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New York/Old Topographics


Stephen Shore, Wilde Street and Colonization Avenue, Dryden, Ontario, August 15, 1974

Forty-two years ago, an exhibition called New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape caused a stir in the photography world, and the controversy around it, surprisingly, has continued to ripple down through the decades. I was 21 in 1975 when William Jenkins mounted his now famous exhibition of landscape photography. I was in art school in Baltimore, and just beginning to shoot in color. No one at the Maryland Institute – teachers or students – was doing anything like what Jenkins highlighted in his exhibition, and certainly not color landscape photography.


Scene from Red Desert, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1965

It took longer in those days for new ideas to percolate through the image making community, especially if you were not in New York City, or Rochester, the home of the George Eastman House where the exhibit took place. My strongest influences at that time were masters of the 35mm camera like Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander, but perhaps to a greater extent, I was fascinated by the color imagery of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s films from the 1960s and 70s, especially Red Desert and The Passenger. Consciously or unconsciously, I set out to bridge those worlds – socially aware street photography and the more studied color landscapes of Antonioni’s movies.


Joel Meyerowitz, ‘Camel Coats, New York City’, 1975

In 1975 I was basically following my instincts, not exactly in a vacuum, but at a remove from the groundbreaking shows that were coming out of the Museum of Modern Art under the leadership of the enormously important curator John Szarkowski. At some point, I came across several images by Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Meyerowitz, pioneers of color photography. Seeing those pictures printed in a magazine, it was as if the future flashed before my eyes. I knew what I needed to do.

By 1977 I was in New York where I studied with Meyerowitz at Cooper Union. It was the heyday of Light Gallery, which was one of the few galleries in the world dedicated to serious art photography. I remember seeing Frank Gohlke’s pictures of grain elevators at the Museum of Modern Art, and became familiar with Joe Deal and Robert Adams, particularly their images of the expanding suburbs of the American West. The way in which many of these photographers stayed back a bit, and allowed the detail afforded by the large format to do the work, appealed to me. When I photographed the Lower East Side in 1980 I turned to the 4×5 view camera as the best way to describe the neighborhood and its architecture.


Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973

I don’t remember when I became aware of the term New Topographics, but for me it was a curator’s thing – I was interested in individual photographers whose work I found compelling. To me, Robert Adams’ images possessed an almost spiritual power that transcended labels and art theory speak. At the same time, his pictures expressed  the uneasy symbiosis of our relationship with the natural world. That is true to some extent of all of the photographers that Jenkins grouped together in his show.

That’s where Jenkins was most persuasive, I think, to point out that landscape photography had moved away from the romantic idealization of the world epitomized by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. I’m afraid, however, that Jenkins unintentionally diminished the individuality of the photographers he chose for New Topographics. Placed in the same cubbyhole, the singular richness and complexity of their images was diluted by proximity, and this diverse group of photographers were seen to be part of some kind of group think. At the same time, many viewers were put off by the cool temperature of the images, the way in which visual content was diffused over the entire frame, rather than organized hierarchically.


Watering, Phillips Ranch, California, 1983

Recently, in a Facebook group about contemporary landscape photography, a contributor suggested that too much of the work posted there looked derivative of New Topographics. I don’t actually know what that means. I suspect it refers to the wide angle, evenhanded, approach that many of Jenkins’ selected photographers employed. But that seems to me a narrow criterion for work by markedly different photographers. Are we talking about Lewis Baltz? Stephen Shore? Henry Wessel? New Topographics was a cuator’s thesis supported by the work of a number of talented photographers who eschewed conventional approaches to landscape. But it was never a movement, nor a particular style.


Charles Marville, Demolition of Butte des Moulins for Avenue de l’opera, 1870

The reality is that photographers have been documenting human presence on the landscape since the medium was invented. It could be argued that the photographs of Ansel Adams and others depicting a pristine picturesque world were the true aberrations, and that the New Topographics photographers were actually extending  — in various different ways — an unbroken line running through Marville, Atget, O’Sullivan, Evans, and others. The Düsseldorf School photographers who are often connected to New Topographics were undoubtedly influenced by this continuum inspired as well by German photographers like August Sander and Albert Renger-Patsch. Even the more conceptual work of Bernd and Hilla Becher echoes that history.


Albert Renger-Patzsch, Winter landscape with colliery Pluto in Wanne-Eickel (1929)

Walker Evans, Birmingham Steel Mill and Workers’ Houses, 1936


Lee Friedlander, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980

As photographers we need not feel enslaved to curatorial constructs like New Topographics. What Williams Jenkins came up with was a timely recognition of the way in which photographers were becoming attentive to the accelerating encroachment of urban development in the late 20th century. That attention and the formal rigor of the images ran counter to the prevailing aesthetics of fine art photography, which had already been challenged by Winogrand, Frank, and other small camera practitioners. In my view, the whole uproar around New Topographics had less to do with an aesthetic or conceptual break than it had to do with a reconfiguration of the photography world including the growing importance of museums, curators, art schools, and galleries.


Eugène Atget, Porte de Bercy, 1910

Let’s not get distracted by all this. In my view, the critical observation of the landscape by photographers remains an important if not essential practice. With the explosion of new technologies, the increasingly inward gaze of virtual reality, and the lure of alternate notions of truth, the counter weight of objective observation keeps us attentive to the physical world we continue to inhabit with its ongoing environmental depredations, spasms of war and destruction – and beauty — wherever we may find it.

New York/WTC


St. Nicholas Church, under construction, WTC — © Brian Rose

When the Twin Towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, a small Greek Orthodox church, St. Nicholas, was obliterated by the falling debris. A replacement church designed by Santiago Calatrava is now under construction a short distance from the original structure. I snapped the picture above returning from an appointment at the 9/11 Museum offices. My book, WTC, will soon be available in the museum shop.


St. Nicholas Church, 1981 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

The original church served a small congregation just south of the WTC on Cedar Street. The building, converted from earlier use as a tavern, stood alone on a parking lot. Photographers were fond of tilting up at the cross with the Twin Tower rising above. It was a perspective that Edward Fausty and I avoided when we made our picture back in 1981.

New York/AIPAD


Empty AIPAD booth — © Brian Rose

There are hundreds of booths at AIPAD (The Photography Show) and thousands of people attending. Lots of different languages overheard while walking around, which is typical of New York.

But one booth is empty. The sign says:

Due to the recent travel ban and
the uncertainty of international
travel from countries identified
in the ban, Ag Galerie, Tehran,
is unable to participate in The
Photography Show this year.

Ran into several friends, Hans Knijnenburg from the Netherlands who is avid photo book collector, Art Presson and Eve Kessler, who have a wonderful photography collection, Joel Sternfeld, the photographer, and I met Hendrik Kerstens, the Dutch photographer who I wrote about in my blog a number of years ago.

 

New York/DART

DART, the newsletter for design professionals and photographers, is promoting the work of artists who are responding to the election of Donald Trump and the current political fallout from this national disaster. Today, my Atlantic City project is being featured. Thanks go out to Peggy Roalf for providing a showcase for this work and that of other artists.

The full project, Atlantic City: In the Wake of Destruction left by Donald Trump, can be viewed here.

New York/AIPAD


Dillon + Lee booth at AIPAD

I am pleased to be in this year’s AIPAD  (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) show at Pier 94 on the westside of Manhattan. I’ve attended several times in the past, but this is the first time I’ve had a piece on display. AIPAD provides a great overview of what the galleries are showing in New York and beyond. My gallery, Dillon + Lee, is not exclusively a photography gallery, but they have assembled a diverse stable of artists that includes a significant number who work with photography. I hold down the landscape view camera department.


AIPAD show — East 4th Street 1980 (Rose/Fausty)

I am showing a 4×5 foot print of one of the Lower East Side photographs made in 1980 by me and Edward Fausty. It’s the cover image of Time and Space on the Lower East Side, and it was taken in front of the building I lived in at the time. It is, perhaps, the most iconic of the Lower East Side images, and although shown a lot, it’s still one of my favorites.


Dillon + Lee booth at AIPAD

If you are serious about photography collecting — or want to see what is going on the photo gallery world — it is definitely worth the $30. There are more than 100 dealers and galleries represented, and they have added a section on photo book publishing this year, which I will be checking out. The show runs from March 30 – April 2.

 

 

New York/Truth

Eons ago — about 10 years — when George Bush was president, I wrote with dismay about how reality was becoming more and more a relative concept, untethered from facts, infinitely malleable. I quoted a Bush administration aide who said:

”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This was was from Time magazine, which still exists, despite the vast dispersion of the media across the internet in an information space that freely mixes social media and journalism, where rumor and fake news compete — and oftentimes win — over factually based reporting and observation.

Last week Time’s cover features only the text Is Truth Dead? This is where we are now. A dangerous con man was elected president on a wave of lies, disinformation, and willful ignorance. We are in big trouble.

There has been a lot of discussion over the years about photography and its relationship to truth and  reality. You hear a lot about how Photoshop has undermined the credibility of the image. You hear terms like “post factual.” There are deeply mind numbing discussions about semiotics and the indeterminate nature of meaning — and truth. These themes make wonderful parlor discussions, and graduate school theses.

They are irrelevant right now. We are in an emergency. We need to employ words and images as we understand them — to drill down to what is essential and knowable in practical terms.

I’m sick to death of hearing things from
Uptight short sided narrow minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth
I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic psychotic pigheaded politicians
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth

— John Lennon

UPDATE:

Case in point. I just received an email from a photography organization in the Netherlands promoting their next exhibition, Simulacrum. The basic premise of the show is that reality and manufactured reality are becoming indistinguishable. This is hardly an original concept — a curatorial container for a bunch of artists using technology to create alternative realities. I am not interested in this. I am interested in what artists have to say concretely and coherently — including those who make use of new technology. When we get waylaid by aesthetic and philosophical strategies that purposely blur the difference between truth and untruth in images and language, we run the risk of becoming complicit with the shape shifters and charlatans who seek dominance of our institutions and who currently occupy the White House in Washington, D.C.

Get real!

http://www.noorderlicht.com/en/photogallery/expected/

Simulacrum
What is real, what is artificial? The border between the two is beginning to fade. In the visual language of the advertising industry, the border between real photography and digitally calculated models is almost indistinguishable…  It’s becoming somewhat of a challenge to distinguish between images that represent reality and images that depict reality. This theme lies at the heart of the exhibition: a Simulacrum stands for a simulation that takes the place of the reality it stems from.

 

New York/Wall


Heinersdorf, Germany 1987 — from The Lost Border, The Landscape of the Iron Curtain
— © Brian Rose

The Dept. of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intends on issuing a solicitation in electronic format on or about March 6, 2017 for the design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico.

 

Unsurprisingly, there are engineering firms and architects who are interested. One small architectural firm explains their willingness to participate:

To put it directly: we have never said that we are designing a wall. We are responding to the government’s solicitation for a new model of border infrastructure which we hope will provide a corrective to the privileging of iconicity, spectacle, and security at the border. (full text here)

Jake Matatyaou and Kyle Hovenkotter, JuneJuly, March 3, 2017
management@junejuly.co

 

New York/Atlantic City

We are barely two months into the Trump presidency and it’s been some scary ride. I have gotten a good start on my Atlantic City project, which highlights Trump’s bankrupt casinos as a jumping off point. I don’t know where things go from here — with my project, or with Trump’s reality TV show writ large. As the esteemed blogger Digby says, “He’s running the country like he ran the Taj Mahal.”

Most of my landscape projects have incorporated social/political issues, but this is by the most targeted, and the most connected to current events. So, in the interest of getting the work out into the world as soon as possible, I’ve taken the photographs I’ve run on my blog over the past few months and put them together in a mini-website. Please take a look — recommend to others. Resist!

New York/Williamsburg


Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose (Painting by Damien Mitchell)

Trump unmasked.

Update — a quote from Simon Schama’s piece in the Financial Times. I first came across Schama when living in the Netherlands. His book The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age is highly recommended along with his later Landscape and Memory.

He writes:

The challenge, as with all such imaginative counter-attacks, is the capacity to project the message beyond the halls of college and museum and into the street where it counts. Prints lend themselves perfectly to poster polemics but the most effective challenge may yet come from creative adventures in the digital media, where inspired derision coupled with the defence of truth can go viral. Should that happen, the complacent dismissal of resistance art as the self-indulgent playtime of a defeated “elite” will die on the faces of the powerful. Aux armes, les artistes!

https://www.ft.com/content/0ded5de4-fe6d-11e6-96f8-3700c5664d30

New York/Atlantic City


Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

By the time I get back to Atlantic City, these images of Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza will almost certainly be gone. Workmen were busy removing any signs of Trump’s involvement in Atlantic City when I was there less than two weeks ago. But the evidence will not be easily erased.

In 2015, the Trump Taj Mahal was fined $10 million for money laundering.

“Trump Taj Mahal received many warnings about its deficiencies,” said FinCEN Director Jennifer Shaky Calvery. “Like all casinos in this country, Trump Taj Mahal has a duty to help protect our financial system from being exploited by criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors. Far from meeting these expectation, poor compliance practices, over many years, left the casino and our financial system unacceptably exposed.”

Financial Crimes Enforcement Network
United States Department of the Treasury
Press release — March 6, 2015

 

New York/Atlantic City


(
Trump) Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

On January 24th this year, a northeaster swept up the coast eating away at the dunes erected along Atlantic City’s boardwalk. In front of the (Trump) Taj Mahal the waves nearly broke through the dune barrier leaving behind a sharp cliff of sand.

Maps provided by (Atlantic City Director of Planning) Elizabeth Terenik show why Atlantic City presents such a unique case study for what sea level rise can do to a city. The majority of Atlantic City’s casinos, four of which shuttered in 2014, along with the boardwalk, rest along the highest point of elevation, while the residential portion has a much lower elevation, putting the homes in harm’s way. Names like “Trump” and “Bally’s” dominate the skyline of a community that sees little of the industry’s profits.   — National Geographic

 

New York/Atlantic City


B
orgata and Harrah’s casinos, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

Atlantic City has seen five of its 12 casinos close since 2014 (two were Trump casinos) amid ever-increasing competition from gambling halls in neighboring states. That has caused the city’s tax base to crumble. It also led the city’s remaining casinos to file hefty tax appeals, claiming their property assessments were too high thanks to the downturn. In turn, that blew large holes into the city’s budget over the last few years, helping bring the city to the brink of bankruptcy.
–NJ.com

So, in a nutshell, the Borgata, the most successful of all the casinos, bankrupted Atlantic City. It should be obvious at this point that the casinos were never really about the revitalization of the city. Atlantic City’s unemployment rate remains extremely high, and city services have declined. The casinos were, and are, about the transfer of billions of dollars into the pockets of people like Donald Trump, aided by politicians like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. And there is ample evidence that much of Trump’s money came from nefarious Russian sources to whom he remains indebted and obligated in unknown and potentially dangerous ways.


Pacific Avenue, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

Donald Trump came to Atlantic City promising glamor and untold riches. He left it in ruins — though there is still plenty of gold all over the city — like in the Gold Mine directly behind the empty and now de-Trumped Taj Mahal.

New York/Atlantic City


Golden Nugget, former Trump Castle, at left — © Brian Rose

Initially, most of the casinos were built on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Since most gamblers were not interested in the raucous entertainments of the boardwalk, nor were they likely to be found sunning themselves on the beach, several casinos were built on the other side of Absecon Island in a marshy area well away from the crime-ridden streets of the city. Trump Castle was the first to locate in that area.

Like a rat abandoning a sinking ship, Trump pulled out his interests in Atlantic City little by little. In 2011, the Trump Marina (formerly Trump Castle) was sold for about a tenth of what it was originally worth, and now operates steadily under new management as the Golden Nugget.
— Vox

Now he was looking for work as a livery driver. Brown also used to work in the casinos, at the Showboat, bussing tables, and at Trump’s Castle, stripping and waxing floors. “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,” he said. “It was the eighties, I was a teen-ager, but I remember it: they put us all in the back.”
— The New Yorker

New York/Atlantic City


Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

The Trump Taj Mahal appears from the boardwalk as a complex multi-leveled building festooned with towers, domes, and a grand staircase leading up to the sky. The reality, however, as seen along Pennsylvania Avenue — the Monopoly Pennsylvania Avenue that is, not Washington, D.C. — is a massive windowless box containing cavernous casino, restaurant, and entertainment spaces. Everything is internalized. Only the high rise hotel rooms offer views of the ocean and the New Jersey  pine barrens to the west.


Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

As I walked along the wall of the Taj casino I came across the abandoned Human Resources Offices of Trump Entertainment Resorts. No jobs available here any more. Lots of smiling faces of fictional employees and a dead pigeon.


Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

And then, to my astonishment, a group of women came walking along Pennsylvania Avenue carrying  “Make America Great Again” signs. Even here, at the epicenter of Trump’s business dissolution, at the nexus of Russian dirty money and the fleecing of gullible gamblers, there are, apparently, true believers.

New York/Atlantic City

Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

Back in Atlantic City on a bright, somewhat cold, February day. Earlier in the week, I read that the Trump name was being removed from the Trump Taj Mahal.I decided that I better go back and get some more photographs of the Taj before it was completely de-Trumpified. All traces of the name had already vanished from the Boardwalk. On the back side of the tower, however, workmen high on a crane were busy detaching the red letters from the facade. It was not something I could do much with using the view camera, so I moved on.

I walked out on the beach for an overview, stopping behind a restaurant, closed for the season, with some of its furniture shrink-wrapped in plastic, the bulbous shapes oddly echoing the onion domes of the Trump Taj Mahal. The casino, as i’d noted before, looks less like the Taj Mahal of India than it does a Russian Orthodox church. Despite all the Trump/Russian connections, that was probably not the original intention. But it’s one more thing that makes you go hmm.