Category Archives: Around Town

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/Union Square


The Andy Monument, Broadway at Union Square Park — © Brian Rose

Union Square Park is home to some of the finest sculptures in New York City. These are mostly traditional likenesses of important historical figures like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Marquis De Lafayette, and Mahatma Gandhi. The Lafayette statue was made by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904), who also designed the Statue of Liberty  in New York Harbor. Although the park is often associated with the labor movement because it has frequently been the location of parades and political rallies, the name comes from the “union” of two major streets, Broadway and the Bowery Road, now called 4th Avenue. In the days after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, Union Square, in the plaza surrounding the Washington equestrian sculpture, became the site of one of the largest spontaneous memorials in the city.

The area around the park has gone through many ups and downs over the years, but in the 1970s it was considerably less vibrant economically than today. I remember the park in the late 70s as one big open air drug bazar, and few people who lived and worked around Union Square stepped foot in it. As is often the case in New York, however, depressed circumstances create opportunities for others. Artists, ever nomadic, found the lofts around the park cheap and spacious. One of them was Andy Warhol, the Pop Art icon of the era.  He and his “Factory” located on Union Square, became  a nexus of art, fashion, music, and commerce.


The Andy Monument, Broadway at Union Square Park — © Brian Rose

It is appropriate, therefore, that a statue be erected to the real and mythic Andy at the confluence of two of New York’s earliest and most important highways. As I came across the chrome Andy Monument the other day on a silvery gray day, the statue seemed almost ethereal in the mist and drizzle. Unlike the other bronze statues in Union Square, which express solidity and historical weight, Andy floats vaguely, aloofly, above the throngs of shoppers and office workers passing by.


The Andy Monument, Broadway at Union Square Park — © Brian Rose

The sculpture is by Rob Pruitt and is sponsored by the Public Art Fund. Pruitt says:

Like so many other artists and performers and people who don’t fit in because they’re gay or otherwise different, Andy moved here to become who he was, to fulfill his dreams and make it big. He still represents that courage and that possibility. That’s why I came to New York, and that’s what my Andy Monument is about.

I took pictures for about five minutes. Most people walked on past, of course, but many stopped to make snapshots or read the adjacent text. It’s rare for a public sculpture to engage the public (fancy that) as much as this one does. Too bad that it is here only until October.

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/Andrew Moore


Couch in Trees by Andrew Moore

I went to a slide talk by Andrew Moore at the Mid-Manhattan library last night. I’ll be doing a talk there myself on March 29–see my homepage for information. Moore is around my age, also an early practitioner of color, and normally uses a view camera. Moore’s latest work deals with Detroit, principally what has happened to this once great industrial powerhouse, now a symbol of American decline.

Many of Moore’s photographs describe the ruins of Detroit. Much has been written recently about “ruin porn” and photographic exploitation, and Moore’s work is frequently pointed to–either positively or negatively. I am not prepared to comment at length on the subject, at least for the moment, but I will say that Moore came across last night as open and sympathetic. There was some push back from several people who have roots in Detroit and who feel that Moore’s work does not treat the place altogether fairly. But in general I felt it was a useful and respectful conversation all around.

Here is an article about the subject.

I will be addressing some of the same concerns when I do my presentation in two weeks. I expect that some people will appreciate my evenhanded approach to photographing the Lower East Side, while others may feel that it doesn’t engage the politics of gentrification directly enough. I, too, have photographed ruins–as well as new construction. Sometimes it is hard to tell the two apart, which is one of the points I want to make.


23rd Street subway station — © Brian Rose

Sucker Punch.

 

New York/Williamsburg


Berry Street and N7th, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Had a very pleasant visit with Yancey Richardson, the photo gallery owner.

Met with folks from the Lower East Side BID (business improvement district). Productive discussion about a possible LES exhibition.

New York/Harlem


Lexington Avenue and 103rd Street — © Brian Rose

A few photos taken while walking back to the subway after visiting with Sean Corcoran, the photography curator at the Museum of the City of New York. I was at the museum to show him my WTC book and discuss with him publishing and exhibition possibilities. The museum is already committed to showing work relating to the Twin Towers by Camilo Jose Vergara. My previous publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, also cited a book they did ten years ago with Vergara as a reason for passing on my book.

With regard to the museum, I can’t exactly complain given that I only put together my book about a month ago, and I am grateful to Sean Corcoran for his ongoing enthusiastic support. There are other exhibition options. But it’s hard for me to run up against Vergara twice, however accidentally, since I do not consider our work very closely related. There is, superficially, the documentation of places over long periods of time, such as the work he has done in Harlem and other low income neighborhoods, but that’s as far as it goes.

Vergara works primarily with a small camera, repeatedly visiting the same locations and views, measuring change in a cumulative brick by brick process. He is as much sociologist as photographer.


Lexington Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets — © Brian Rose


Lexington Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets — © Brian Rose

The projects I’ve done came about more organically in most cases, starting out in a limited scope, and then becoming multi-phased explorations. My Iron Curtain work, for instance, began as a single trip along the former borderline, but turned into a near life-long journey, an investigation of the landscape connected to larger geopolitical developments. WTC is comprised of a number of discreet, sometimes overlapping, series of images made over the course of 32 years. I think of the book as the visual equivalent of  a musical composition in which the theme is tentatively introduced in the opening, and then, in steps, develops narratively and dynamically. Both the Iron Curtain and WTC projects end up as meditations on things that no longer exist, structures of symbolic import, that remain held in memory, both personal and collectively.

At this point it looks unlikely that WTC will get published other than as a Blurb book available at a relatively high price. The photo books that will get published will mostly reprise, painfully–sometimes gratuitously–images of exploding planes, collapsing buildings, the heroes in the pit.  My book takes a longer view. Maybe it will reach a larger public after the dust of that day clears, yet again.

New York/Enough

We are awash in gun imagery from Sarah Palin’s congressional crosshairs to the latest Hollywood movie Mechanic. The slogan along the top reads:

Someone has to fix the problems.

ENOUGH.

***

While I was talking this photograph an MTA employee walked by and in a stern voice said “You can’t take pictures down here!” I said, “Yes I can.” He just continued walking, but had he stopped I would have been happy to point him to:

Section 1050.9

Restricted areas and activities.

3. Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

MTA NYC – Rules of Conduct

New York/Footprint


Feet on the street in New York — © Brian Rose

It’s been about five years since I discovered that my creaky knees–the result of years of playground basketball–felt better when I went without shoes–at least at home. Eventually, I came across thin soled shoes without arch support or cushioning, that were designed to allow for natural barefoot-like movement with a little protection. These were fairly conventional looking shoes unlike the foot gloves, Vibram FiveFingers, that have since become my standard gear (when not barefoot) for everything–walking, running, even lugging around my view camera equipment.

The knee pain is long gone, and I have acquired a lighter step, and much stronger, durable, feet and ankles. I’ve become so used to feeling the ground underfoot, that going back to padded shoes would be like robbing myself of a basic element of sensory perception.

So, where’s the scientific proof for all this? There are a number of recent studies that support the concept of barefoot running and walking, but, persuasive or not, I am going mostly by instinct and my own experience. For me, it’s been a game changer.

You Walk Wrong (New York Magazine)

New York/Nolita

Mott Street between Prince and Spring — © Brian Rose

Used to be part of Little Italy, now known as Nolita. Bah. Lots of small shops, designer clothes, as well as vestiges of its Italian roots. An intimate urban neighborhood, it’s just on the other side of the Bowery from my studio on Stanton Street. I was getting some coffee when I took this photograph through the store window.

New York/E103rd Street


E103rd Street and Lexington Avenue — © Brian Rose

Manhattan, “island of many hills” from the Lenape language, seems mostly flat, but there are places where you are reminded of the original name. At 103rd Street on the east side, Spanish Harlem, there is a slope of near San Francisco pitch. To the south of 96th Street it is called Carnegie Hill, which is a tony Upper Side neighborhood.


E103rd Street — © Brian Rose