New York/Primeval

Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx, 1984 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Soon after the Lower East Side project was completed in 1981 I began photographing Central Park, partly on my own, and partly working for the newly formed Central Park Conservancy. This led to further explorations of New York City’s parks focusing primarily on the natural landscape throughout the five boroughs. There were sponsors, exhibitions–but no book–and eventually this work was left mostly unseen in my archive. I’ve always felt that these several park projects contain some of my best pure photography–images made from the raw material of the landscape–and greatly influenced how I approached the Iron Curtain landscape, a project begun in 1985.

I recently discovered that Joel Meyerowitz has published a book–Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks–covering much of the same ground as my work from 20 years ago. Seeing it stopped me dead in my tracks, a little stunned. It’s obvious that he was unaware of my earlier work, also done in color with a view camera, so I can hardly complain. But it leaves me, nevertheless, with a feeling of loss.

Inwood Park, Manhattan, 1984 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

It’s a beautiful book, of course, as one would expect from Meyerowitz, who assiduously explored the far reaches of the city. And an exhibition opens this week at the Museum of the City of New York. So, what to do now with my work, the hundreds of negatives, years of effort?

The answer, as best I can do for the moment, is New York primeval, a web presentation of my natural parks work. It includes almost 70 images along with documentation of how things came about, who funded it, and where it was exhibited. Rather than order the photographs geographically as in Meyerowitz’s book, I’ve made a continuous flow of images, sequenced sometimes by place, but often just by what feels right to me. I have identified the boroughs in which the photos were made.

In the coming days I’ll link the site up to my homepage. And then move on.