York/Twin Towers

Borden Avenue, Queens — © Brian Rose (digital camera)

Several months ago I spotted a 9/11 mural in an obscure location underneath the Long Island Expressway in Queens. I was driving back from one of my son’s baseball tournaments on Long Island. It took me a while to get back there — in fact, re-finding it was a difficult. But thanks to Google maps I was able to track down the spot.

Using an app on my phone called Helios, I was able to determine exactly what time the light would be best on the mural. So, I went out early in the morning with my view camera, and walked about 15 minutes from the closest station on the #7 line in Long Island City. I couldn’t quite make out the signature at the base of the mural, painted on the side of an auto body shop in this gritty industrial part of Queens. Trucks thundered by as I set up my 4×5 camera under the elevated LIE. (The image above was taken with my digital camera.)

Although I have been calling my World Trade Center book project complete for some time, this seemed like a worthwhile addition to the series. A ghostlike rendering of the Twin Towers surrounded by calligraphic tags. The inscription says: “Dedicated to all the victims of September 11, 2001.” There are, or were, many such murals around the city, but they are gradually fading away.

It’s time to get this book published.

New York/Philip Glass/Suzanne Vega

Philip Glass, Suzanne Vega, and Anton Sanko, 1989 — © Brian Rose

I heard recently from a friend looking for a photograph I had taken years ago during a recording session with Suzanne Vega. So, I dug back into my archive, found the film, and began scanning the negatives. I remember that it was difficult lighting, and I didn’t want to use flash in the studio. So, it’s grainy film pushed in processing to get a little more speed out of it.

Anton Sanko and Philip Glass, 1989 — © Brian Rose

It was the end of 1989, and she was working on her third album, which would be called “Days of Open Hand.” One of the songs, “50/50 Chance,” included a string arrangement by Philip Glass. Present in the studio were Glass, Vega, producer Anton Sanko, and a string quartet.

Suzanne Vega, 1989 — © Brian Rose

Stephen Holden of the New York Times later wrote:

This song about an attempted suicide, a pop-minimalist answer to a Sylvia Plath poem, has a simple, lovely string arrangement by Philip Glass that underscores the sparseness of Ms. Vega’s language. It also sets off the emotional flatness of her vibratoless singing, which maintains a deadpan objectivity even in the words ”I love you.”

Brian Rose, 1989 — © Suzanne Vega

At one point I handed the camera to Suzanne, and she took the photo above. Here is the finished song from the album: