Category Archives: Architecture

New York/Midtown

West 36th Street — © Brian Rose

Stan Banos at Reciprocity Failure asks “Are you a street photographer?” and points to my recent photograph of balloons as evidence that it is still possible to find moments of wonder ” in the street.” People suggest that street photography is making a comeback.

Maybe I’m out of touch with the current chatter, but it’s not something I’ve thought about lately. I guess there was a time as a student when I thought of myself as a street photographer. And it’s true that I still make a lot of photographs while perambulating about the city. But it seems to me that street photography refers more to a style of picture taking than to the simple act of making photographs in public places.

Sometimes I work with a 4×5 view camera, especially engaged in long term projects, and sometimes a pocket size digital camera. The photograph above was made with a Canon 5D with a tilt/shift lens employed while doing an architectural shoot. I find images where I am–the street or otherwise.


New York/Lower East Side

Sarah D. Roosevelt Park — © Brian Rose

We visited the New Museum block party in Sarah Roosevelt park yesterday–despite the continuing heat. While I talked to David Mulkins, the director of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, an organization trying to save the historical character of the Bowery, Brendan, my son, busied himself creating a model tenement out of colored paper. His design is probably not what the preservationists had in mind–but I like it a lot.

BMW Guggenheim Lab — © Brian Rose

A few blocks north I snapped a few pictures of another example of cutting edge Lower East Side architecture, the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a temporary structure to serve as a sort of interactive urban think tank. Exactly how it will function–besides being a cool object–I am not sure. Designed by Atelier Bow-Wow of Tokyo, the structure is described as a tool box from which things can be raised or lowered to the ground level.

I like the way the structure is inserted into a gap between a row of  tenements creating a passage linking E1st and Houston Street. I’ve photographed this gap and adjacent open space before–one image is in my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side.

Which brings me to my book. I have decided to work with a small New York publisher with the intention of bringing out Time and Space on the Lower East Side by the end of the year. I will provide more details later, once the deal is finalized, but I am confident that this will be a beautiful and successful book. It will require money, however, and I am planning to make use of Kickstarter, a web based fund raising platform for creative projects. I will, of course, let everyone know when the campaign is launched.

In the meantime, the current Blurb version of Time and Space remains available–but not for long. Once the new book is set into motion, the Blurb book will be withdrawn, never to appear again. Book collectors take note. The St. Mark’s Bookshop has a few signed copies.

New York/WTC

Steve Katzenbaum of CNN radio and Brian Rose

Yesterday I was interviewed by CNN radio for a piece they are doing about the loss of the Twin Towers on the city’s skyline and about the rapidly rising 1 WTC tower, which is intended to replace, visually and symbolically, the iconic presence of the former skyscrapers. I brought my WTC book with me, and talked about some of the pictures and answered questions from CNN correspondent Steve Katzenbaum.

We met in the small triangular park at Greenwich Street and Vesey Street just below 1 WTC. The tower appears about 2/3 of the way up. It’s a busy spot with commuters coming to and from the PATH station while gawking tourists and hard hatted construction workers commingle.

I don’t yet have a time and date for the broadcast, which I believe will be available as a podcast on the CNN website.

New York/WTC

WTC montage — © Brian Rose

In my book, WTC, I used cropped close-ups of the facade of the Twin Towers to break up the different groupings , or chapters, of photographs. I found them intriguing as images on their own–abstract, but clearly identifiable. One of them shows a strip of blue, which is the sky between the two towers. A few months ago I began playing with close-ups in Photoshop making montages of the images, eventually settling on a sequence with the strip of sky in the center–as seen above.

I presented the montage to FAB (Fourth Arts Block), which is sponsoring a program called ArtUp. FAB  is located on E4th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, a block full of theaters and other cultural organizations. Several of the groups are renovating their buildings necessitating sidewalk sheds to protect passersby. FAB is making use of these scaffolding bridges to give artists the opportunity to show their work in a public space.

Sidewalk shed on E4th Street — © Brian Rose
Earlier ArtUP piece (top photo), WTC proposal (below)

I am pleased to report that that I have been invited by FAB to mount my WTC montage on the sidewalk shed pictured above. I’ve seen several of the previous installations, and the best of them are site specific. My montage, as originally conceived, almost fits perfectly on the sidewalk shed–4×28 feet. The strip of images will be printed on vinyl or Tyvek and attached to the plywood backing of the shed. Assuming good color and sharpness, it will look something like the superimposed image above. The orange and white barricades will be removed soon reducing a lot of visual clutter. Directly across the street, FAB runs a cafe that caters to the theater going public, as well as the local neighborhood, and I will be able use a wall inside for supporting material, probably a number of photographs and text panels.

Although I have to admit that I hoped for a more prominent location for the piece somewhere downtown, I am wholly enthusiastic about doing this installation here. This is a very busy block with thousands of people walking by each day, and crowds lining up each evening to attend the theaters. Not only that, this is  the block where I lived when I first came to New York, where I worked with the Cooper Square Committee to preserve and build low income housing, and where I first met my wife who was visiting from the Netherlands. It is the block pictured on the cover of Time and Space on the Lower East Side, my book about the neighborhood. It is a very special place to me.

The installation will go up in late September when attention is focused on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I will also be doing a slide talk based on my WTC book at the Mid-Manhattan branch of the public library around the same time as the opening on 4th Street. The dates for both events will be made available soon. WTC–both the installation and book–are modest in scale compared to what will be happening down at ground zero in a few months. But I hope they will serve as a kind of antidote to the Sturm und Drang that will accompany those major public events, and offer images of the World Trade Center that evoke memory and history without a repetition of the violent imagery that inevitably will be exploited by the media.

I feel strongly that artists–and New Yorkers–have a responsibility to step up and express alternate ways of commemorating 9/11. It happened to us, to our town, to our friends and loved ones, and it profoundly altered all our lives. This piece, ultimately, is about the ubiquitous presence of the Twin Towers on the skyline–as architecture and memory–and about its absence. A patch of blue sky.

New York/Chelsea

Chelsea rooftop and Empire State Building — © Brian Rose

The picture above was taken while doing a walk-through of a building I will be shooting in the next couple of weeks. Having recently photographed several projects in California with green roofs–both low income and market rate–I was bit taken aback by the black rubberized roof on this building. The extreme heat from the surface immediately seeped through my FiveFingers shoes, which I wear most of the time, and I doubt I could have remained standing up there more than a few minutes. Not only does this increase the energy required to cool the building, it also adds to the heat island of the city, which has all kinds of negative impacts on the environment. I was told that the budget for this non-profit project was not sufficient for a more environmentally friendly solution.

There is no excuse for this. I am not necessarily blaming the developer and architect who are struggling to deliver a product on a shoe string budget. It is clear that without government mandates, tax incentives, and if necessary, subsidies for non profits, we are going to continue in the wrong direction.

Here’s a start.

Chelsea water towers — © Brian Rose

News report from here in the trenches:

Good news. I will be teaching a class at the International Center of Photography this fall inspired by my book, Time and Space on the Lower East Side. The class will photograph various aspects of the neighborhood, and then put together a book using Blurb, the online printing/publishing service. I am excited about the opportunity–it has been a while since I last taught–and I hope this leads to other teaching assignments.

Bad news. Princeton Architectural Press, which published my book The Lost Border, turned down Time and Space on the Lower East Side on the basis that it would have too limited an audience. I am not an expert in marketing, to say the least, but as someone with a nose to the ground, I know they are wrong about the audience. There has already been substantial interest in the book–I’ve sold at least 30 on my own–doing almost nothing. But aside from that, it seems that publishers–not just PAP–have forgotten the concept of taking compelling photography and selling it.

Good new and bad news. When I did the Lower East Side project in 1980 with Ed Fausty, the Bowery served as the western boundary of the neighborhood. It had its own character, of course, infamous as the skid row of New York. But we didn’t focus on the Bowery much, perhaps because it seemed like a separate enclave at the time. Since recommencing the project I’ve done many photographs along the Bowery, enough that they almost constitute a separate series.

With all the interest in the Bowery of late–museums and galleries, hotels and apartments, restaurants and boutiques–and the efforts to preserve some of the character of this previously maligned, but historic, place, I’ve decided to begin photographing the street in a more comprehensive way. The only problem at the moment is that there is no 4×5 negative film available. Fujifilm has stopped making the stuff, leaving Kodak the only supplier, and all the New York shops have it backordered. Uh oh.

When the film comes in I’m going to have to buy as much as I can afford and refrigerate.

New York/Roosevelt Island

Long Island City from Roosevelt Island — © Brian Rose

On Sunday I took a tour of Four Freedoms Park, a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, currently under construction on Roosevelt Island. The island is located in the East River opposite Midtown and the Upper East Side. It is accessible by aerial tram and subway, and by a bridge from Queens. In the past, the island was primarily used for prisons and hospitals, a convenient location to keep separate from society certain people–notably the mentally ill, small pox patients, and victims of polio. In the 1970s a planned community of high rises was built for middle income residents, and more recently, market rate housing.

It was damp, foggy morning, and I joined about 25 other Cooper Union alumni for the hour-long tour at the far southern end of the island. The memorial was originally designed by Louis Kahn in 1973, but it was not built because of the city’s fiscal problems. The project was resurrected a few years ago and is now going forward using the Kahn design. I snapped pictures of the construction site as well as views across the East River and historic structures on the island.

FDR Four Freedoms Park under construction — © Brian Rose

The memorial culminates in a granite enclosed “room” at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island opening onto a vista of the river and the adjacent United Nations complex in Manhattan–enveloped in fog above.

The complete series of ten photographs can be seen here.

The park website is here.

New York/Solar Panels

Fair Lawn, New Jersey — Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

I read with some amusement an article in the New York Times on New Jersey residents complaining about solar panels mounted on utility poles in their neighborhoods.

“I hate them,” Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. “It’s just an eyesore.”

Some residents consider the overhanging panels “ugly” and “hideous” and worry aloud about the effect on property values.

Yes, looking at the photograph above there clearly is a problem. The street is cluttered with old wooden poles festooned with transformer boxes and draped with telephone and electrical wires. The solar panels merely add to the visual cacophony. This is how residential streets look all over the country–and I am sorry to say that most people have become blind to it. Moreover, in the current political and economic climate there is little hope that this design cancer will be addressed.

Tassafaronga Village, Oakland, California (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Recently, I photographed Tassafaronga Village in Oakland, California  for architect David Baker. It is comprised of low income and middle income housing. In the shot above I am looking over an undulating green roof toward townhouse apartments with solar panels mounted on stanchions and on the roofs. Utility lines are invisible–only the solar panels remain exposed. Imagine the street in New Jersey with a series of new appropriately designed poles mounted with solar panels. The panels would be plainly visible, of course, but the overall look greatly simplified. It could be done elegantly.

Tassafaronga Village, Oakland, California (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Here is another view of the project looking toward a larger apartment building containing community rooms and support offices. The previous view was shot from one of the narrow vertical windows on the second floor. Solar panels face south along the street.

As a society we are neglecting the public commons. Our communities are visually polluted with all kinds ill-considered utility structures, cheaply built municipal buildings, and unregulated strip developments. Present day political discourse is all about what we can’t do rather than what we can do.

New Jersey: require the utility companies to bury those lines.


New York/Williamsburg

Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

A new building from local firm Loading Dock 5. Despite the many mega housing projects in Williamsburg, the best architecture is often found in small infill projects like this one. The windows echo the off-the-shelf frames of the two aluminum sided houses on either side. A glimpse of the light filled interior can be seen through the tall vertical window.


New York/The Bowery

Cafe on the Bowery — © Brian Rose

An article about the Empire State Building, built during the Great Depression, it was once referred to as the Empty State Building because of the high vacancy rate. Nice to see an architectural view used so prominently in the paper. It looks a lot better here graphically rendered in black and white than it does in color on the NYT website–wrong time of day and hazy looking.

New York/Colonial Williamsburg

Last weekend I went to AIPAD, the giant photography dealer’s fair at the Armory on Park Avenue. I don’t have any particular opinion about what I saw–a lot of photographs–no trends spotted. Not enough time or energy to think critically about such a dizzying display of dreck to pearls. Primary observation: more galleries present and a number from outside New York. Business seems to be picking up. So far, it’s not helping me.

Afterward, I dashed uptown to the Guggenheim to meet my sister who was visiting from San Francisco. We wanted to see a video installation by Omer Fast who in 2005 made a piece dealing with Williamsburg, Virginia, the restored colonial capitol, and where we grew up.

From the 2008 Whitney Biennial:

In Godville (2005), a 51-minute, two-channel color video, historical reenactors at the Colonial Williamsburg living-history museum in Virginia describe their eighteenth-century characters’ lives and their personal lives in ways that seem interchangeable. Fast splices the reenacted and real biographies together, often word-by-word, into a rambling narrative that is as aurally fluent as it is temporally dissonant. The work tells the story of a town in America whose residents are unmoored, floating somewhere between the past and the present, between revolution and reenactment, between fiction and life.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

Both my sister and I played roles in the open air museum of Colonial Williamsburg. I was part of the fife and drum corps, a professional musical group that performed regularly for visitors as well as for presidents and dignitaries. My sister was a costumed ticket taker, and later a costumed sweeper hostess at the nearby Busch Gardens “old Europe” theme park. A sweeper hostess, as I understand it, picked up trash and chatted with tourists.

I found the film fascinating, though unsure about its ultimate message. I liked the idea of intercutting between real and fictional, and in the process blurring the lines. I have made photographs of the architecture of Colonial Williamsburg, and was particularly interested in the juxtaposition of views of the historic structures and contemporary suburban neighborhoods. Confusing, however, was that many of the contemporary architectural and landscape images shown were not made in Williamsburg, but in unidentified generic locations.  Some of the images included mountains and scenes from the west, which I presume was intended to allude to larger American mythological themes.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

Three costumed reenactors spoke either in character or from their real life experiences. Some of the time they were shown speaking uninterrupted, other times their words were chopped up and reconnected. The depiction of these people–and their words–is extremely manipulative, but I can’t say that they were shown unsympathetically or portrayed unfavorably. It is, however, a highly problematic approach. Knowing what I know about art and media, I would be very wary of participating in such an enterprise.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

In so many ways Colonial Williamsburg is an easy mark. It is easy to see it as kitsch and a distortion of American history. Too easy. There is lots of room for critical analysis, but unfortunately most of it to date has been facile. Omer Fast’s Godville, despite my reservations, is worth seeing and thinking about. Not that many people visiting the Guggenheim are doing that. In the hour that I spent watching the video in the museum on a busy Sunday afternoon, not one person gave it more than a minute’s attention.

Colonial Williamsburg outbuildings  (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Which brings me to my own work dealing with Williamsburg. A number of years ago I photographed the outbuildings and surrounding gardens behind the main buildings. The pictures deal with the structures as architectural vocabulary filtered through modern interpretation and context. On the one hand they reveal the complex dichotomy of old and new, and on the other hand they are what they are–formally composed, often beautiful, collections of little buildings, fences, and trees.

Since it appears I will be continuing to go down to Williamsburg in the future–my father still lives there, and my mother may return there soon, I am thinking I should revisit the project. The idea I have is to photograph some of the new urbanist communities that have been developed outside of the restored area–places that recycle the architectural and urban planning vocabulary of the past–and juxtapose those pictures with the ones I have taken of the outbuildings and dependencies of Colonial Williamsburg.

New York/Cooper Square

Cooper Square (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The small federal-style building at center dating from the early 19th century may not stand much longer. It is now surrounded by scaffolding, and demolition of the roof has begun. The city has just issued a stop work order, but my guess is that it will only postpone the inevitable. The preservation groups seeking to save the character of the Bowery–this is the northern extension of the Bowery–are admirable, but rather late as you can see by the architectural context. Here is the latest news.

Cooper Square — © Brian Rose

Presumably, the vacant lot at the corner of Third Avenue and E6th Street would be joined with the land under 35 Cooper Square to create a larger site for development.

Cooper Square in 1917

Even in 1917 few of the federal period buildings remained in this part of town.

New York/WTC

Smith Street, Brooklyn (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I finally got the film back from the subway trip to Smith Street in the area near the Gowanus Canal. The image in WTC was from my small digital camera–the one above is from a 4×5 negative. Several pictures I took there are usable, but I think I will stick with this view.

West Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

This is the 4×5 version of an image posted earlier show 1 WTC and 7 WTC in the center.

Info kiosk with 1 and 7 WTC (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I will update my WTC book with the images above and the two below. I’ve felt that the series needed strengthening near the end. These should do the trick.

At this point, unless something unexpected happens with a publisher, I am planning on putting this book out on Blurb in two sizes–the full size 11×13 hardcover and an 8×10 hard and softcover. The smaller books will sell for $45 to $55 as opposed to $100 plus for the larger size. From an aesthetic standpoint, the 11×13 best conveys the monumental nature of the subject, but the small book will look good, too. All three of my self-produced books will be available in the 8×10 format including Time and Space on the Lower East Side and Berlin: In from the Cold.

I’ll post a new link to the updated book once it’s ready. Link here.

New York/Ground Zero

Greenwich Street, Fireman’s Memorial  (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Church Street, St. Paul’s Chapel Churchyard (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Earlier this week I picked up the film from my two days of shooting around ground zero. So these are scans of 4×5 film. Despite difficult snowy conditions, and a 30 second exposure for the evening shot, both negatives are razor sharp. The tall building at center of both images is One World Trade Center. The sweeping view of the site made next to the Fireman’s Memorial was, until a few weeks ago, blocked by the remnants of the Deutsche Bank building behind the blue fence to the left. I’m very pleased with these images and intend to work them into the WTC book. Stay tuned for several more images.

It’s taken me a while to get these up because I had jury duty–two days on call–didn’t get picked. A jury of your peers in Manhattan can be a pretty rarefied group. A hundred of us were taken into a courtroom for jury selection and 18 were interviewed by the prosecution and defense attorney. You were asked to respond to basic questions about career, education, and family. 17 of the 18 in that first group had college degrees. Many had masters degrees. The jury was selected before I had a chance to be interviewed. It was an armed robbery.

New York/WTC

Vesey Street — © Brian Rose

I went back to the WTC site yesterday and spent much of the day there–mostly in three spots. It was a cold cloudy day with snow occasionally falling. Conditions like that make using the view camera difficult, but it was not so extreme as to be unmanageable. I started out in the area around the Path Train station adjacent to 7 WTC, the one element of the new World Trade Center already completed. Tourists milled about an info kiosk, looked at the various renderings and photos plastered to construction fencing, and craned their necks up at 1 WTC, now more than 50 stories high.

Information Kiosk — © Brian Rose

Transportation Center rendering, Vesey Street — © Brian Rose

St. Paul’s churchyard — © Brian Rose

St. Paul’s Chapel survived 9/11 relatively unscathed including the historic gravestones in its churchyard. The sign at the bottom of the photo above shows the spire of the church situated between the former Twin Towers. I did several photographs in the churchyard and then headed back to my studio to warm up and get more film.

Fireman’s Memorial, Greenwich Street — © Brian Rose

When I returned to ground zero the snow had picked up. I did several views in the area around the Fireman’s Memorial. The Deutsche Bank building, which has taken almost ten years to demolish, is now down to the last floor, opening up a panoramic vista of skyscrapers including 1 WTC going up at center of the photo above. I made this iamge by holding my digital camera against the top of the view camera. The exposures with the 4×5 were in the 15 seconds to 1 minute range. Could be snow on the lens, so we’ll see how things turn out when I get the film back.

I am hoping that a few of these images can be incorporated into the WTC book bringing the narrative up to 2011.

New York/WTC

West Street — © Brian Rose

I went downtown this afternoon just after a light snowfall. It was cold, but tolerable and not overly windy. I did several shots with the view camera, one similar to the image above. 1 WTC is now over 50 floors up–almost as high as the adjacent 7 WTC. Visually double the height, and add a spire. That’s how tall this building will be when completed.

I may go back tomorrow. The Deutsche Bank building, which was damaged on 9/11, is now down to its last floor or two. It has taken this long because of a series of delays caused by the discovery of human remains, complicated asbestos removal, an accident, and a fatal fire. The building’s absence opens up new vistas on the overall site and removes a curse–if you believe such things–from ground zero.

My WTC book proposal will be reviewed by a publisher next week. Keep your fingers crossed–if you believe such things. See the book here.

New York/WTC

Lower Manhattan Skyline, 1982 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose and Ed Fausty

This is lower Manhattan at its most heroic and romantic seen from the upper floor of a building in Brooklyn Heights. Since 1982, several bulky buildings have blocked up the foreground and obscured the thin spires of the early 20th century–and of course, the Twin Towers are gone. 1 World Trade Center is about 50 floors up now, and soon it will begin to rise above everything else.

After receiving a hardcopy version of WTC, my new book proposal concerning the World Trade Center, I decided to make a few changes. Text smaller, a few sequence tweaks, and a new end piece. I also created a text page opposite the image of the Deutsche Bank building, a cursed structure if ever there was one, only now about to fully demolished. It needed some explication.

I am reaching out to everyone I can about the book. I have some very good contacts, but limited. I need someone to come through for me on this. Otherwise, I’m not sure how this book will see the light of day.

The new version of WTC can be previewed here.

New York/WTC Book

Front cover of WTC — © Brian Rose

I’ve more or less finished with the first draft of WTC, my photo book about the World Trade Center. Like so much I’ve been doing lately I have no idea what the outcome of it all will be. This ought to be a “popular” book, but it’s an oblique glance rather than a series of straight on architectural views. The fact is, none of the earlier photos were ever intended to be primarily about the WTC or the Twin Towers. Only the later pictures, the ground zero views, and the found vernacular images of the Twin Towers were consciously made as such. In many ways the book is about memory and the ephemeral presence of the towers on the skyline. My favorite illustration of the Twin Towers is the New Yorker cover done by Art Spiegelman–black towers against a black background. They are barely visible.

New Yorker cover by Art Spiegelman

The book is comprised of a number of different sections corresponding to time period and camera format. The earliest pictures were made in the late ’70s on 35mm Kodachrome, the ’80s pictures were made on 4×5 film, and most of the recent ground zero photos were done on 4×5. The post 9/11 Twin Towers collection was mostly done with a digital pocket camera, either a Ricoh GR or Sigma DP1. It’s interesting to see them together in a book all printed at the same scale despite coming from drastically different file sizes.

Close up of the skin of WTC tower — © Brian Rose

To break up the parts, or chapters, of the book, I’ve made made tightly cropped images of the skin of the Twin Towers–the pin striping that made the buildings seem to shimmer or appear slightly fuzzy from a distance. These cropped images bleed to the edges of the page and act as dividers.

Close up of the skin of WTC tower — © Brian Rose

I haven’t decided whether to make the book public on Blurb as yet, but I will make it semi-public here on my blog. Take a look. Any feedback is, of course, appreciated. Be kind. I’ve put days and days into this not counting the shooting itself. Be sure to look at the full screen preview.