Category Archives: The Bowery

New York/The Bowery

ast Broadway/Catherine Street/The Bowery — © Brian Rose

As mentioned in an earlier post, I am presently photographing the Bowery, the historic street associated with New York low life from its early days as an entertainment district to its latter days as world famous skid row. The street runs only about a mile, so my intention is to photograph it in some detail. Since my studio is located just off the Bowery along the northern stretch of the street, it’s easy for me to start taking pictures and run out of film before I get very far. So, this morning I kept the camera backpack on my shoulders until I got down to Chinatown just below the Manhattan Bridge. I did a number of photographs with the 4×5 camera–these are from my pocket camera. It was a brilliantly clear morning, a little windy, but manageable.

Chatham Square and The Bowery — © Brian Rose

Looking south at Chatham Square one can see 8 Spruce Street, the Frank Gehry tower with its wavy steel curtain wall rising above the squat brick building housing NYPD headquarters. The glass building at left is typical of the new construction going up all along the Bowery. And a recent decision to de-landmark a nearby early 19th century house is likely to increase the pressure on other properties. The Bowery has always been a hodgepodge of architectural styles built at various different times, so freezing it in the present is not necessarily appropriate or practical. But if you look at the Bowery, many of the structures are relatively small–some of them built as townhouses–but most are now used for commercial purposes. The temptation to knock them down and replace them with new hotels and other multi-use buildings is ever mounting. The way things are going, much of the Bowery’s historic character will be lost.

The Bowery and Pell Street — © Brian Rose

Above is an example of  a former townhouse now used as a bank office. Anything with a pitched roof, of which there are probably a dozen on the Bowery, was built in the first part of the 19th century. A few are hiding behind false fronts, and other have had their heads lopped off. The 19th century house between 5th and 6th Streets next to the Cooper Square Hotel, which I have photographed, was torn down a few months ago.

East Broadway — © Brian Rose

After using up my film, I made a quick visit to the post office on East Broadway and took the photograph above looking through the front window to the street.

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/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/The Bowery


The Bowery at Stanton Street — © Brian Rose

Once again I found myself at the corner of Bowery and Stanton waiting for a taxi. I had a guitar slung over my shoulder and two bags, one full of groceries. I noticed that a group of people had gathered in front of the gallery video screen in the storefront of the old flophouse, the Sunshine Hotel. Gold painted figures dancing. During the day, the video screen is hard to see in the glare, but in the fading light of evening, it becomes relatively brighter. A last glint of sunlight touched the metallic skin of the New Museum just down the block.

A couple of months ago I did a similar photograph standing in the same spot–also waiting for a taxi–and my first thought was that there was no reason to repeat myself. But no cabs were coming, and I continued to watch the scene unfold. I put my bags down on the pavement and fumbled for my pocket camera. I could not move more than a step or two in any direction because my stuff was lying in the street. But I began to consider a shot that included the motorcycle parked to the right. People stopped briefly to watch the video, then scattered this way and that. A man and woman in helmets arrived and mounted the motorcycle. A man veered toward me and the composition coalesced around him.

From On the Bowery, a film by Lionel Rogosin

I realized as I took the photograph that I was standing just a few feet to the right of the spot where Lionel Rogosin’s cameraman filmed the scene in On the Bowery where the drunken protagonist Ray Salyer slaps a woman and then stumbles up the stairs into the Sunshine Hotel, a Bowery survivor now surrounded by the most conspicuous of art consumption. On the Bowery is a remarkable film, half staged, half documentary, suggestive of much contemporary photography.

I wrote about the film  here.


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/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/On the Bowery

Houston Street and Bowery 1957 — from the film On the Bowery

In the previous post I wrote about seeing On the Bowery at Film Forum, and I connected several film locations with contemporary views of the same places. One of the spots that jumped out at me was the corner of Houston and Bowery where the protagonist in the story, Ray Salyer, goes in search of a day’s work. In the screen capture above, he walks up to the window of a truck–we see him from inside–and behind him is a chain link enclosed handball court with several people playing. That playground, and other open spaces along Houston, was created in the 1930s when the buildings on the north side of the street were demolished, displacing thousands of tenement dwellers, to allow for the digging of the IND subway line.

Watching the film, I suddenly realized that the wall in the rear is the same one that Keith Haring painted on in 1982, and which was used to recreate his mural in 2008. Many other graffiti artists have also worked on its surface. The original wall shown in On the Bowery is still there, but presently boxed in, now being used to showcase a changing array of artists.

Unfinished Kenny Scharf on the Houston/Bowery wall — © Brian Rose

The photo above was taken from approximately the same position as the scene in On the Bowery. But there is a major difference, and it took me a while to figure things out. In the film there is a broad sidewalk and full depth handball court on the north side of Houston. Today, as you can see above, a swath of sidewalk and about four feet of gravel is all that separates the street from the wall. What happened is that Houston Street was widened along the north side turning a four lane undivided street into the monster thoroughfare that it is today.

From the Times:

THE widening of the Houston Street roadbed, to two 45-foot-wide roadways separated by a narrow mall, did not start until 1957. The Times reported that ”new black-on-yellow street name signs will replace the outmoded blue-on-white signs,” referring to the old luminous enameled signs that occasionally show up on eBay. The new Houston Street, an eight-lane crosstown artery, was opened in 1963, just before the area south of Houston Street began to emerge as an artists’ enclave.

Unfinished Kenny Scharf on the Houston/Bowery wall
— © Brian Rose

Although the concrete handball court wall remains (a historic artifact encased in plywood), the Ray Salyers of the world no longer congregate at Houston and Bowery looking for work.

New York/On the Bowery

Film Forum, Houston Street — © Brian Rose

On Wednesday I walked over to Film Forum on West  Houston to see On the Bowery, a movie I had heard about over the years, but never seen. It was recently re-released in a newly restored print. On the Bowery was made by Lionel Rogosin in 1957, and depicts three days of life on what was at that time America’s most infamous skid row. It is a hybrid film–part documentary, part directed narrative–and its characters were played by actual denizens of the Bowery, people that Rogosin had met over several month’s research before the movie was shot.

It remains, 53 years after its making, a cinematic tour de force. Rogosin worked with an extraordinary team, especially the cameraman Dick Bagley, and the editor Carl Lerner, who also worked on classic Hollywood movies such as 12 Angry Men. The story is minimal–a young man arrives on the Bowery with nothing but a suitcase and a powerful thirst for alcohol. He meets several regulars at a bar, ends up sleeping on the street, gets robbed, and is helped by his thief, a sly but sympathetic Bowery old-timer, who gives him some of the money he got from selling the newcomer’s stolen pocket watch.

The Bowery between Houston and Prince — still from On the Bowery

Most of the film was shot on the block between Houston and Prince Streets, and the Confidence Bar and Grill (above) once stood at the point where Stanton Street meets the Bowery. This is my corner of the world–my office/apartment is on Stanton just off the Bowery. When I first arrived in New York in 1977, I lived on East 4th Street five blocks north. The Bowery was still skid row in those days, and remained a seedy final destination for untold thousands until well into the 1990s. It is skid row no longer as high end restaurants and galleries supplant the cheap hotels and restaurant supply stores that dominated the area, some of which of can be seen in the film.

The Bowery between Houston and Prince — still from On the Bowery

The Bowery between Houston and Prince — similar view as above
— © Brian Rose

For nearly 75 years the Bowery was darkened by the elevated tracks running its length and on up Third Avenue into the Bronx. But by 1957 the steel viaduct was no longer used and was in the process of being demolished. In Rogosin’s film the hulking structure of the El lends many of the scenes a closed off subterranean feel. The stretch of Bowery buildings shown above still stands, almost as ragged looking as before, but without the encompassing gloom and claustrophobia.

The Bowery between Houston and Prince (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A few years ago I took the picture above with my view camera. The building at left with the cutouts attached to the facade is 254 Bowery, the former location of the Confidence Bar and Grill. In the movie still you can see the word Paragon on the building next door. That’s the same building above from around 2005.

The Bowery between Houston and Prince — © Brian Rose

But those buildings are gone now. The site was cleared for the construction of a luxury hotel, a project that died when the economy collapsed in 2008. The lot has sat vacant since then, but I read recently on Curbed, the architecture and real estate blog, that a new project may be in the works.

The Sunshine Hotel, Bowery and Stanton Street — still from On the Bowery

Near the end of On the Bowery, the lead character, Ray Salyer, goes to the Bowery Mission with hopes of staying sober, but after being preached to and finding he has to sleep on newspapers spread on the floor, he heads back out to the street. In a stunning montage, as he drinks himself into a stupor, he and the other men get louder and louder, epithets are hurled, fisticuffs break out–however ineffectual–and the scene unwinds in a chaotic drunken din. Salyer, with a woman on his arm, stumbles from the bar and heads for the Sunshine Hotel, where he slaps her away (seen above). The Sunshine is one of the last Bowery flophouses, right next door to the New Museum, still home to a dwindling assortment of derelict men, a no vacancy sign on the door, the end in sight.

The film closes with another montage, as astonishing as the barroom scene. As Salyer stands on the Bowery contemplating his next move, a sequence of closeups of faces is shown, each held on the screen a few seconds. Each visage a portrait of utter dissolution, each line and crease, stubble of beard and trickle of dried blood, rendered vividly, dispassionately.

There is no redemption suggested in this ending, and even though On the Bowery was hailed by many, and nominated for an Oscar, its bleak outlook was not generally welcome in the propagandistic 1950s. Rogosin’s On the Bowery shares the unsparing outlook of Robert Frank who also revealed the underside of American society in his book The Americans. Frank’s documentary approach has been widely absorbed by several generations of photographers, but Rogosin’s method, combining documentary and staged reality, remains under appreciated by those of us schooled in the cinema verite style.

Seeing the movie, and then walking back to my office right where the film was made, a neighborhood already changed, undergoing even more radical transformation–it’s quite a lot to reflect on.

New York/The New Museum

The New Museum — © Brian Rose

Hell Yes!–or–Don’t Worry Be Happy

I have to agree with Fred Bernstein in the Architects Newspaper Blog about the New Museum and its garish Hell Yes! — a multi-hued text piece by Ugo Rondinone. To Bernstein, hanging the kitschy lettering on the shimmering scrim of SANAA’s facade is “like wearing a campaign button on a wedding veil.” My studio is around the corner from the museum, and the Hell Yes! has become a daily irritant. There are worse public sculptures in the city, but none that I can think of that so insistently imprint themselves on one’s brain.

SANAA’s design manages to be both elegant and playful, and the off kilter box effect abstractly mimics the hodgepodge of buildings of the Bowery, evoking, perhaps, the boxes and steel refrigerator units and other restaurant appliances being manhandled on and off of trucks on the street nearby. The architectural joke, however, is good natured and feels right. But Rondinone’s goofball element spoils the slightly tipsy balance. While the passing artist proletariat, glancing up at the museum tower, grumbles under their breaths, Hell No!

The current show, Skin Fruit, curated by Jeff Koons from the collection of New Museum board member Dakis Joannou certainly does nothing to dissipate the grumbling. Peter Schejldahl of the New Yorker commenting on the incestuous nature of the exhibition in a narrated slideshow says:

What makes the occasion a real lightening rod to my mind is  a growing populist resentment of the impunity of wealth in the recent era symbolized by the art market. Younger generations coming up can no longer count on the promise of ascension to the starry feeding trough of the market as it has pertained until the current recession. Full article here.

I have enjoyed a number of the exhibitions at the New Museum, and was pleased to see the retrospective of David Goldblatt there, as well as photographs by William Christenberry in an earlier show. But the collusion between commercial galleries, collectors, and museum curators has gotten completely out of hand, and this exhibition takes the cake–or to flog the metaphor–declaims, Let them eat cake!

New York/The Bowery

Below are 4×5 film versions of two previously posted images. The first shows the ongoing construction/destruction of the Bowery. The second shows the Cooper Square Hotel and Cooper Union building where the Bowery turns into Third Avenue above E4th Street.

The Bowery between Houston and Stanton Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

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

New York/The Bowery

The Bowery and Bond/E2nd Street — © Brian Rose

Three views of the radically changed north end of the Bowery/Third Avenue. These are from my Sigma DP1, but I did similar images with the 4×5 view camera.

Third Avenue and E5th Street — © Brian Rose

Third Avenue and E7th Street — © Brian Rose

The new Cooper Union building designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis nears completion.