Yoko Ono’s campaign against tracking.
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.
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.
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:
9/11 Memorial on Staten Island — © Brian Rose
My wife and headed down to Staten Island Saturday afternoon to take part in the latest installment of stillspotting nyc, a series of art projects dealing with the urban environment sponsored by the Guggenheim Museum. This one, called Telettrofono, was an audio walking tour of the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island. It told the story of Antonio Meucci and his wife Esterre who came to Staten Island from Italy. Meucci, an inventor, who also worked in the theater, developed a precursor to the telephone, a telettrofono, some years before Alexander Graham Bell patented his ultimately successful invention.
I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived on the Staten Island Ferry. The weather was threatening as a storm cell slid by to the northwest. We were given iPod Nano’s and a map and sent out along the harbor promenade to begin our walk. The audio accompaniment was created by sound artist Justin Bennett and poet Mathea Harvey and blended the factual and imaginative into a mesmerizing aural experience. It has been described by others as like being in a movie.
Along the waterfront of Staten Island — © Brian Rose
I hadn’t planned to take photographs of the walk in a comprehensive way–I figured I’d snap a few pictures here and there. But as we stepped out onto the promenade and walked by the 9/11 memorial nearby, I was struck by the strange, preternatural light and warm breeze caused by the passing storm. The atmosphere felt almost tropical and the comical potted palms near the memorial added to the effect. I began taking photographs, the soundscape and voices of Telettrofono in my ear.
Staten Island waterfront — © Brian Rose
There were others participating in the walk as well, though not so many as to be distracting. We passed through an industrial area, now used for salt storage, directly by the main shipping channel leading to the port of Elizabeth. We then headed uphill past a farmer’s market, some rundown apartment buildings and housing projects, and then into a neighborhood of large early 20th century houses, many of significant architectural character.
Richmond Terrace, Staten Island — © Brian Rose
St. Mark’s Place, Staten Island — © Brian Rose
The St. George Theatre, Staten Island — © Brian Rose
We then descended the hill toward the ferry terminal and entered the St. George Theatre, an elaborately baroque, shabby interior, and sat in the balcony as the story of the Meucci’s came to a close and the voice in our ear said “curtain.” From there we walked back to the ferry terminal, returned out iPods and headed back to Manhattan on the ferry. In the end I took over 30 photographs during the walk.
St. George ferry terminal, Staten Island — © BrianRose
Many of the photographs in this blog have been made during walks, sometimes of short duration, other times over several hours. It has become part of my modus operandi as a photographer. Sometimes I regret not having a higher resolution camera, or my view camera, with me. But the reality is that many of these short bursts of photography are only possible because I can carry a digital camera in the pocket of my cargo pants.
After looking through the photographs I took in Staten Island I decided to make the whole walk available on my website. It was inspired by what I was experiencing aurally, but it’s also a perfect example of the kind of thing I do as a photographer, a visual reconnaissance –to borrow from my Lower East Side book title–of time and space.
The full walk can be seen here.
Park Avenue — © Brian Rose
A short walk between the 103rd Street subway entrance and the Museum of the City of New York. After the economic downtown of a few years ago, the neighborhood seems to be gentrifying at a fast pace. On Lexington Avenue there is new apartment building nearing completion, and a cafe catering to an middle class clientele stands next to bodegas and nail salons. But like the Lower East Side, it’s an uneven phenomenon with plenty of vacant lots and run down buildings still present. And the housing projects continue to loom over everything.
Park Avenue — © Brian Rose
East 104th Street — © Brian Rose
East 104th Street — © Brian Rose
Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, 1982 (35mm Kodachrome) — © Brian Rose
A couple of days ago I posted several photographs made while walking through Central Park. Early in my career I worked a lot in the park with both a view camera and a 35mm camera. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the image above–often I was shooting for the Central Park Conservancy when using the small camera. I had a 4×5 internegative made from the slide, and made a couple of prints, but never did much with them.
It’s a romantic image of New York, two couples passing each other on the stairs, almost black and white, quiet.
Yesterday, I met some friends at the Museum of Modern Art, and afterwards returned to my studio by subway. On the 57th Street platform I encountered a couple of musicians playing bluegrass, old time mountain music. One played a banjo, the other a mandolin. They were really wonderful, and several of us dropped bills in the open banjo case.
A man stepped forward carrying an oddly shaped black instrument case and gave some money. I immediately thought to myself, that is somebody.We ended up sitting opposite each other on the train, and I saw a sticker on his case — Kronos Quartet. It was their cellist, Jeffrey Zeigler, which I confirmed later when I got back to my studio. They had just played the night before at Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall.
I once saw the Kronos Quartet play at Lincoln Center. They were performing the string quartets of Alfred Schnittke, the late Russian composer. I did not have tickets and went to the hall expecting to sit far from the stage. Instead, due to a last minute cancellation, I ended up in the front row just a few feet from the performers. It was both exhilarating and nerve wracking to sit so close, hearing every breath, every groan, seeing beads of sweat form on the musicians’ faces.
Odds and ends. Things to recommend. Things to dis.
The New York Times reports this morning that the film On the Bowery will soon be available on DVD. I saw it last year for the first time at Film Forum, and wrote about it extensively in my blog here and here. Alan Rogosin’s film is an astonishing portrayal of lost New York and lost souls, controversial then and now for its hybrid documentary/fictional format. Actual denizens of the Bowery, picked out by Rogosin, played the lead roles filmed in the streets and bars of the Bowery near Houston Street. It’s one of the great realist films ever made, a tour de force of editing and photography. The montage of grizzled faces at the end is unforgettable.
The Radical Camera at the Jewish Museum, one of the best museum photography shows in recent years, will be up through March 25th. This show is about the New York Photo League and its community of photographers who explored the streets of the city during the 1930s and 1940s. Their work pushed aesthetic boundaries and embraced political engagement. The show is worth seeing both for its vivid depiction of New York and for illuminating the development of documentary street photography leading up to the modern era. There are a number of familiar names in the exhibition, like Berenice Abbott and Aaron Siskind, but most are lesser knowns, many who have fallen through the cracks, and are typically not included in the dominant narrative of photographic history.
From the blog DLK Collection: For me, I finally started to visually understand the small steps that made up the aesthetic and conceptual changes that took place between the 1930s and the 1950s, those missing evolutionary links between Abbott and Frank; The Americans now seems to me less like a thunder strike of genius out of nowhere and more like an innovative, original extrapolation from visual ideas that were already beginning to percolate around. This excellent show tells a uniquely New York story, and is worth a visit simply for the rich historical details of life in the city that it provides. But the reason I found this to be one of the best photography shows of the year is that it also successfully fills in an important (and largely missing) gap in the recounting of the American photographic narrative. Not only do I now have an increased appreciation for the talents of the many members of the New York Photo League (many of whom have been unjustly overlooked), I now understand much more clearly how the larger artistic puzzle fits together.
Read the whole review here.
We think of serious photography now in the context of museums and galleries, but it wasn’t really until the Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art with its “we are the world” sentimentality that the medium began to find favor in elite institutions. The Photo League embraced work that depicted gritty reality whether on the streets of the Lower East Side or the beach at Coney Island–it did not celebrate the myth of American ascendency, and as a result, ran afoul of the anti-communist blacklisters of the early ’50s. The fact that many of its members were Jewish was also not coincidental.
Imagine. At the time of the Photo League, there was virtually no museums or art galleries that paid any attention to photography. In retrospect, it appears that the Photo League–its shows and its community of photographers–was central to the development of photography as social instrument and as an art form. And this story has not adequately been told until now. Do not miss this exhibition.
There has already been lots written about this photograph, and I have no inclination to analyze something that’s not worth the effort. First of all, the premise of a grand prize for a single news photograph is wrong. The most interesting single photographs, in my opinion, are often the most open ended, often the least iconic, images that defy easy reading. That’s the opposite of what the World Press jurors usually come up with. They want a Muslim Mary cradling Jesus, or something.
This is a crappy photograph, maudlin, cliche.
I snapped this picture while leaving ICP after a session of my class Photographing New York: The Lower East Side. The students are photographing the neighborhood, and we will be creating a book from their work using Blurb, the online photo book service.
As for my own book Time and Space on the Lower East Side, we have just about finished the layout, and I am finalizing the images in Photoshop as well as making prints that can be used by the printer as a color guide. Today I spent most of the day sending out emails regarding my Kickstarter fundraising campaign. I am now 85% of the way to my goal with five days to go.
The Kickstarter project page is here.
Donate $50 to pre-order Time and Space on the Lower East Side. For $250 you can get the limited edition slipcover book–only 100 to be printed.
UPDATE– Goal Reached!
Today, I reached 100% of my funding goal for Time and Space on the Lower East Side. I am grateful to all of you who donated–all of you who value independent photo books, who love New York and the Lower East Side, and who are making this book possible.
The reality is that few established publishers are willing to take on projects like this. Especially in these economic times. We, artists and those who support the arts, have to step up and make things happen ourselves. The $10,000 raised is only a part of the total cost of making a book of this quality. So, any further donations over the remaining five days of the campaign will be greatly appreciated.
The production of Time and Space is well underway. The sequencing of the photos and the text are complete, and the graphic designer is fine tuning the layout. Suzanne Vega has contributed the books’s forward–it’s very cool–you’ll enjoy it. The book will go to the printer in the next few weeks, and if all goes well, Time and Space will be out in the first part of 2012.
Thank you and hope to see lots of you when the book is launched!
And thanks to Suzanne Vega and Kristin Ellington for their FB posts and spreading the word.