Category Archives: Chelsea

New York/The High Line

We walked the High LIne on Christmas Day with relatives visiting from out of town. It was a relatively mild day with sun and clouds, the low slanting light of late December. The plantings on the High Line at this time of year are mostly brown with bits of color here and there, holly bushes and the like. As wonderful as the design of the elevated viaduct is, what interests me the most are the views of the city from it–the unique possibility of looking straight down cross streets, across the rooftops of warehouses and the hodgepodge of buildings in west Chelsea. This was once an industrial and distribution area serving the Hudson River docks. Today, it is the art gallery center of New York, and new apartment buildings have gone up throughout the neighborhood. The old warehouses are mostly occupied by businesses in the creative fields, and a media company occupies the striking Frank Gehry building located on the West Side Highway.

This is my Christmas walk up the High Line with two photographs made at ground level–a rendering of the future Hudson Yards development and a peek into the empty sun flecked Apple store back down on 14th Street with a bevy of strangely glowing screens.

The First $100,000 I Ever Made by John Baldessari — © Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

London Terrace apartments in the background — © Brian Rose

IAC/Frank Gehry on left, 100 11th by Jean Nouvel at center — © Brian Rose

Hotel Americano  by Enrique Norten at left, Starrett Lehigh building at rear — © Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

Rendering of future Hudson Yards development — © Brian Rose

Apple store, 14th Street — © Brian Rose

New York/Deep River, Connecticut

From E25th Street — © Brian Rose

Finished several photo shoots and then got out of town to join up with former members of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums performing at the annual Deep River muster in Connecticut. Some of us have a hard time keeping up our musical chops and remembering all the tunes, but we have enough who can still play admirably. Our sound remains unmistakable, famous within the fife and drum world.

Here we are on Main Street in Deep River:

We stopped at this spot on Main Street to duplicate a photograph taken of the corps back in the early 1960s, before my time. I joined in 1964. The photographer gestures for the banner holders (one of whom is my son Brendan) to move forward out of the shot.

Although we continue to perform music from the 18th century in an authentic style, that’s as far as it goes. No tri-cornered hats, knee breeches or buckled shoes. In fact, three of us marched sans shoes. I’m the tall one. From there we marched to Devitt Field where we opened the afternoon’s stand performances by playing the National Anthem. The present Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums does perform in full costume.

Back in New York on Sunday I replaced my dead Sigma DP1 camera with the newer DP1x. It’s not a perfect camera, but it produces astounding quality for something that fits in a pocket. Ability to shoot RAW files and a large sensor make the DP1 special. Sometimes sensor size is more important than megapixels. That’s the case with this camera.

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/Case of the Renoir Bathers

The phone burbled, it was a text from my painter friend Tim Raymond. He was on the road heading down from Buffalo, the city where he somehow had found himself marooned some years ago. I’ve known Tim since the mid-70s when we lived in Baltimore–I was an art student at the Maryland Institute for a while, and I’d met his wife Cathy who was a fellow student. Tim and I have things in common. We are both graduates of Cooper Union, though attending at different times, and we were both bicycle messengers in Washington, D.C., though also at different times. And we’re both artists, still hanging in there after years of less than resounding success in the marketplace.

Luncheon of the Boating Party, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the Phillips Collection

Back in my D.C. messenger days, when work was slow, I’d often retreat to the Phillips Collection with its glorious collection and intimate scale. I developed special relationships with a number of the paintings in the museum, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s tour de force  Luncheon of the Boating Party. It’s easy to write off Renoir, who produced an enormous amount of gauzy fleshy dross alongside a generous number of masterpieces. The Boating Party is rigorously ordered, full of oblique compositional lines, echoed by the sidelong glances of the various figures, punctuated by the dappled light, sprinkling of red lips, and the almost palpable tinkling of wine glasses and murmur of overlapping conversations. I could go on.

Tim’s text also included, cryptically, that he was coming to New York to see a Renoir, which I couldn’t make any sense of. The next I heard from Tim he was struggling to park on 34th Street near 5th Avenue, and had already managed to get a parking ticket for leaving his car in a loading zone. Once I had helped extricate Tim and his car out of the traffic maw of Manhattan, he filled me in about the Renoir.

The Large Bathers, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Philadelphia Museum

Ten year ago, Greg Kitchen, an old acquaintance of Tim’s ex-wife had bought a pastel at an antique sale of two nude bathers signed “Renoir” at the bottom. He paid less than $200 for it. Assuming its legitimacy, it is a highly detailed study for Renoir’s Large Bathers painting, which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum, and could be worth a fortune. Kitchen, so it seems, has been getting the run around from the auction houses and dealers unwilling to seriously consider the authenticity of the drawing. In Tim, he hoped to find an ally and someone who could help him better present his case.

Tim showed me a photo of the pastel on his iPhone, and I was immediately doubtful. The drawing appeared too polished to be a study–and too much about line and volume–while Renoir is known more for his light and color. But Tim convinced me I should come along with him to meet Kitchen and hopefully see the original piece. We arrived at his loft on W28th Street in a raucous part of Manhattan full of cheap fashion wholesalers who are periodically raided for selling counterfeit brand name merchandise. It seemed the appropriate place for a Renoir forgery.

Greg Kitchen, Tim Raymond, and the Renoir — © Brian Rose

Kitchen laid out his case for the authenticity of the drawing in a rambling narrative, displaying various documents, letters, and research material. It was clear to me as an outsider with no vested interest that he needed a much more organized and believable presentation of the facts. Nevertheless, I came to understand that the tests Kitchen has had done on the paper and pigments all support the authenticity of the drawing, though none represents definitive proof. Forgeries can be incredibly sophisticated. A full size photograph of the bathers was laid out on the floor of the loft, and it appeared to me, still, unconvincing. I sat on the windowsill of the loft gazing up a the Empire State Building looming above the decorative railing of the fire escape. But as I thought more about the what Renoir was trying to do with his Large Bathers, the drawing qualities began to make more sense. Here’s some text from the Philadelphia Museum website:

The sculptural rendering of the figures against a shimmering landscape and the careful application of dry paint reflect the tradition of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French painting. Renoir—in an attempt to reconcile this tradition with modern painting—labored over this work for three years, making numerous preparatory drawings for individual figures and at least two full-scale, multifigure drawings. Faced with criticism of his new style after completing The Large Bathers, an exhausted Renoir never again devoted such painstaking effort to a single work.

The Empire State Building from W28th Street — © Brian Rose

This drawing, which is clearly not a copy of any of the other studies, could represent an attempt by Renoir to fully flesh out, as it were, the volumetric qualities of the female figures before proceeding to the actual painting. There was only one thing to do–see the original–presently locked away in a Chelsea storage facility. So, Tim and I trailed Greg Kitchen ten blocks over to the West Side. I snapped another Empire State Building image along the way, this time a vinyl ad stretched over some scaffolding.

Image of the Empire State Building — © Brian Rose

The drawing was stowed in a standard mini-storage closet, packed in a nondescript cardboard box held together with packing tape. Kitchen opened the box and removed the foam and bubble wrap swaddling his precious find. And there it was. Astonishing. A depth of volume and color, a presence, completely unavailable in the photo we had looked at earlier. There were details in the surface, scratch marks, erasures, the ghostly evidence of a third figure on the right corresponding with the composition of the finished Large Bathers. The skin of the most forward of the figures was opalescent, the faintest hint of blue veining showing through. If this wasn’t a genuine Renoir, then it was a masterful forgery.

A Girl with a Watering Can, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The National Gallery of Art

Seeing the pastel in person, I was reminded again that Renoir was often the maker of insipid images. Divorced of the visceral quality of the paint, they have become icons of bourgeois sophistication–like the crappy reproduction of a Girl with Watering Can that hung over the piano that no one ever played, in the living that no one ever used, in the faux colonial ranch house I grew up in. We are consumers of images with little connection to the materiality, the texture of the real, whether it’s a painting or the fabric of life itself. But, I digress.

Tim and I left Greg Kitchen on the corner, strolled the High Line down to the Meat Packing District, and retreated to a beer garden under the rail viaduct. It was blissfully cool in the shade, mild weather, following a stupifyingly hot July. It was clear, despite our reaction to the actual drawing, that this was going to be a difficult case, a complex mystery to unravel. There had been a robbery in Renoir’s studio in the late 19th century. Had the drawing been stolen? The last known owners were in Switzerland in the 1940s, and inquiries there had gone nowhere. There were intimations of nefarious doings–had the drawing been appropriated from Jewish owners doomed to Hitler’s gas chambers?

It’s now Tim’s job to clean up the narrative and collate the existing documentation. He and I are laughable amateurs in the world of international art intrigue. Ultimately, this will come down to the art experts, the lawyers, all who will extract their pounds of flesh. Or as I joked with Tim, Kitchen could always take it to the Antiques Road Show on PBS. Imagine, a drawing signed by Renoir bought at an antique fair for under $200, turns out to be a genuine figure study for one his most important paintings, worth–say–$2,000,000?

New York/Chelsea

W21st Street — © Brian Rose

W21st Street — © Brian Rose

Waiting with other anxious parents in front of Clinton Middle School for my son who was taking an entrance test. Nothing else to do but take pictures.

Story about the Kahn’s Trenton bath house  with my photographs in The Architect’s Newspaper here.

New York/Chelsea

10th Avenue — © Brian Rose

First post using WordPress. It hasn’t gone as smoothly as I hoped. Can’t seem to  install into the same location as my Blogger site. So, I’m redirecting people here, and giving up on saving my Blogger permalinks. In any case, I’m happy with the new interface, both the look of the blog and the WordPress dashboard.

10th Avenue in the teens and twenties is a hodgepodge of factory buildings, tenements, housing projects, and parking lots–even a seminary. To the west is the gallery district with contemporary housing sprouting here and there like mushrooms. In the photo above is a new condominium by Neil Denari cantilevered over the High Line. You can see some terrific computer renderings here.

10th Avenue — © Brian Rose

An old New York survivor barely hanging on.

10th Avenue — © Brian Rose

A new apartment building wrapping around a gas station.

New York/Chelsea

Disneyland Castle 1962 by Diane Arbus

In Chelsea before the big snowfall, I went to the Richard Misrach show (see post below), and across the street, to see new photographs by Williams Eggleston and older, unpeopled, photographs by Diane Arbus. This Arbus work, though less known, has much of the same foreboding, edgy quality as her portraits. In the adjacent gallery, Eggleston’s bright saturated prints seem almost blinding after the Arbus darkness.

Photograph by William Eggleston — © Brian Rose

The Eggleston images are the usual visual nonsequiturs–often fascinating, often forgettable–inspired randomness at its best. But what does one take away from all this sniffing around? Without the history, it’s hard to imagine this work getting a show. I’m not sure if that reflects poorly on Eggleston or on the current state of our visual acuity. Whatever the case, after looking at Eggleston pictures, I end up seeing Eggleston pictures everywhere I go.

Photograph by William Eggleston — © Brian Rose

W23rd Street — © Brian Rose

New York/Chelsea

10th Avenue — © Brian Rose

After a year and a half of exposure to this virulently toxic presence, the question on the table is: In our lifetime, has there ever been a worse human being in American politics than Sarah Palin? For all the morons and criminals and bigots we’ve been subjected to, has there been anyone else who has combined all of the fetid qualities — the proud ignorance, the sadistic viciousness, the shameless hypocrisy, the arrogant laziness, the congenital dishonesty, the unctuous sanctimony, the bilious resentment, and whichever others I’m forgetting for the moment — that this morals-free harridan so relentlessly displays? (Not to mention that atonal bray with which she communicates it all.)

Paul Slansky

New York/Chelsea

Trick or Treating in Chelsea — © Brian Rose

Quite the weekend and New York between Halloween and the marathon. Brendan trick or treated in Chelsea with friends for the third year in a row. He started out as a scarecrow, but ended up looking more like a farmer. The Sigma DP1, which I use for this blog, isn’t much of a low light camera, but what the hell. Go for it.

New York/West Side Highway

West Side Highway artifacts — © Brian Rose

Stan B. in his comment to the last post mentions the “post apocalyptic piece of concrete” that stood abandoned for years on the west side of Manhattan. Inexplicably, despite all the fixing up and covering up of New York’s industrial past, a couple of art deco slabs of the West Side Highway can still be seen lying on a scruffy stretch of waterfront on the Hudson River.

Here are a couple of views from 1974 including a detail similar to the pieces in my photo above.

West Side Highway, 1974, Library of Congress photos

Below are a couple of oblique views of the highway taken around 1978 when I was a student. They’re on 35mm Kodachrome–one of the best films ever made, now discontinued. One was taken on the roadway looking down on the Calder sculpture at the World Trade Center. Destroyed on 9/11. In the other view of the reflected Twin Towers, you can just see some of the West Side Highway receding in the distance. It was desolate over there in those days.

West Side Highway, World Trade Center, Bent Propeller by Alexander Calder, 1978
© Brian Rose

Along the Hudson River piers, 1978 — © Brian Rose

You can see more of my World Trade Center pictures here.