Category Archives: Around Town

New York/Black and White 1977


New York, unknown location, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Although my early black and whites are without question documents of time and place, I did not, as a student, consider myself a documentary photographer. There was never any question about the goal, which was to make photographs as art. Not some hybrid mixed media animal — though I did make a painting in school where I stuck a photograph onto the canvas — but photographs pure and simple — crystallized reality, but not reality at the same time. To me, there was power in that. I still think there is power in that.


East 41st Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

One of the basic, and profound, truths of photography is that the moment preserved, is fleeting. It seems “decisive,” to quote Cartier Bresson, but it remains fugitive, unknowable, When I look at the man above crossing the street in the fedora (they were not so common even in 1977) I cannot know what he is thinking, or where her is going, or just came from. But he strides, nevertheless, through the frame as if there is meaning. It is an awkward meaning in a slightly awkward composition, but somehow compelling, cinematic. To me. Maybe not for you. I’m keeping this one in the mix for now.


Tudor City Place, 1977 — © Brian Rose

New York was a mess in 1977, and you can see it in many of these pictures — in the scraggly vegetation in the parks, the trash on the streets and sidewalks, the frayed edges of the landscape. But the photograph above was not a critique on the condition of the city. I was aware, of course, that a small tree lay uprooted in the left foreground of my picture. It’s a notation, not central to the motive for the photograph. There are two verticals — the trees — and a tangle of limbs, benches, and shadows in between. There is a perfect sunlit square hovering left of center. Several people bask in the winter light, talking, dozing.


East 41st Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose


East 68th Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Tudor City Place, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I wanted the camera frame to take in everything evenly — non hierarchical. This was learned from Friedlander especially, and my teacher at Cooper, Meyerowitz. Composition was not just side to side, but front to back as well. Each shot was an experiment in seeing and describing the fabric of things not necessarily the things themselves.


East 40th Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I look at many of the pictures I made in 1977 and wonder what the hell I was thinking. Pointing the camera at what seems like nothing. Baffling to me now.

But then — there’s the image above…

 

New York/Fordham Road 1977


Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

As I was scanning my 35mm black and white negatives from 1977 I came across a series of images that I could not locate in the city, at least at first. I remember roaming the five boroughs with my camera, sometimes taking the subway to the end of the line, with no particular goal in mind other than satisfying my curiosity.

Looking at the image above, I was not sure where it was — and I could not remember ever taking it. I knew it was not Manhattan because of the relatively low buildings and the fact that the street was passing underneath my position behind a balustrade and a row of telephone booths. That doesn’t happen often in Manhattan. But having spent a lot of time in the Bronx the past few years going to my son’s basketball and baseball games, I knew it had to somewhere along the Grand Concourse, the broad boulevard that runs through the center of the borough.


Fordham Road, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Bisecting the Concourse is Fordham Road, a busy shopping street that for a half mile or so defines the southern edge of the Fordham University campus. In 1977 it was a visually cacophonous place, and it still is today. The creeping blight, the fires and abandonment, of the South Bronx never made it up to Fordham Road though it threatened.

The RKO Fordham Theatre was showing Star Wars, the cultural touchstone that premiered in 1977. The theater was demolished years ago and replaced by a nondescript retail building. And back then, there were still stores that specialized in “hosiery.”


Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Alexander’s was a big discount department store that dominated the corner of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse. The building is still there, but divided up into smaller retail outlets. That’s a Checker Cab to the left and Ford Mustang to the right.


Fordham Road, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Hair on Face Removed Forever. We Dissolve the Roots. These buildings are still there, but the Dollar Savings Bank is now an Apple Bank, and the parapet decorations to the right have either been stripped off or are obscured by new cladding.


Fordham Road/Grand Concourse area, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose


The Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I was able to locate this photograph by reversing it in Photoshop and identifying the Ascot Theater across the street. It was demolished in 2016.


The Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

This one was hard to find, but I eventually located a small triangular park on Google street view at 181 Street and the Grand Concourse. It’s still scruffy looking, but there are now a half dozen trees behind the benches.

New York/1977


Madison Avenue and 41st Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

A story I’ve told many times — 40 years ago, today, i arrived in New York and found an apartment on East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue. At 9:34PM the lights went out, and I spent the night in Penn Station unable to get my train back down to Washington, D.C. where I  was living at the time. It was eerie in the station, but there were cops around, and I was unaware of the riots and fires raging elsewhere. A few days later I was back to this scarred and battered city with my stuff, mostly clothes, a guitar, and photography materials.

I set up a darkroom in the bedroom of my tiny apartment, and that summer began roaming the street with a 35mm Nikkormat, mostly shooting Tri-X film.I didn’t print much of it, however, because I had already begun working in color, and I soon left black and white photography behind for good. This is the second installment of scans made from that work — most of it from 1977 and 1978. As I said in an earlier blog post, I do not remember taking any of these pictures. It’s like discovering an unknown self intently searching for a style, for a formal approach, for a subject, which to a great extent turned out to be New York City.


Lexington Avenue Line, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Unknown location, 1977 — ©˙Brian Rose


East 43rd Street across from the United Nations, 1977 — © Brian Rose


158th Street, The Bronx, Yankee Stadium, 1977 — © Brian Rose

1977 — it was the summer of Son of Sam the serial killer, the Bronx was burning, and the Yankees won the World Series. It was my entree to a city that would become central to my life and career. In that first year or two I attended Cooper Union, wrote songs and hung out in clubs with my friends, met my musical comrades in arms, Jack Hardy and Suzanne Vega, and took a lot of photographs. In 1980 I teamed up with Ed Fausty to photograph the Lower East Side in color using a 4×5 view camera. It was an exciting time — though wistful nostalgia is tempered by the fact — which I have not forgotten — that it was also a difficult time, financially and emotionally.

Stay tuned for more pictures.

New York/Black and White


East 14th Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Going through some boxes yesterday, I began looking at my early black and white negatives.

During the 1970s I shot dozens of rolls of film, Kodak Trii-x and Plus-x, along with dozens of rolls of Kodachrome and Ektachrome color slide film. Most of the black and white has never been printed, or even contacted. I didn’t have the time, and I was moving quickly from one thing to the next.

So, I scanned eight strips of black and white film — a small sample of negatives — and well, I’m kind of stunned. I literally can’t remember taking any of these pictures. It’s like discovering my alter-ego out on the street in New York, a young photographer fully engaged in making images, densely composed fragments of a now distant past.

Unknown location in New York, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Unknown location in New York, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Unknown location in New York, 1977 — © Brian Rose

A photograph of nothing and/or everything. A nondescript location in some far flung part of the city, a precise balance of interlocking elements welded together at the center of the image, a face staring out from a cigarette ad, two cobra style lampposts acting as quotation marks.


Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Similar vertical elements dividing the frame, foreground and background brought together in an overall, highly activated composition. I remember now, the way I thought about things back then. I wasn’t interested in one area of focus, or one subject of interest. I wanted everything treated equally across the field of view.

I’ll scan more images as time permits going forward.

New York/Rockaway Beach


Beach 116th Street, Rockaway Beach — © Brian Rose

Despite becoming a cool beach destination in recent years, Rockaway Beach still has its scruffy aspects. There are SROs, nursing homes, and low income projects. There was a time when the beach was a convenient place to dump things — and people. There are also blocks and blocks of neatly kept houses.


Beach 116th Street, Rockaway Beach — © Brian Rose

Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It’s not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach
Up on the roof, out on the street
Down in the playground, the hot concrete
Bus ride is too slow, they blast out the disco on the radio

Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach

— The Ramones


Rockaway Beach boardwalk — © Brian Rose

Rockaway Beach was badly hit by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 — hard to believe it was almost five years ago. The damage is still evident, though much has been rebuilt along the beach in the Rockaways. Elevated modular structures house a lifeguard station and restrooms. The wooden boardwalk has been replaced with a sturdier concrete surface that is less comfortable to walk on barefoot. We didn’t hitch a ride like the Ramones, but took the NYC Ferry back to Manhattan, which is a great ride, and only $2.75.

New York/Chain-link Baseball


Long Beach, New York — © Brian Rose

Despite the it’s bucolic “field of dreams” image, baseball has urban roots. Before the development of suburbs after World War II, baseball was a city game played in vacant lots, and even in the street. The development of the suburbs changed the geographic and socio-economic basis of the game, and the rising popularity of football and basketball displaced the primacy of baseball as the great American pastime.

But baseball is still played in the city on scruffy fields caged behind yards of chain-link fencing. My son, Brendan, is one of a relatively small number of New York City kids who made it all the way through Little League to college ball. I’ve journeyed to dozens of games in the Bronx and all over the five boroughs. These fields are not glamorous places — unlike nearby Yankee Stadium. They don’t engender much nostalgia, though I still feel somewhat attached to Pier 40 on the Hudson River in lower Manhattan, a disused passenger ship terminal converted into a recreational facility.


Monroe High School, The Bronx, New York — © Brian Rose

Baseball is played on fan-shaped fields, while New York is a city of rectilinear blocks. It’s not a natural fit. Nevertheless, baseball remains deeply associated with the city historically and in the present. In Greenwich Village Little Leaguers play on J.J. Walker field hemmed in by a high outfield fence to prevent well-struck balls from breaking windows across the street. And in the Bronx, housing projects overlook Monroe High School where many of the best Latino players in the city learn the game.

New York/The Bronx

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White Plaiins Road, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

In the midst of running my Kickstarter campaign — which was successful despite a nail biting finish — I traveled up to the Bronx to see my son play baseball with his school team. New York City has decent quality baseball despite horrible conditions, fields that would be considered unplayable elsewhere. And they are often in out of the way places where space is at less of a premium. I got off the 6 train and joined a crowd of people waiting for the Bx39. It’s moments like this when the pocket camera comes out and I snap a few pictures, usually one right after another, and then I’m done. So, here are two such pictures. Thin slices of urban tissue, waiting for a bus.

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White Plains Road, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

New York/Staten Island

All eyes are on Staten Island. A grand jury there failed to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed African American, using an illegal chokehold. I have no words to add to the anguish being expressed all over this city. Let me instead share some images, and tell some stories about New York’s strangest borough. A place I would describe as Lynchian, or Hopperesque — the actor, not the painter.

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Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

I once took my family hiking in the expansive forest parks of Staten Island. We were following a series of poorly marked trails and soon found ourselves lost — or at least going in circles — lost in a dense forest in the middle of New York City. We walked for what seemed like hours before finally stumbling out of the woods onto a suburban style street with single family homes, men washing their cars in driveways, kids riding bikes, and lawnmowers droning in the background. It was as if we had stepped into a movie set. People stared.

We had no idea where we were, but thanks to an iPhone with GPS we were able to locate ourselves and re-enter the forest with the hopes of reaching our original destination. We ended up tired and dirty in a strange zone of urban abandonment, where unused highway ramps and bridges dissolved into the woods and tangled undergrowth. It was, I discovered later, a forgotten project of planner Robert Moses — another of his schemes to turn New York into a web of freeways — parks and neighborhoods be damned. For once, he was stopped. But his ruins remain.

si_002Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

Years before, when I was still a student, I visited Staten Island with some music friends. We took the ferry, a bus, and walked a mile, to a small house near a marshy area called Lemon Creek. I brought my 35mm camera and shot slides of the area, a netherworld of tumbledown shacks, factory buildings, and boats up on blocks. It felt like places I’d been to in the south, where someone might smother you with hospitality or, if you got unlucky, shoot you for trespassing. You never knew what to expect. Fortunately, we were guests.

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Staten Island, 1979 — © Brian Rose

We were there on a weekend afternoon, and our hosts were the smothering with hospitality kind, though they had guns just in case, and were eager to show us their basement, which was filled with whips and chains, and various torture implements. At some point I broke away from things, went outside, and took pictures of the house and the surrounding landscape. As I walked around and the light began to fade, things began to turn spooky — at least in my head still thinking of our hosts’ dungeon — and I took a series of photographs that I would describe — all these years later — as chilling.

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The house with dungeon — © Brian Rose 1979

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Abandoned factory and rutted pathway — © Brian Rose 1979

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Overturned car — © Brian Rose 1979

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A log, moved (how and why?), and my shadow — © Brian Rose 1979

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Beer bottles and car seats — © Brian Rose 1979

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Flesh and bones — © Brian Rose 1979

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Shards of wood, edge of forest — © Brian Rose 1979

I looked on the map to see what has happened to the area since 1979. The house is still there in all its ramshackle glory, but the big factory building — a magnificent structure — sadly has been torn down. Everything else, the wasteland where the last photos were taken, has been developed as condos.

 

New York/Staten Island

si_marketRichmond Terrace, Staten Island (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A few weeks ago I took my view camera down to Staten Island to rephotograph a mural that I encountered last year. It’s on the side of an old factory building that now contains Gerardi’s Farmer’s Market. The central element is a depiction of three firemen hoisting an American flag Iwo Jima style in the rubble of the destroyed Twin Towers, which is based on a widely seen news photo taken by Thomas E. Franklin.

Almost 12 years after 9/11, the painting has begun to fade and flake off, the Twin Towers have become faint and indistinct. I photographed the mural from several angles and settled on the one above taken across the street in a garden center. Although the 9/11 museum has yet to open at ground zero, and memories of that day remain fresh for many, the images of 9/11 have begun to recede into the background.

 

stadiumStaten Island Yankees stadium (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

On my way back to ferry I saw that a high school baseball game was being played in the Staten Island Yankee’s stadium. Admission was free, so I walked in and took a couple of pictures. The Staten Island memorial can be seen at left with its two wing-like structures, and One World Trade Center rises at center. On top of the scoreboard is a cutout image of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

 

New York/Around Town

statenislandStaten Island Ferry terminal in Manhattan — © Brian Rose

Now that my exhibition is down, and Time and Space on the Lower East Side is about 2/3 sold, it’s time to shift gears to my next book, another long-term project dealing with New York City. A couple of years ago it occurred to me, almost out of the blue, that I had in my archive enough photographs taken over the years for a book about the World Trade Center. This was not a premeditated project, but something that grew organically, one series of images at a time.

You can see the book dummy here on Blurb. And here is the CNN story about it. The mural based on seven close-up images of the Twin Towers’ facades can be seen here.

Most of the book is done. It’s just a matter of pulling it together with several images of 1WTC reaching its full height on the skyline, and possibly a few more thematic images that act as connective tissue. Awhile ago I did a walking tour through the St. George area of Staten Island and came across a mural of the Twin Towers and firefighters. I snapped a couple pictures with my pocket camera. On Saturday I went back with my view camera. As is so often the case, the whole situation seemed different–different light, different atmosphere, vehicles blocking some of the sight lines to the wall. But you never know about these things. I found other ways to photograph the same subject. I’ll post the results when the film gets developed.

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Randalls Island rail viaduct — © Brian Rose

My son Brendan plays baseball with his middle school team and little league. Fields are hard to come by in Manhattan, and those that are available are usually artificial turf, oddly shaped, and somewhat difficult to get to. This year, we’ve had to go up to Randall’s Island several times. It’s a mess to get to by public transportation. Situated in the East River adjacent to Harlem, it has historically been a place to hide things like psychiatric hospitals and sewage treatment plants. Recently it has become a recreational park with, track and field, tennis, soccer, and baseball facilities.

Randalls Island is crisscrossed by major transportation infrastructure, the Triboro Bridge, famously built by Robert Moses, and the Hell Gate bridge that carries Amtrak and freight trains into and out of the city. The massively built structure passes over the entire island and a bicycle and foot path runs beneath the arches. Here’s an aerial view made some years ago:

railviaduct