Category Archives: Exhibitions

New York/Old Topographics


Stephen Shore, Wilde Street and Colonization Avenue, Dryden, Ontario, August 15, 1974

Forty-two years ago, an exhibition called New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape caused a stir in the photography world, and the controversy around it, surprisingly, has continued to ripple down through the decades. I was 21 in 1975 when William Jenkins mounted his now famous exhibition of landscape photography. I was in art school in Baltimore, and just beginning to shoot in color. No one at the Maryland Institute – teachers or students – was doing anything like what Jenkins highlighted in his exhibition, and certainly not color landscape photography.


Scene from Red Desert, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1965

It took longer in those days for new ideas to percolate through the image making community, especially if you were not in New York City, or Rochester, the home of the George Eastman House where the exhibit took place. My strongest influences at that time were masters of the 35mm camera like Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander, but perhaps to a greater extent, I was fascinated by the color imagery of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s films from the 1960s and 70s, especially Red Desert and The Passenger. Consciously or unconsciously, I set out to bridge those worlds – socially aware street photography and the more studied color landscapes of Antonioni’s movies.


Joel Meyerowitz, ‘Camel Coats, New York City’, 1975

In 1975 I was basically following my instincts, not exactly in a vacuum, but at a remove from the groundbreaking shows that were coming out of the Museum of Modern Art under the leadership of the enormously important curator John Szarkowski. At some point, I came across several images by Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Meyerowitz, pioneers of color photography. Seeing those pictures printed in a magazine, it was as if the future flashed before my eyes. I knew what I needed to do.

By 1977 I was in New York where I studied with Meyerowitz at Cooper Union. It was the heyday of Light Gallery, which was one of the few galleries in the world dedicated to serious art photography. I remember seeing Frank Gohlke’s pictures of grain elevators at the Museum of Modern Art, and became familiar with Joe Deal and Robert Adams, particularly their images of the expanding suburbs of the American West. The way in which many of these photographers stayed back a bit, and allowed the detail afforded by the large format to do the work, appealed to me. When I photographed the Lower East Side in 1980 I turned to the 4×5 view camera as the best way to describe the neighborhood and its architecture.


Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973

I don’t remember when I became aware of the term New Topographics, but for me it was a curator’s thing – I was interested in individual photographers whose work I found compelling. To me, Robert Adams’ images possessed an almost spiritual power that transcended labels and art theory speak. At the same time, his pictures expressed  the uneasy symbiosis of our relationship with the natural world. That is true to some extent of all of the photographers that Jenkins grouped together in his show.

That’s where Jenkins was most persuasive, I think, to point out that landscape photography had moved away from the romantic idealization of the world epitomized by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. I’m afraid, however, that Jenkins unintentionally diminished the individuality of the photographers he chose for New Topographics. Placed in the same cubbyhole, the singular richness and complexity of their images was diluted by proximity, and this diverse group of photographers were seen to be part of some kind of group think. At the same time, many viewers were put off by the cool temperature of the images, the way in which visual content was diffused over the entire frame, rather than organized hierarchically.


Watering, Phillips Ranch, California, 1983

Recently, in a Facebook group about contemporary landscape photography, a contributor suggested that too much of the work posted there looked derivative of New Topographics. I don’t actually know what that means. I suspect it refers to the wide angle, evenhanded, approach that many of Jenkins’ selected photographers employed. But that seems to me a narrow criterion for work by markedly different photographers. Are we talking about Lewis Baltz? Stephen Shore? Henry Wessel? New Topographics was a cuator’s thesis supported by the work of a number of talented photographers who eschewed conventional approaches to landscape. But it was never a movement, nor a particular style.


Charles Marville, Demolition of Butte des Moulins for Avenue de l’opera, 1870

The reality is that photographers have been documenting human presence on the landscape since the medium was invented. It could be argued that the photographs of Ansel Adams and others depicting a pristine picturesque world were the true aberrations, and that the New Topographics photographers were actually extending  — in various different ways — an unbroken line running through Marville, Atget, O’Sullivan, Evans, and others. The Düsseldorf School photographers who are often connected to New Topographics were undoubtedly influenced by this continuum inspired as well by German photographers like August Sander and Albert Renger-Patsch. Even the more conceptual work of Bernd and Hilla Becher echoes that history.


Albert Renger-Patzsch, Winter landscape with colliery Pluto in Wanne-Eickel (1929)

Walker Evans, Birmingham Steel Mill and Workers’ Houses, 1936


Lee Friedlander, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980

As photographers we need not feel enslaved to curatorial constructs like New Topographics. What Williams Jenkins came up with was a timely recognition of the way in which photographers were becoming attentive to the accelerating encroachment of urban development in the late 20th century. That attention and the formal rigor of the images ran counter to the prevailing aesthetics of fine art photography, which had already been challenged by Winogrand, Frank, and other small camera practitioners. In my view, the whole uproar around New Topographics had less to do with an aesthetic or conceptual break than it had to do with a reconfiguration of the photography world including the growing importance of museums, curators, art schools, and galleries.


Eugène Atget, Porte de Bercy, 1910

Let’s not get distracted by all this. In my view, the critical observation of the landscape by photographers remains an important if not essential practice. With the explosion of new technologies, the increasingly inward gaze of virtual reality, and the lure of alternate notions of truth, the counter weight of objective observation keeps us attentive to the physical world we continue to inhabit with its ongoing environmental depredations, spasms of war and destruction – and beauty — wherever we may find it.

New York/AIPAD


Empty AIPAD booth — © Brian Rose

There are hundreds of booths at AIPAD (The Photography Show) and thousands of people attending. Lots of different languages overheard while walking around, which is typical of New York.

But one booth is empty. The sign says:

Due to the recent travel ban and
the uncertainty of international
travel from countries identified
in the ban, Ag Galerie, Tehran,
is unable to participate in The
Photography Show this year.

Ran into several friends, Hans Knijnenburg from the Netherlands who is avid photo book collector, Art Presson and Eve Kessler, who have a wonderful photography collection, Joel Sternfeld, the photographer, and I met Hendrik Kerstens, the Dutch photographer who I wrote about in my blog a number of years ago.

 

New York/AIPAD


Dillon + Lee booth at AIPAD

I am pleased to be in this year’s AIPAD  (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) show at Pier 94 on the westside of Manhattan. I’ve attended several times in the past, but this is the first time I’ve had a piece on display. AIPAD provides a great overview of what the galleries are showing in New York and beyond. My gallery, Dillon + Lee, is not exclusively a photography gallery, but they have assembled a diverse stable of artists that includes a significant number who work with photography. I hold down the landscape view camera department.


AIPAD show — East 4th Street 1980 (Rose/Fausty)

I am showing a 4×5 foot print of one of the Lower East Side photographs made in 1980 by me and Edward Fausty. It’s the cover image of Time and Space on the Lower East Side, and it was taken in front of the building I lived in at the time. It is, perhaps, the most iconic of the Lower East Side images, and although shown a lot, it’s still one of my favorites.


Dillon + Lee booth at AIPAD

If you are serious about photography collecting — or want to see what is going on the photo gallery world — it is definitely worth the $30. There are more than 100 dealers and galleries represented, and they have added a section on photo book publishing this year, which I will be checking out. The show runs from March 30 – April 2.

 

 

New York/Death of Photography (greatly exaggerated)

shh
S1st Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Every few years someone or other, usually an art/photo critic, declares photography dead. Or if not dead, then relegated to a quaint sideshow off the midway of progress. I’ve written about it before, way back in 2007, in response to Peter Plagens’ Newsweek article “Is Photography Dead?” An article that ends with the line: “The next great photographers—if there are to be any—will have to find a way to reclaim photography’s special link to reality. And they’ll have to do it in a brand-new way.”

Last August, Stephen Mayes repeated many of Plagens’ assertions in a Time article that keeps popping up in my Facebook newsfeed, no doubt because hundreds of my “friends” are photographers. His article ends by conjuring up the old Elvis meme: “It’s very far from dead but it’s definitely left the building.” Which means, all you losers waiting for an encore should go home because the show is over. It has moved on to a new venue.

The argument for the death of photography generally revolves around how technology has stripped the medium of its claim to veracity. Never mind that photographic reality has since its inception held a tenuous grip on reality — despite the faith placed in it. Mayes believes that the nature of digital capture is fundamentally different from lens based imagery, and touts the infinite arrangeability of pixels as a transformative phenomenon.

No doubt, of course, technology has changed the medium, but Mayes flails about trying to describe what that change might look like. Having just drowned in MoMA’s inchoate “Ocean of Images,” the latest installment of the museum’s New Photography series, I can only conclude that no one seems to know where things are, much less where things are going.

Arrangements of digital data in the post internet image vortex. That’s where we are, apparently.

Lauder4-jumbo
“THE VIOLIN (MOZART/KUBELICK)”
Georges Braque, 1912

There is one paragraph of Mayes’s article in particular that illustrates where his argument about photography goes wrong. He compares the present image revolution as comparable to the period when Picasso, and the other Cubists, deconstructed the traditional way of seeing, which forever transformed the nature of representation. Cubism was definitely a transformative movement in the history of art, but it did not kill off painting.

True, critics have called painting dead, too. And for quite a while, it appeared that the march of art history was essentially reductive — from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism to the grave. But lo and behold, painters have continued to paint, and the medium remains alive and well within the multiplicity of ways that artists approach the task of making art — of expressing the nature of human existence — in the age of image capture.

Photography, and its tenuous tether to reality, will continue to be important to culture, as is music, film, and literature. The digital revolution will not render these things irrelevant. The act of observation, of bearing witness, will not become less important — it may in fact become more important as we increasingly live in a world alternating between the real and the virtually real. Sometimes, going to contemporary photo exhibitions is like experiencing one bad Holodeck adventure after another. I’m mean come on, let’s get real.

Here is a comprehensive list of articles on “painting is dead” vs. “painting is back.” One could easily do a similar list about photography. Actually, I think it’s the “such and such is dead” paradigm that is dead.

New York/Ocean of Images

I visited Ocean of Images at the Museum of Modern Art with some trepidation – for me, any foray into the museum is a challenge given the mobs of tourists and the pervasive sense that we are all there on a sort of obligatory pilgrimage. It’s been that way for a long time, so nothing new about that.

As a working artist myself, I am of two minds about going to museum survey shows that present contemporary work. On the one hand, I want to know what is going on, or what is perceived as representing the zeitgeist. On the other hand, I want to protect and cultivate my own process of working and seeing, which sometimes requires keeping blinders in place, staying focused on one’s own path. Knowing the risks, I usually go.

DIS. A Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence). 2015

Ocean of Images is the latest installment of the photography department’s New Photography series, which attempts to target the most interesting or innovative work of the present. Although the curators assert that their selection for the current show was driven by the work of the artists rather than fitting into some preconceived idea – “post-internet,” e.g. – let me just say, it has been observed by others, that very little in the show consists of what might be called recognizable photography. Actually, there are plenty of pieces that utilize photography in a fairly direct way, but when they do, they are displayed as components of installations. The whole exhibition is itself a kind of installation of installations. A simulacrum of an exhibition, if you will.

I lasted about five minutes in there. My ability to think was overwhelmed by a loud humming. Like a lizard’s brain. Or the sound of an ocean of images roaring from a conch shell. For a brief moment I entertained the notion that I was hopelessly out of step, and that I hated installations, even though, truth be told, I am presently working on a large installation piece making use of photographs from my World Trade Center project.

splitting
Splitting by Gordon Matta-Clark

Anyway, I wandered into another gallery, this one an exhibition called Endless House about the concept of “house” using drawings, photographs, models, and films, and I was enthralled by all of it. I watched, mesmerized for ten minutes, Gordon Matta-Clark’s grainy super-8 film documentation of his piece Splitting, in which he physically cuts a house in two with power tools and his own sweaty brawn.

vacationhouse
Vacation House for Terrorists by Thomas Schotte

And I was momentarily thrown for a loop by a drawing by Thomas Schütte of a glassy modernist house entitled Vacation House for Terrorists, which sent a shiver through me as I contemplated the dissonance between the bourgeois comforts of modernism and the destructive violence of terrorism, and the idea that terrorists might want or desire a vacation house. There was also an immersive and disorienting photo environment by Annett Zinsmeister, a repeating window pattern of a highrise housing project that could be walked in, and on.

windowsfaces
Virtual Interior by Annett Zinsmeister

And then I saw the Jackson Pollock exhibition, which is spectacular, and I felt all right again. Art can be exciting, groundbreaking, thought provoking, moving, even beautiful.

Back to work.

New York/Metamorphosis

meatpacking_wall
Framed prints from Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

I heard a few days ago from someone in Italy who bought a set of my prints — a selection of images from Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013. I don’t normally sell small prints, although there is an 8×10 included with the limited edition of the book. After all, my last show had 4×5 foot prints, which were pretty impressive. But I went along with the request and sold 18 small prints figuring they’d end up in a portfolio box.

Well, they’ve ended up on the wall, each separately framed, to form a grid of about 3×4 feet. I think it looks spectacular! Anyone else want something like this? Get in touch.

And just a reminder. Metamorphosis remains on sale for $50 on my website.

metamorphosis_dummy
Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

New York/East 4th Street

rose_harsley
Brian Rose and Alex Harsley — © Brendan Rose

A few days ago I went to Alex Harsley’s East 4th Street Photo Gallery to document his amazing space, a couple hundred square feet chock-a-block with prints running up and down the walls, even on the ceiling, attached to cords with clothespins. I brought along my son Brendan, who is 16 and needed to do a school photography assignment that involved making photos containing other photos.

Yes, that’s a 4×5 view camera, and yes, I’m wearing my dark cloth superhero cape as Alex salutes. I was there for 3 or 4 hours taking pictures — very slow going in such a tight space. I used my monorail camera so that I could use a wider lens. Most of the view camera images I’m doing these days are made with a field camera, a boxier, more compact camera with fewer movements, and a stiffer bellows, making it difficult to put a 65mm lens on it. But lightweight and portable. The camera above was previously my workhorse architectural camera. Few architectural photographers use view cameras any more, settling for the ease of digital SLRs, despite their limitations. Clients don’t know or care at this point. If you care, however, it’s an Arca Swiss camera with a Schneider 65mm lens on a Gitzo tripod and a Manfrotto ball head.

However, when I want highly detailed images to possibly print large, the view camera is still the way to go. I scan the negative at high resolution and make prints — like my last two exhibitions — up to 4×5 feet. The MIT mural shown in my earlier post was made from one of those 500 Mb scans. Anyway, I hope to have some images of Alex’s gallery to show in the near future.

I’ll be on vacation for a week to a place with limited internet and cell phone service, so don’t expect any posts till I return. Outta here.

New York/MIT Museum Interview

MITportrait
In front of Delancey Street photo, MIT Museum

The exhibition I am a part of at the MIT Museum (Photographing Places: The photographers of Places Journal, 1987-2009) includes interviews with the various photographers, which can be listened to through headphones at audio stations in the gallery. The interviews are broken up into short thematic bites.

My interview was done live over the internet with some editing done later. It’s fairly spontaneous commentary about my thinking and way of working. When I refer to “my book,” I’m talking about Time and Space on the Lower East Side, which is now sold out. And when I refer to “Cervin,” i’m talking about Cervin Robinson who was a consulting editor to the original Places magazine — an architectural photographer — and author of Architecture Transformed: A History of the Photography of Buildings from 1839 to the Present.

Here are the clips:
 
The Lower East Side project:

 
 

MIT Museum/Cambridge, Massachusetts

places002
Exhibition entrance with wall-size print of Delancey Street 1980

A few weeks ago, an exhibition opened at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Photographing Places: The Photographs of Places Journal, 1997-2009. Places Journal was originally a print magazine dealing with issues relating to architecture and urbanism. Each issue featured an extended photo essay centered on a particular location. In 2004, just after I had begun re-photographing the Lower East Side I was asked to contribute to the magazine. I was approached by Cervin Robinson, the architectural photographer, who was a contributing editor to the magazine. Cervin is also the author of a Architecture Transformed: A History of the Photography of Buildings from 1839 to the Present. I knew Cervin from all the way back in 1980 when I first exhibited by photographs of the Lower East Side. Cervin was for me, and many other photographers, a mentor and great friend. I’ve written about Cervin here and here.

places004
Blow up of a Places Journal cover by Joel Sternfeld — © Brian Rose

I traveled up to Cambridge with my wife to attend a reception for the exhibition, which included four of my photographs, one of which was printed wall-size at the entryway to the show. The exhibition, curated by Gary Van Zante of the MIT Museum, features the work of about a 20 photographers whose images ran in the print version of Places. Places still exists, by the way, as a multi-dimensional website, and still presents photo essays focused on the built environment.

Almost a third of the photographers in the show were present at the reception, which was great. A couple of us had barely made it on time because of snow-delayed trains coming up from New York. I had very nice chats with Kate Milford, who was showing her photographs of downtown Brooklyn, and Lyle Gomes, who had photographed the landscape of the Presidio (former military base, now park) in San Francisco. I also spoke with Lisa Silvestri who has photographed post Katrina New Orleans. And best of all, the ageless Cervin Robinson was present.

Inside the door of the exhibition there is a blow-up of a cover of the former magazine with an image of the High Line by Joel Sternfeld in its former wild state. And two more images from that series are in the show.

places005
Lower East Side images — © Brian Rose

Above are my prints in the show — two from 1980 done by me and Edward Fausty working together, and two from 2004 when I had just begun re-photographing the Lower East Side. This is the work that eventually comprised Time and Space on the Lower East Side, my now sold-out book. It was in Places Journal before anywhere else.

places001
Brian Rose in front of Delancey Street 1980

Here I am standing in front of Delancey Street 1980 at the entrance to the exhibition. I knew that my image was going to be used big, but I didn’t realize it would be this big. Pretty cool! The next day my wife and I walked all the way from MIT to the Back Bay station in Boston through the frozen snow clogged streets. Spring is just around the corner.


New York/Chelsea Art Walk

artwalk

I will be at Dillon Gallery for the Chelsea Art Walk from 5 – 8pm this evening, July 24. My new book, Metamorphosis, will be available for purchase and signing. If you missed the opening a week ago, It’s your second chance. Hope to see you there.

http://artwalkchelsea.com

Dillon Gallery
555 West 25th Street
(between 10th and 11th Avenues)

 

New York/Out with the Old, In with the New

frontcover

It has been two years and one month since I released Time and Space on the Lower East Side. The trade edition of the book is now “sold out.” Approximately 1,000 copies sold. There are still a few books floating around in stores, and I know that my gallery still has some. Anyone who wants a copy should contact me directly, and I will see what I can do to find one for you.

The limited edition is still available. It comes in a slipcover with an 8×10 print inside. $250. The limited edition can be ordered here.

After a couple of years of promoting Time and Space, it’s sad to see it go. At the same time, however, my new book Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013 is now available. The books arrived last week, and I am now busy sending them out to Kickstarter backers and those who pre-ordered. Metamorphosis can be order here.

The two books together make a great set, and in another couple of years, I hope to come out with a third — WTC — photographs of the World Trade Center from 1978 to the present.

Last week’s opening at Dillon Gallery was a success despite rainy weather. The exhibit of my Meatpacking District photographs will be up through August 15. Don’t miss the chance to see these stunning 4×5 foot prints.

 

New York/Metamorphosis Exhibition

I am pleased to announce the opening of my second exhibition at Dillon Gallery in New York. The show will include a dozen 4×5 foot prints from Metamorphosis, my book about the Meatpacking District. I am hoping that books will be available at the opening, but I am still waiting for the shipment. At the very least, there will be a few copies of the book in the gallery.

Look forward to seeing you there.

dillon_invitation

Dillon Gallery
555 West 25th Street
New York, New York

July 15 – August 15

Exhibition Opening and Book Launch
Tuesday, July 15, 6-8PM

brianrose.com/metamorphosis.htm

 

 

 

New York/The Book!

metamorphosis_coverFinished book cover — © Brian Rose

Have just received two copies of the completed book sent by FedEx from the printer in Hong Kong. The rest of the books are en route by ship, on schedule for an early July delivery. All I can say is that the book looks stunning. If you’d like to pre-order go here.

On Friday I was in the lab printing for my upcoming exhibition.

metamorphosis_printSteve, the technician at Beth Schiffer Creative Darkroom, rolling prints as they come off the machine.
© Brian Rose

The book launch and exhibition opening will be July 15th at Dillon Gallery on W25th Street in Chelsea, just a few blocks north of the Meatpacking District. There will be 12 images in the show, each printed at 4×5 feet. An invitation will be sent out later.

This is all pretty exciting!

 

New York/Kickstarter Success

finalgoal

The Kickstarter campaign for my Meatpacking book is now over with 163% of my goal reached. Now we can take that posh vacation in the Caribbean that we’ve been dreaming about all through this — barely over — snowy winter in New York.

No, no, no. Just a joke. The money raised only pays for part of the production of the book. We’re still stuck here in this, so far, shivery spring, as baseball season begins, with lots of work to do to make this book a success.

The good news is that over 250 books have been sold out of a first printing of 1,000. And the book hasn’t yet shipped from Hong Kong. That’s a spectacular start. My 210 Kickstarter backers came from all over the world — in fact, 25% of them were from outside of the United States. It proves what I’ve been saying all along, that books like this about New York City have a potential reach far beyond the sometimes parochial view of things here in this little burg.

There are a lot of people to thank for helping make this Kickstarter campaign successful, particularly Jeremiah Moss, who wrote the foreword to the book, and got things rolling with a terrific post on his blog Vanishing New York. A number of other blogs picked up on the story including Bowery Boogie, Curbed, Untapped New York, Reciprocity-Failure, and the Swiss news/entertainment site Watson.

I’ll be providing details later, but mark your calendars. Exhibition opening and book launch, July 15th, Dillon Gallery, West 25th Street in Chelsea, just a few blocks north of the Meatpacking District.

 

 

New York/Spirit of Marville

marville_05Place Saint-André-des-Arts, c. 1865 — Charles Marville

I went to the Metropolitan Museum last weekend to see the Charles Marville show, the photographer who documented Paris during the time of urban planner Baron George-Eugène Haussmann. Haussmann, under the supervision of Napoleon III, razed large sections of the old city in order to create the grand boulevards and monumental squares and traffic circles we associate with contemporary Paris. Photography was still new — only two decades old — when Marville was commissioned to photograph the transformation of Paris. And today, 180 years since the invention of photography, the documentation of the urban environment remains an essential and vital focus of the medium.

marville_08Boulevard Henri IV (de la rue de Sully) (fourth arrondissement), c. 1877 — Charles Marville

I was familiar with Marville prior to seeing the exhibition, but not in great depth. The inspirational touchstone for me was always Eugène Atget, who also photographed Paris with a large format camera. I have always found Atget’s work central to my understanding of what documentation could be — that even the most clear-eyed description of place can evoke emotion and mystery. Marville, however, is Atget’s immediate predecessor, and as such, progenitor to all of us who make architecture and the urban landscape our subject.

6-charles-marville
Entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts, c. 1870 — Charles Marville

To Marville and his contemporary audience, I can imagine that everything recorded by the camera was new and wondrous. The organized elegance of Marville’s compositions belies his training as an artist, and appears almost modern to our eyes. But Marville was not employing today’s self-conscious visual strategies. He was a pioneer discovering the medium of photography while simultaneously carrying out his commission to photograph the changing visage of Paris. It was the beginning of a long violent transfiguration initiated by Haussmann, the great destroyer and creator of the City of Lights. And indeed, some of Marville’s most architecturally precise images show the newly designed gas lamps that brought that light into the heart of the formerly dark medieval city.

marville_09Top of the Rue Champlain, 1877-78 — Charles Marville

Old Paris is gone (no human heart

changes half so fast as a city’s face)…
There used to be a poultry market here,
and one cold morning… I saw

a swan that had broken out of its cage,
webbed feet clumsy on the cobblestones,
white feathers dragging in the uneven ruts,
and obstinately pecking at the drains…

Paris changes . . . but in sadness like mine
nothing stirs—new buildings, old
neighbourhoods turn to allegory,
and memories weigh more than stone 

A translation of The Swan by Charles Beaudelaire

In the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman writes about Paris: “An architecturally harmonious capital rose from the rubble, a city of spectacle, built for a new, modern economy, but homogeneous and no longer welcoming to many of the poor souls who had helped make the place run and had always been deep in its cultural lifeblood.”

Some of the same dynamic is taking place in New York City, though without the wholesale physical destruction of Haussmann or New York’s own Robert Moses, who leveled neighborhoods to create his parks and parkways. But what has happened in Manhattan represents a dramatic shift of capital back to the center city from the periphery where it fled in the ’60s and ’70s, and Manhattan has increasingly become a safe parking place for vast sums of foreign money. No, there were no visionary utopians like Haussmann or Moses this time, but there was Michael Bloomberg, businessman extraordinaire, who took up the reins of a city reeling from the devastation of 911 and set the city on its present track.

marville_07Drilling of the Avenue de l’Opéra — Charles Marville

Kimmelman also writes: “I wonder, here in the early third (millennium), whether photographers are now out and about, in the spirit of Marville, documenting 57th Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and East Harlem, Willets Point, Long Island City and Hell’s Kitchen. Big cities change. That’s urban life. But the best cities don’t leave the vulnerable behind.”

At least some photographers are out and about, despite a trend these days toward staged reality and the ultimate myopia of selfies. I’m certainly out and about. And the vulnerable citizens of this ever changing metropolis ride the jammed subways day and night commuting to and from increasingly far flung quarters of a city that still attracts immigrants from around the globe. Where this all leads — all this constant motion — all this restless energy — I have no idea. But the spirit of Marville remains alive among contemporary photographers, and the visual history of these times will be preserved.

 

New York/Jumping the Shark

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Museum of Modern Art — © Brian Rose

Way back when — the late 70s — I studied with Hans Haacke, the distinguished political/conceptual artist. Although I did not go in that direction as a photographer, it was an important experience for me, and I have believed ever sense, that art should be grounded in historical and political context, that it needs to interact dialectically with the world we live in. This process, to me, does not necessarily resolve the questions surrounding truth and beauty, but it exposes or illuminates the language — visual or textual — that we use when we talk about these ineffable things.

Does this make sense to you? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a little dangerous going down this road, especially a road so well-trodden and rutted as to be, perhaps, irrelevant.

In New Photography 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art we get to go down this and other well-worn paths concerning conceptual/polemical photography. Curator Roxana Marcoci asserts that “there has never been just one type of photography,” as if throwing down a gauntlet. Her show presents a group of photographers who “have redefined photography as a medium of experimentation and intellectual inquiry.” In this show it is not enough to focus attention on individual artists who are attempting to stake out some small scrap of new turf in an already expansive field. No, they must be doing something truly ground breaking, “creatively reassessing the meaning of image-makingtoday.”

guineapig
Museum of Modern Art text panel

Please read the text panel above. It is, of course, not necessary or desirable to actually see the photographs. The meaning is in the text. Were one to encounter the above guinea pig portraits unburdened of their meaning, one might miss the “historical links to the slave trade,” and one might gaze in bafflement at the “ribbon, string, and Mylar” intended to animate the “deadpan expressions” of these furry rodents.

One might, in all likelihood, not care one way or another about any of these photographs, and move on to other, hopefully more trenchant, examples of social and aesthetic engagement. Say, for instance, the Walker Evans “American Photographs” upstairs in the museum, which still look pretty new 75 years after they were made.

I believe this is one of those moments characterized by the expression “jumping the shark.” In this case guinea pigs.