New York/Two Images

I mentioned a few months ago that I was expecting the Museum of Modern Art to acquire two of my photographs. It is now official. The acquisition committee approved the purchase. This is not the first time I have sold prints to the museum. They have previously acquired images from my Lost Border/Iron Curtain series. But, I am pleased that they have now added more recent work from Berlin and Amsterdam.

Mauerstrasse, Berlin (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose
From the series Berlin: In from the Cold

Since the Wall came down I have been returning to Berlin every couple years looking at developments in the former border zone, and venturing beyond to places and themes that resonate with my earlier work. Berlin, while having undergone two waves of rebuilding–first after World War II, and then after the Cold War–remains a city of scars, of vacant land and rough edges, in which history is laid bare.

In the photograph above, the layering of eras, architectural styles, materials and objects, conspire in an almost bewildering jumble. The location is but a few steps away from Checkpoint Charlie and the trace of the former Berlin Wall. As I was walking around the area, I discovered an opening to an inner courtyard–a Hinterhof, common in Berlin–and came across this scene.

There are any number of ways I approach things as a photographer. Sometimes, the subject–a building or object–demands to be respected as is, as opposed to being integrated into a willful composition. It is the composition. One of the things I’ve learned from my experience as an architectural photographer is that sometimes–often, perhaps–one has to remain subservient to the subject. And as an artist/photographer I realize that it is not necessary, nor is it advantageous,  to attempt to reinvent the medium each time I set up my camera and release the shutter.

There are also times when the subject is illusive. It may be contained in the inchoate envelope of a space, or found in the interstices of a barely recognized structure. For me, the spacial world is always a multidimensional reality, not simply a compositional layering of one thing upon another. I see things rather as a matrix, a situation comprised of any number of anecdotal or accidental relationships. The photograph above is that kind of image. In simpler terms, it’s about how all that stuff hangs together visually–about nothing–and about something essential that defines, in this case, Berlin.

Jewish Cemetery, Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

For 15 years, while living in Amsterdam, I photographed the changing periphery of the city and its less determined edges. I call the series Amsterdam on Edge, which expresses not just the physical location of the photographs, but the psychological condition of a society deeply unsure of its identity and its future in a  multicultural Europe.

In exploring the outskirts of the city, I often took trams to their end points, or drove to obscure areas along the freeways. One unexpected discovery was a Jewish cemetery bisected by a train viaduct and hemmed in by a freeway and high-tension power lines. Many of the gravestones were marked Westerbork, the name of the camp that served as a way station en route to Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. Nearly 90,000 Jews, more than 10 percent of the population of Amsterdam at that time, were killed.

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