New York/Coney Island 1977


The Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

The last black and white photographs I took were in 1977 when I first came to New York. After that it has all been color — 35mm in the beginning, and 4×5 negative up until the present. I was in a hurry in those days, and just did not get around to printing the black and white I was shooting. I took a class taught by Larry Fink, who constantly told me to move in closer, and I insisted on staying back. (I love Larry Fink.)

All I remember is that I made lots of walks with my camera in downtown Manhattan, and I took the subway to far flung parts of the city. Inevitably, I ended up in Coney Island, which was a gloriously decrepit wreck of a place in the late 70s. Much of it was abandoned, though there were still rides, funhouses, cotton candy and Nathan’s hotdogs. The Cyclone and the Thunderbolt roller coasters were still running, clattering wooden structures that did not inspire confidence in their safety.


The Parachute Jump, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I’m not exactly sure when these pictures were made. It was obviously still warm, but the summer crowds are not present in the pictures. So, I’m guessing it was September or early October. As run down as Coney Island was, I wasn’t necessarily documenting social conditions. I had just arrived in New York, and I accepted the shabby state of things as normal. I was interested in the texture of the cityscape as raw visual material, and I carefully, albeit quickly, made rigorously formal compositions.


The Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

One of the great things about Coney Island — then and now — is the dense urban structure of it. The city streets run right to the boardwalk and beach, and there are narrow alleys and passageways. Most present day amusement parks are, not coincidentally, parks. They are built adjacent to freeways, are surrounded by huge parking lots, and feature pastoral landscapes. Coney Island is an urban playground, like Times Square, and in 1977 it had some of that same allure of sex and danger. The increasing prosperity of the city has drained some of that “authenticity” out of Coney Island, but it remains a crazy quilt of planned and spontaneous urban profusion.


From the Steeplechase Pier, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island boardwalk, 1977 — © Brian Rose


From the Steeplechase Pier, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I kind of want a larger format negative — or high resolution digital — with more detail for these images, especially the one above. But they are beautiful, nevertheless. Atmospheric tokens of another time, a young photographer finding his way in a city teetering on the edge, a wondrous rediscovery for me all these years later.

More Coney Island pictures to come.

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