Two images of the west side of Manhattan in 1985 with Empire State Building. Today, the ESB has lost its primacy on the skyline, though not its architectural presence. For me, it will always be New York’s greatest skyscraper.
A few outtakes from Atlantic City. Pictures that for one reason or another did not make the cut. The main reason being that I wanted a really tight series of pictures without too many digressions or repetitions. You can purchase Atlantic City here.
The Trump Taj Mahal was stripped of its faux Indian/Russian onion domes and minarets, and the new owner, Hard Rock International, pasted on their guitars. The picture above catches things in between. Although there are still the traditional hand-pushed rolling carts on the boardwalk, there are now a number of these little buses that take tourists up and down the beach.
Architect Kevin Roche died on Friday at 96. I photographed several of his buildings including the Metropolitan’s Temple of Dendur. For me, the most interesting project was the UN Plaza Hotel with its precisely juxtaposed towers. The lobby interior was, perhaps, over the top, but it certainly embodies the time period, 1984, when New York was just beginning to emerge from near financial ruin.
The interiors of UN Plaza were officially landmarked two years ago, which was something of a breakthrough for preservationists who believe that recognition and protected status should extend to postmodern buildings along with mid-century modernism. I’m not sure that I especially like the glitzy mirrors of Roche’s hotel lobby, but I do not quarrel with the Landmark Commission’s decision. It would be a great loss to allow postmodernism, with all its hits and misses, to be erased from the cultural landscape.
The image above shows the Ford Foundation Building — arguably Roche’s finest building — with the UN Plaza. Difficult to get them both in, and probably not my best picture, but I remember going to a lot of trouble to get that vantage point.
Thoughts on hearing of the death of Robert Venturi.
When I think about my early influences as a young photographer, I always return to the fact that I was an urban design major at the University of Virginia in the early ‘70s. I left the field to go to art school, but my path as a photographer has always circled back to that original interest – a fascination with the built environment.
Planners and architects want order, by and large, and great buildings often stand apart from the riff raff of the visual turmoil of the city. I was torn between the ideas of order and chaos in photography. I wanted both. I wanted formally rigorous photographs, but I also wanted to include the random detritus of urban life. I struggled with this dichotomy at first, but eventually came to celebrate it.
At some point during the ‘70s I came across Complexity and Contradiction in Architectureby Robert Venturi, and subsequently, Learning from Las Vegas by Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Complexity and Contradiction called for a more inclusive way of looking at architecture, and Learning from Las Vegas expanded on the idea that vernacular architecture was a legitimate expression of the world we lived in, and should be embraced, not denigrated.
It was an easy jump for me to apply these ideas to photography, and I was certainly not the only photographer inspired by Venturi and Scott Brown’s writing. Although I loved the elegantly minimalist work of artists like Donald Judd and Agnes Martin, I found that the more reductive photographs became, the less they interested me — the less they seemed to utilize the descriptive power of the medium. As Venturi wrote: “I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non sequitur and proclaim the duality.”
In 1975 Venturi commission Stephen Shore to make photographs for an upcoming exhibition at the Renwick Gallery in Washginton, D.C. called Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City. It was a match made in heaven: Shore’s omnivorous eye and Venturi/Scott Brown’s inclusive architectural philosophy. Shore said later, “I traveled from Los Angeles to New York and photographed along the way, keeping in mind a list of different kinds of architecture that Scott Brown and Venturi had given me.”
In 1975 I was in Baltimore studying photography, and although I was unaware of the show at the Renwick, I did discover the work of Stephen Shore along with the color photographs of William Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz. They are each very different artists, but all share an interest in giving expression to the commonplace – the world as we find it.
Aaron Betsky, the architectural critic, recently wrote:
Toward the end of Complexity and Contradiction, Venturi quoted art historian August Heckscher when he said that he wanted a “unity which ‘maintains, but only just maintains, a control over the clashing elements which compose it. Chaos is very near; its nearness, but its avoidance, gives … force.’ ” He then ends the book with a call for us to look at the “everyday landscape, vulgar and disdained,” to inspire “architecture as an urbanistic whole.”
Photography has been connected to architecture and the urban landscape from the very beginning – from Niépce’s first fleeting image of buildings outside his window – to Atget, Abbott, and Evans. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s ideas about landscape and architecture have inspired, directly or indirectly, a whole generation of photographers. We have all absorbed their method of keen, but non-judgmental, observation, whether we’ve thought about it or not. We take it for granted, a fact that illustrates the depth and breadth of what Venturi called his “gentle manifesto.”
An interview I did with Hannah Frishberg of 6sqft, a website about New York City urbanism, real estate, and architecture. It focuses on Metamorphosis, my book about the Meatpacking District, includes comments about my Lower East Side and World Trade Center work, and touches on my recent photographs of Atlantic City.
For those of you who missed my Kickstarter campaign, I am taking pre-orders for Atlantic City. Please consider buying now, not just to save a little money, but because it helps directly in defraying production costs.
Atlantic City is very close to completion, and I”m really excited about how it is turning out. I’ve often used personal commentary in support of my pictures, but this time I bring in carefully selected external quotes. Text has been used, of course, in other photo books, Atlantic City extends the concept in a way that I haven’t seen before.
Trump Plaza, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose
Trump’s businesses in Atlantic City filed for bankruptcy five times.
#1: The Trump Taj Mahal, 1991
#2: Trump Castle, 1992
#3: Trump Plaza and Casino, 1992
#4: Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts, 2004
#5: Trump Entertainment Resorts, 2009
On the presidential campaign trail Trump boasted of his ‘success’ in Atlantic City, how he had outwitted Wall Street and leveraged his own name for riches. He would do for America what he had done for Atlantic City, he said. And so it came to be. Brian Rose has documented what remains of the city in the aftermath of the casino explosion. The images are haunting. Atlantic City may never recover. — Paul Goldberger
Tech II (Meister Hall), The Bronx, designed by Marcel Breuer — © Brian Rose
A little commentary on making a photograph. A few days ago, I wrote about visiting the Bronx Community College campus — originally New York University. In the ’60s the campus was transformed by Bauhaus trained architect Marcel Breuer.
This amazing view of Meister Hall was made with my pocket camera, a Sony RX100, which shoots RAW and produces 20 megapixel image files. It’s been my visual note taker, preview camera when shooting 4×5 negative, and all round backup. Pictures from this camera have even been used in my books, and most of the images in this blog were made with it.
So how does a tiny camera make a photograph with this kind of clarity and monumentality? First of all, it helps that the Sony is a brilliant camera, but you can’t just point up at a building like this and expect to make a fully realized architectural photograph. Here’s how it was done.
Since it was not possible to get the whole rectangle of the building into the frame of the camera even using the widest focal length, I made multiple images — two verticals left and right, and one horizontal that included some of the plaza. I opened each image in Photoshop in camera raw, adjusted the exposure and color — made them low contrast — and saved them. I then roughly corrected the perspective of each of the images so that the lines were not converging. I then used photomerge, a feature in Photoshop that stitches together overlapping frames to form a single image. From there I fine tuned the perspective of the overall image, and cropped out empty areas left when the three frames were merged. Finally, I worked on the color and contrast of the image. It all took two or three hours. The stitched together image file is about 250MB.
Most of the time it isn’t necessary to do something this elaborate. None of the other pictures I took walking around the campus needed that kind of treatment. But sometimes there’s no other way.
Two weeks ago I visited Bronx Community College, originally the uptown campus of New York University. The main quad is anchored by a symmetrical grouping of neoclassical buildings by Stanford White, the designer of many New York buildings from the turn of the 19th century including the now demolished Penn Station. Behind White’s Gould Library is the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, which I wrote about in a recent post.
In 1956, NYU hired Marcel Breuer to create a new masterplan for their University Heights campus. Breuer, a Bauhaus trained architect, who left Nazi Germany in the 30s, worked in a style now called Brutalism. The name came from the French, beton brut, which refers to raw concrete. At NYU, he combined expressive form with utilitarian bands of bricks and glass, and throughout, there are low stone walls, not unlike those used in local farmer’s fields.
After visiting the Hall of Fame, we first encountered a classroom building with a swooping concrete entrance canopy, similar to Breuer’s UNESCO headquarters in Paris. I climbed the hill adjacent, topped with a decrepit war memorial — utterly neglected. Dozens of window air conditioners disrupted what was once a clean uninterrupted composition.
Walking past this building we arrived at terrace with a low horizontal building and freestanding trapezoidal structure known as Begrisch Hall. It contains an auditorium, which is accessible by a pedestrian bridge. The streaking in the concrete above is not intentional — the entire complex is in shamefully bad condition.
Begrisch Hall has been named an official city landmark, but as far as I know, not the entire ensemble of buildings. As I walked on further, I became more and more astonished and dismayed. It was like stumbling upon a lost archaeological site, crumbling, yet mostly intact. Of course, it is right here in the Bronx, perched high up over the Harlem River, chosen because of its prominent location.
Completed University Heights campus. “Now, the University will no longer be hidden under a bushel, but will be set on a hill-top and there will be not the slightest doubt as to its existence in the mind of anyone who passes University Heights.”
– University Quarterly magazine, 1894
But NYU at University Heights did not become another Columbia or Fordham University flourishing outside the center of Manhattan. Lehman College to the north, however, which also has two Breuer buildings, remains a thriving campus.
And then around the corner, another amazing sight. Two bridges supported by concrete pillars lead to a slightly curved dormitory building, set down the slope of the hillside. No air conditioners here, but there are vents in the brick banding, and the window glass and mullions seem heavier than what was likely there originally.
Marcel Breuer — © Brian Rose
From here we walked back to the quad and stood opposite Meister Hall, which we had passed by on our way to the Hall of Fame. All four walls of the quad have been completed with the recent addition of a library designed by Robert Stern. It attempts to bridge the gap between Stanford White’s Pantheon-inspired Gould Library and Breuer’s vigorously modern Meister Hall — and in doing so it falls somewhere, or nowhere, in between.
Tech II (Meister Hall), Marcel Breuer — © Brian Rose
Meister Hall was originally named Tech II, and in 1970 it was the last of the Breuer buildings to be completed on the campus. It housed the university engineering and science departments. There is a clear distinction between the elevator and stair towers with yellow brick matching the earlier campus buildings. Along the street a low structure is raised up on concrete feet with the main body of the building set a distance behind. Between the two structures was a courtyard with paving stones. It all felt very European to me — France, or perhaps, Italy.
As someone who has photographed New York extensively in all five boroughs, I know the city better than most, and its urban landscape continues to provide fresh surprises. But nothing prepared me for the visual drama of what came into view around the back of Meister Hall.
A vast wall of indented concrete panels rose up above a minimalist plaza — windowless — extreme — an uncompromising expression of space and material and nothing else — an opening in the base, the only sign that there is anything habitable behind this eyeless facade. Several interlocking pavilions stood on the plaza with cracked concrete slabs beneath them, like fallen columns.
What can I say. I teared up. Stanford White built his Pantheon echoing Thomas Jefferson on one side of the University Heights quad. Marcel Breuer erected his Parthenon, his Greek temple, on the other side — modernism and classicism melded together as pure sculpture and image.
This, I believe, may be the greatest architectural statement in all New York.
It was the summer and few students were around. There were no other visitors.
I‘ve seen a lot of the Bronx over the years. It’s a much maligned borough of New York that contains some of the city’s great institutions — the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, Fordham University, and the Yankees, no less. My son went to Bronx Science, one of the prestigious specialized high schools, which have been in the news lately because of the controversy around the entrance exam, which is the only criterion for admission. Bronx Science is an academic island of Asian and white students in a largely Latino borough. But that’s a controversy I’ll take up another time.
Last week, I visited the Bronx Community College campus for the first time. It was originally New York University before they sold the property to the state and headed downtown to Greenwich Village. They left behind a grouping of Stanford White neoclassical buildings, and a complex of structures designed by Marcel Breuer, one of the great modernist architects of the mid-20th century. Wrapping around the back of the White buildings is a colonnade containing the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a series of busts depicting noteworthy Americans.
The Hall of Fame opened in 1900 and was the focus of much national attention. The public was invited to nominate worthy individuals, and an esteemed jury made the final selection. Some of the most important sculptors of the time, including Augustus Saint-Gardens and Daniel Chester French created the bronze busts. Additions were made over the years, but by and large, the selection represents a view of American culture from more than 100 years ago.
Henry Mitchell McCracken (NYU president), extremely passionate about history and civic duty, believed that Americans needed a place to honor great and influential figures from the past. Influenced by the Rumshalle (hall of fame) in Germany, the Chancellor pictured a pantheon where Americans could pay tribute to those who left their mark on America. MacCracken’s vision would become a reality and be dubbed the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, the first Hall of Fame ever built in the United States.
Over the years, the Hall of Fame lost its centrality. The heroic classical approach to honoring achievement fell out of favor, and when NYU consolidated its operation in Manhattan, the Hall of Fame and the entire Stanford White grouping of library and classrooms buildings was neglected by the state of New York. It did not help that the Bronx in the ’70s and ’80s became an urban hellscape, and few people ventured beyond Yankee Stadium on the 4 train. While the Bronx has rebounded in the intervening years, the Hall of Fame and its accompanying buildings remains in deplorable shape.
Last year (2017), soon after the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, spurred by the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee sculpture, many communities began reassessing the presence of Confederate symbols in parks and public squares. With the blessing of local politicians and the president of the college, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the removal of two sculptures from the Hall of Fame: Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. A year later, the pedestals remain empty, and no signage indicates who, what, or why.
I am no apologist for Confederate generals, who were undoubtedly on the wrong side of history, and fought for the preservation of slavery. But I do not believe that removing statues, especially without providing explanation, is the answer. I have addressed this issue before in my blog. The Hall of Fame should not be viewed as a contemporary attempt at venerating American heroes. It is, as a form of cultural expression, an important historical artifact. It is also an important piece of artistic and architectural heritage. Robert E. Lee was placed next to his Union counterpart Ulysses S. Grant. They were adversaries, representing the two sides of the conflict that tore apart the nation — that in the age of Trump revanchism remains an unresolved conflict. We should be talking about what these two men represented, and how they came to be on these pedestals in the Bronx.
If you look at the choices made, one could say that the entire Hall of Fame of Great Americans has a dubious legitimacy. There are few women, few African Americans, and many of the great figures represented had serious flaws. Andrew Jackson led a campaign of genocide against Native Americans. Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. Many of the great industrialists achieved their wealth on the backs of poor laborers working in harsh conditions. Even Stanford White, the architect of the complex was guilty of raping a teenage girl, and was then murdered years later by her husband who claimed White had ruined her. Should we blow up the whole edifice?
When I was there last week, there were no other visitors.
Next up, Marcel Breuer, and the one of the great modernist masterpieces in the world — largely unknown — in the Bronx.
This is my Atlantic City Kickstarter video made with help from my son, Brendan Rose. it starts in front of the abandoned Trump Plaza next to historic Boardwalk Hall on the left.
My campaign is off to a good start. It might quiet down over the 4th of July holiday, but this is a good moment to consider patriotism as a possible reason to support this book. It strikes at the heart of Donald Trump’s fraudulent business career — and equally fraudulent presidency. Atlantic City is Donald’s Trump’s dystopian America.
ATLANTIC CITY — A PHOTO BOOK PROJECT
When Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, I knew immediately that I needed to do something as an artist and photographer. My work has always focused on the urban/social landscape, but I’ve generally avoided politics. Trump’s election, however, signaled a grave emergency, a threat to democracy and the freedom we take for granted as Americans.
Within days after the election, I drove down to Atlantic City on a hunch that this place, the epitome of Trumpian dystopia, would serve as a metaphor for the overall state of affairs in the United States.
I started by photographing Trump’s failed casinos, and then moved to the ravaged neighborhoods adjacent to these architectural behemoths, these internalized money machines. Rather than saving a faded Atlantic City, they have sucked the life blood out of its veins and enriched grifters like Donald Trump.
ATLANTIC CITY — CIRCA PRESS
I am fortunate to be working with Circa Press, a distinguished publisher of books on architecture and culture. And I am especially honored that Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer Prize winning critic, is writing the introduction.
Books like this are expensive to produce, and I need your help in covering some of the production costs. Your pledge to my Kickstarter campaign will make this book a reality, and you’ll be rewarded by receiving a signed copy of Atlantic City, or one of the other awards offered.
This book won’t bring down Donald Trump, but it might help. It’s time for artists to step up — for all of us to step up. Make your voice heard by supporting Atlantic City.
— Brian Rose
Catalogue page for Atlantic City which will be published by Circa Press, a London based publisher of exceptional books about art and design. Circa was founded by David Jenkins, the former chief editor of Phaidon, and the introduction for Atlantic City is being written by Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize winning critic for the New York Times and The New Yorker.
I’m going to Atlantic City tomorrow to shoot my Kickstarter video. The weather is looking stormy. There’s a campaign afoot promoting an Atlantic City comeback — but it’s a sham. The former Trump Taj Mahal has morphed into the Hard Rock Casino and the Revel is reopening as Ocean Resort Casino. As before, the jobs will go primarily to suburban commuters, and I would not bet on the success of two new casinos in an already shaky market. Hard Rock has the best chance because of its already established brand and ability to book top entertainment. Meanwhile out on Pacific and Atlantic Avenues, little will change for the drifters and homeless.
I am pleased to report that my photographs of Atlantic City have found a publisher, Circa Press, of London, and that the book will be released early in 2019. The project is well underway and we are working on the design of the book now. This will be my fourth book in eight years.
The introduction for Atlantic City will be written by the esteemed architecture critic Paul Goldberger. Here is his blurb for the book:
Atlantic City was born in the mid-nineteenth century and grew and grew. It grew so big, so fast, that it captured the American imagination. It was ‘the World’s Playground’. Its hotels were the largest and finest, its nightclubs legendary, its boardwalk an endless promenade. And then, as it began to fade, the casinos came. And instead of reviving the city they killed it. Chief among the villains in this piece is Donald J Trump, who built his casinos on dunes of debt and bled them into bankruptcy. On the presidentialcampaign trail Trump boasted of his ‘success’ in Atlantic City, how he had outwitted Wall Street and leveraged his own name for riches.He would do for America what he had done for Atlantic City, he said. And so it came to be. Brian Rose has documented what remains of the city in the aftermath of the casino explosion. The images are haunting. Atlantic City will never recover.
Some of the production costs will need to be defrayed, so I will be initiating a Kickstarter campaign later this summer. Stay tuned for more information.
Yesterday, I toured the Philip Johnson Glass House with Cooper Union alumni. It rained the entire time we were there, but the atmosphere was beautiful, drenched in the vibrant green of early Spring. In the various structures on the estate, one can trace Johnson’s chameleon-like career, morphing from one architectural style to another.
The Glass House itself, of course, is Johnson’s homage to Mies van der Rohe — which I have seen photographs of many times. What was most surprising to me was the landscape surrounding it. How the house sits on a plateau overlooking carefully orchestrated views, perhaps reminiscent of Olmsted’s urban pastorales, Central Park or Prospect Park.
No doubt intended by Johnson, the Glass House is not simply “the house,” but the integration of the structures with the landscape. Inside and outside are blurred, and each of the separate buildings, or follies, have different purposes or play different symbolic roles.
We ended the tour at Da Monsta, Johnson’s last structure on the site. It is expressive of the non-rectilinear design of architects like Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind — deconstructivism — and Johnson, as always, followed others, and championed their work. That is his greatest legacy. He used his money, charm, and intelligence to elevate the place of modern architecture in our culture.
There is no more essential New York experience than having an oyster stew or pan roast in the Oyster Bar in Grand Central. If you sit at the counter along the north wall you can watch your stew prepared in front of you. It all happens in 3 or 4 minutes — a half dozen Blue Point oysters are quickly cooked in clam broth in a steam heated pan, half-and-half is added, along with dashes of Worcestershire, hot chili sauce, and a sprinkle of paprika. The pan is then tilted, the stew goes into a bowl, and it arrives piping hot a few seconds later. It doesn’t get any better than this.
I once sat next to Peter Seeger at the counter in the Oyster Bar — he was alone — but I didn’t say a word.
After an oyster stew, one must pay homage to Grand Central Terminal itself, one of the greatest interiors in the world. Look up and see the Zodiac. Be filled with wonder.