New York/Under the FDR

Under the FDR Drive, 1982 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

I am working on a book about the World Trade Center that spans a 32 year time period. It’s a big job pulling together all the images from my archive, scanning new images and rescanning older material. In some ways this will be a book about the ghost of an icon in the way that my Berlin pictures, post-Wall, are about something that no longer exists. The fall of the Berlin Wall–marking the end of the Cold War–led to a profound reconfiguring of world politics. The fall of the Twin Towers signaled another altering of the world order–possibly not to the benefit of the United States, which appears vulnerable as a world power since 9/11. Such opinions, of course, lie outside the scope of my photographs, though they invite the viewer to take a long view of such matters.

The photograph above, which has never been printed before, was taken by me and Ed Fausty in 1982 underneath the FDR Drive in the area of the Fulton Fish Market. We were still working together at the completion of the Lower East Side project. It was a sullen day, the sun weakly shining between the buildings. A backlit situation, the warm glow at center/left is the sun position. Very difficult to print–or in this case work up in Photoshop.

For those interested in technical things, I selected the shadow areas of the image, and worked with curves to try to coax tonal range out of what could easily turn into a black mass. Working on contrast globally without selecting can be problematic because highlight detail is easily lost. The shadow /highlight tool can be useful if handled with care. Often I anchor points on the RGB curve at either end, and push and pull in between to achieve mid-range contrast. I also used a Wacom pen to paint dark and light areas, zooming in to small pieces of the image to work at a more detailed level. There is a limit to how much you can open up shadows, and if there’s nothing there, it should stay black. In a previous post I railed against Ansel Adams and his zone system approach to printing, but I’m not opposed to the idea of  achieving a full range of tonal values. I prefer, however, to work more intuitively.

You won’t be able to see this at the resolution of  your computer screen, but there are about 15 people standing on the observation deck of WTC 2 to the left. Easily visible in a decent sized print–if I ever get the chance to do an exhibition.

2 thoughts on “New York/Under the FDR

  1. Mike Cannone

    Beautiful photograph Brian and thanks for the tech peek. I always enjoy that part too.

  2. Ed May

    Another of your revealing photos of the underside of the city. I particularly like the crumbling masonry in the highway support column, and the litter on the street. The background, almost incidental view of the towers of course brings a poignancy to the composition, that would otherwise seem an ordinary street scene.

    You have a fine eye for the usually unnoticed details that people will find interesting, sad or wonderful decades later.

    Here the crumbling city can be seen as a prelude to the crumbling country; itself partially an artifact of 9/11.

    Great work!


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