My show at Dillon Gallery closes on April 9. Still a few days left to see Time and Space on the Lower East Side.
Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Dillon Gallery — © Brian Rose
It took much of the afternoon Wednesday to lay out the show and get the frames up, but I already had a pretty good idea where I wanted things to go. The opening Thursday evening was well attended, despite wintry weather, and it was great to see lots of old friends and meet new people. Ed Fausty who collaborated on the 1980 pictures was there as was Suzanne Vega, who wrote the foreword of Time and Space along with music friends, Frank Mazzetti and Norman Salant. Bill Diodato, my publisher, was there along with Warren Mason, who designed Time and Space.On the photography side, my friend and mentor, architectural photographer Cervin Robinson was there, and Mark Jenkinson, fellow Cooper Union grad, and Jan Staller, another color photographer who goes back to the late 70s and is still doing strong new work. Very pleased to see Sean Corcoran, the photography curator from the Museum of the City of New York. And it was particularly nice to have my painter friend Tim Raymond down from Buffalo.
I’m leaving out lots of people, but I’m appreciative of everyone who made this a festive occasion on an otherwise “dark and stormy night.” And thanks especially to Valerie Dillon for making it all possible.
Did anyone take pictures? I don’t have a single image from the opening.
Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Dillon Gallery — © Brian Rose
Time and Space on the Lower East Side featured in the New York Times. It will run in the print edition of the Metropolitan section of the Sunday Times and online.
Exhibition opens this Thursday:
555 W25th Street
New York, NY 10001
March 7 – April 9
Opening Reception, Thursday 6-8pm
Time and Space on the Lower East Side will be exhibited at Dillon Gallery from March 7 to April 9. Dillon is on West 25th Street in the gallery district of Chelsea on the same block as Pace Gallery and the Tesla electric car showroom. Like most of the galleries in Chelsea, it was originally in Soho. Although they are known mostly for paintings–and even an artist who works in scents–the owner Valerie Dillon was open to considering photography, and decided a few months ago to take me on as one of her artists.
The gallery is quite large, easily accessible on the ground floor, and will provide plenty of wall space to present my Lower East Side pictures at a scale that is impressive, but appropriate for view camera images. There will be 26 images all together, and twelve will be printed 4×5 feet, enough images to present an overview of the whole project with the focus slightly skewed toward the 1980 images made with Edward Fausty, which may have the most sales potential.
The opening is March 7 from 6 to 8pm, and everyone is invited.
Broadway and East 9th Street — © Brian Rose
Ridge Street — © Brian Rose
A few random pictures and random thoughts. As my Lower East Side show approaches I wonder how (or if) the work will be put in context with the photography being made back in the late 70s, and the way in which I connect the work to the present. One of the important points I have tried to make in the book is that the past and present are intertwined, and not neatly separated into before and after as is the usual practice. That said, the photographs I did with Edward Fausty were made as color photography was just beginning to enter the mainstream of art photography. The way we used color and the view camera to describe the streets and architecture of the LES at a particular moment in history had not been done before–at least to my knowledge–and has only been done rarely since. I think of recent work by Robert Polidori in Havana or Andrew Moore in Detroit as examples of the latter. But in 1979 I was thinking about the steady gaze of Atget and Evans with the view camera, and the kinetic energy of Frank and Friedlander with the 35mm.
There’s a book coming out soon called Color Rush by Katherine A. Bussard and Lisa Hostetler that tells the story of color photography from its inception to the early ’80s. The website blurb says: The book begins with the 1907 unveiling of autochrome, the first commercially available color process, and continues up through the 1981 landmark survey show and book The New Color Photography, which hailed the widespread acceptance of color photography in contemporary art.
Alas, my LES work will not be included. It was shown in 1981 in a large exhibition, reviewed in the Times, but then went underground not to be seen again until now with Time and Space on the Lower East Side. I’m not going to go into the reasons why that happened–for the moment–but what I feel good about is that the re-emergence of this work is not primarily a nostalgia trip back to the ruins of the past. It is presented as a fresh portrayal of a place, one that challenges easy assumptions about how to look at the past and how to look at photographs of different eras juxtaposed as they are in Time and Space.
Joerg Colberg on his blog Conscientious recently reviewed the reissue of the book American Prospects by Joel Sternfeld. He states: As a photographer, Sternfeld has certainly had enormous influence on a whole generation of American photographers. For example, it is not hard to see Alec Soth’s Sleeping By The Mississippi follow some of the traces laid out in Sternfeld’s travels and book. The American large-format photography craze might be on the way out now, though – just like its German (Düsseldorf) counterpart it simply appears to have run its course.
I guess there was a craze at some point, but I hate to see things discussed in this off-hand way, that a certain popular style has just run its course, and we can now move on. I’m picking on Joerg here, a thoughtful writer about photography who was writing a positive review of Sternfeld’s book, but for me, my work has little to do with any kind of craze or particular attachment to the influence of contemporary photographers. It has been a long hard slog stretching over decades.
Critics, curators, and the art market are, of course, fond of defining movements and putting things into convenient boxes. A photographer does something innovative, which is then shown in the galleries, the critics jump, and then the art students follow en masse. This is an obvious scenario, but it goes on and on. At any rate, I am proud to be one of the early adopters of color photography dedicated to a descriptive exploration of the landscape. And as I continue to extend my long term projects and begin new ones, I will not accept the notion that looking at the visually tangible world with a critical eye has lost its relevance to contemporary art and culture.
If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.
–Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Art Miami installation, the Dillon Gallery
Three of my Lower East Side photographs from 1980 (made with Ed Fausty) are being exhibited at Art Miami, one of the big art fairs presently going on in the Miami area. I am being represented by the Dillon Gallery, a New York, Chelsea gallery. I just heard that we sold a print of East 4th Street, the image on the left, above. It’s hard to tell from the snapshot, but the prints are approximately 50×62 inches, and look really terrific at that size. Very pleased, and hoping this leads to more good things.
Guggenheim Museum lounge — © Brian Rose
A few thoughts on the Rineke Dijkstra retrospective that closes today at the Guggenheim. I’ve seen enough, or rather, I’ve seen too much. I’m not sure whose fault this is: the art market, the art media, or our cultural obsession with celebrity. At some point the person and their work becomes objectified to such an extent that whatever originality there was, whatever spark of discovery was once seized upon, now seems static and neutered.
Part of the problem for me may be the inherently totemic nature of Dijktra’s portraits along with the serial nature of much of her work. They are a bit like the Bechers’ images of building types in their frontal, decontextualized isolation of the subject. Like the Bechers work, however brilliant, I yearn to be set free. To return to the world with all its messiness, it’s complexity, it’s overlapping chaotic craziness, a world to be navigated through, a world comprised of multiple view-points.
I was happy to see Dijkstra’s video piece made in two techno clubs in the 1990s. I hadn’t seen it before, which helped, and I like the slightly less hermetic representation of the infinitely awkward young people thrust before the camera. They are human specimens, momentarily plucked from their environment, still squirming, alive. Am I comfortable with this kind of biology experiment? No. But comfort is, perhaps, beside the point, whether we’re talking about Arbus, Mapplethorpe, Ruff, Dijkstra, or a host of other photographers.
But I can’t look at Dijkstra any more. Maybe it’s my fault, and I will get over it. There was a time I couldn’t listen to Bob Dylan any more, but that passed. Do I care any longer that her portraits look like Botticelli or Dutch masters? No. Everyone from Sherman to Goldin to Wall seem to be obsessed with making photography look more like art–real art–than the recalcitrant stepchild photography has always been. There’s something tiresome going on here, no matter how talented these artist/photographers are.
So, I’ve seen the Dijkstra (mid-career) retrospective–she’s only 53 with lots more to do I’m sure–and have the book. But I’ll be taking a break from this work for a while.
The Lowline exhibition
Underneath the street at the foot of the Williamsburg bridge is an abandoned underground trolley storage facility. Until recently, few knew about this hidden space.
From the New York Times:
James Ramsey and Dan Barasch, come to the project with prestigious résumés (Yale and NASA in Mr. Ramsey’s case, Cornell and Google for Mr. Barasch). They want to convert the space into a subterranean park, using fiber-optic technology to channel in natural light — enough light, in fact, to allow photosynthesis to occur and, as a result, for plants to thrive.
The proposal is called the Lowline, named to echo the High Line, the elevated park built on the old rail viaduct slicing through Manhattan’s westside. Ramsey and Barasch and a host of other supporters and collaborators have put together an exhibition in a disused market building adjacent to the trolley site. In it they have built a prototype of the sun collectors and created a mini landscape comprised of a tree, ferns, and moss. I had been somewhat skeptical of the concept until seeing the exhibit–I imagined the lighting being indirect and dim. But the actual impression is of a shaft of sunlight penetrating the darkness. An array of these collectors would produce an underground world brightly illuminated by daylight.
There are a lot of reasons for the Lowline to fail–the fact that the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns the space and wants to maximize the value of this otherwise dead space. The cost of building and maintaining such an elaborate piece of infrastructure. The bureaucratic red tape inherent in any New York City project, no matter how straight forward–and this would be anything but straight forward.
On the other hand, more than 10,000 people have passed through the Low Line exhibition in two weekends, an extraordinary number. The project has clearly seized the imagination of the city and beyond.
While visiting the exhibit yesterday I met briefly with Margaret Chin, Lower East Side city councilwoman, who is supporting the project, and then spoke with Dan Barasch. He was familiar with my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side, and I suggested that there might be a way I could support their project through my photography. I would love to be involved in some way.
Manhatta Timeline, ArtSpace Buffalo — © Brian Rose
I am presently exhibiting work at ArtSpace Buffalo, a non-profit gallery, along with paintings and drawings by J. Tim Raymond and Robert Harding. Tim, who is the organizer of the show, lives in Buffalo, and Bob Harding is a painter from New York City. The gallery is in an old factory buildings converted into artists lofts, and because of its immense size, I opted to show large pieces. The photographs are 40×50 inches and the mural, WTC, which I previously mounted on a sidewalk shed on East 4th Street in the East Village, is 4×28 feet.
Manhatta Timeline, ArtSpace Buffalo — © Brian Rose
The title of my part of the exhibition is Manhatta Timeline and takes its name from the short film made by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand in 1921 featuring images of New York City. The name is derived from the original Indian name for the island, Mannahatta, and the film includes quotes from the Walt Whitman poem of the same name. Timeline refers to the sequence of four images that begin at the north end of Manhattan in Inwood Park with the Hudson River and Palisades in the background. The sequence then moves down the Hudson to the World Trade Center in the 1980s, and concludes with a multi-layered urban scene from 2012 that includes a sign with the names of those killed on 9/11. The montage of WTC closeups is itself a visual yardstick with a searing strip of blue sky in the middle.
…I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships, an
island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong,
light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies…
Inwood Park (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose
Hudson Heights (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose
World Trade Center (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose
Washington Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose
Chelsea Market – © Brian Rose
Walking through the Chelsea Market the other day I enjoyed seeing Gregg Segal’s show Enactments, images of Civil War re-enactors and people who work as super hero characters. The images are a wry look at American culture–I particularly like the Civil War images, in which authentically uniformed soldiers seem lost in time, lost in suburbia. The Chelsea Market often has photo exhibitions, usually of middling quality, and it is a challenging environment for any sort of contemplative art. But Segal’s photos work here in the crowded hubbub with the market setting adding another layer of odd juxtapositions. Although the images are highly staged scenes–not normally my thing–photographic artifice in this case connects aptly with the staged activities of the characters in the photographs. See more Gregg Segal photos here.
Chelsea Market – © Brian Rose
The Chelsea Market these days is overrun by tourists. There have always been plenty of them, but now it seems, whole busloads of foreigners are milling about, blocking the way, not buying anything. I’ve also noticed that a number of retail spaces are now occupied by boutiques diluting the focus on food that has makes this a great place and the primary reason for its success. Is the Chelsea Market reaching a tipping point? Is it losing its focus as other food markets pop up around the city providing alternatives for New Yorkers?
I’m heading off for Amsterdam this evening, the first time I’ve been back in a number of years. I’ll be celebrating the publishing of Time and Space on the Lower East Side with some of my Dutch Kickstarter backers and friends next Thursday. Anyone who would like to join in please email me for details.
Alex Harsley, self-portrait
I’ve written about Alex Harsley several times in this blog, a woefully overlooked photographer and icon of East 4th Street, where he maintains a gallery on the block pictured on the cover of Time and Space on the Lower East Side. Alex currently has a show up at the June Kelly gallery on Mercer Street, and a few days ago Holland Cotter gave it a review in the New York Times.
The exhibition at June Kelly surveys a half-century of Mr. Harsley’s own estimable art. Born in South Carolina in 1938 and a New York resident since childhood, he has made the city a primary subject of his classical brand of “street photography,” from shots of life in Harlem in the 1950s to velvety black-and-white images of downtown, late at night and silent, under snow in the 1990s.
The gallery exhibition presents Harsley’s work as a 50 year retrospective, and while it does cover that period of time, it does not in any way offer a definitive overview of his life’s work. There are a number of reasons for why that is a difficult task to accomplish, which I will get to in a moment. Unfortunately, the show feels thin. It seems a grab bag of notable images rather than a carefully selected survey suggesting the depth of Harsley’s long career. Moreover, the print quality is all over the place, and the presentation is sloppy, the cheap metal frames not meeting at the corners.
For many years, the best way to see Harsley’s work is to go to his gallery on East 4th Street where he hangs his work salon-style all over the walls, the unframed prints clothes pinned on string, and Alex himself present to answer questions, comment, or ramble on about the state of the world. If you stay long enough, he’ll coax you into the back room of his tiny tenement gallery where he works on his videos. I haven’t figured out what I think of these, yet, but this is what Alex has focused on over the past decade.
The Barnes Collection was recently transplanted from its original mansion setting on the edge of Philadelphia to a modern museum building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the rooms of Barnes’s crazily inspired world recreated precisely in the new more accessible location. As I walked through the Harsley exhibit at the June Kelly gallery with each picture presented in a line with generous space between, I missed the unruly interior of Alex’s salon back on 4th Street, and almost wished they had done a Barnes here, and moved the whole thing including Alex into the gallery.
That said, however, I think it’s high time that Alex Harsley’s photography be presented in a way that allows individual images to be appreciated, for the various threads of his work to be explored, and for him to assume his rightful place as an important contemporary photographer, and historically, one of the most important African American photographers. Holland Cotter in his New York Times review calls for “an institutional career survey” and writes further, “And surely the time has come to put a history of that career between the covers of a book.”
A rare color image
Part of the problem, surely, is that Harsley has made himself an outsider–sometimes willfully. But to a great extent it’s simply because he has never moved among the right circles of people, pushed the right buttons, never sought out the recognition that most others naturally chase after. His archive is, from what I can tell, a mess. There are undoubtedly thousands of negatives, and perhaps, dozens of great images never seen, never printed. I have no idea whether Alex would trust the work of sifting through his life’s work to a skilled researcher or curator, but I believe it needs to be done.
I cringed the other day seeing celebrity pictures of “A Life in Pictures, the Gordon Parks Centennial Gala” at the Museum of Modern Art. Parks, who died in 2006, is hailed as one of the great Black photographers of the 20th century. He worked for Life magazine, was a fashion photographer, documented the civil right movement, and made notable portraits of famous individuals. His work expresses the concept of photography as an instrument of social justice and projects images of human dignity and nobility. For me, however, Park’s images are often clichés of the type, as much about a certain accepted style as substance. He undoubtedly has his place in the history of magazine photography, but…
From Vogue magazine:
On the ground floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at a gala celebrating the 100th anniversary of legendary African-American photographer, writer, and director Gordon Parks’s birthday, and honoring Alicia Keys, Annie Leibovitz, and HBO copresident, Richard Plepler, well-heeled guests mingled over cocktails and a series of silent-auction photographs while publicists yelled out the names of the A-list guests as they approached the red carpet. “Josh Groban‘s coming,” a girl hollered over the din, causing more than a few heads to turn toward the flurry of flashbulbs. “Josh Groban!” Despite the excitement, luminaries were not in short supply at the dinner, which boasted tables packed with names like Sarah Jessica Parker, cochair Karl Lagerfeld, Thelma Golden, and John Legend. The annual event, which raised $750,000 for The Gordon Parks Foundation, was kicked off by the evening’s host, Anderson Cooper, who recounted the life of Parks, who was born—one of fifteen children—in Kansas and rose in New York City, through hard work, to the top of his chosen field, becoming known for his photography for Life, Vogue, and many others, for directing films like Shaft, and for his humanitarian efforts. By the looks of the room, filled to capacity with his admirers and his photographs, it is a legacy well worth celebrating.
The Brooklyn Museum
In the lobby of the Brooklyn Museum on my way to the Keith Haring exhibition.
Keith Haring 1978-1982, the Brooklyn Museum — © Brian Rose
As well known as Haring is–certainly everyone has seen his highly graphic images even if only in a commercial context–but until now there hasn’t been a more serious assessment of his work. There’s always a danger when the established art world takes on a street artist by putting the work into a conventional gallery context. Haring was best seen in situ–in the wild. But that was 30 years ago, around the same time I was taking my early photographs of the Lower East Side. Since then, we have mostly experienced Haring on t-shirts and tote bags.
Keith Haring 1978-1982, the Brooklyn Museum — © Brian Rose
Keith Haring 1978-1982, the Brooklyn Museum — © Brian Rose
For me, however, Haring’s was at his best at his simplest and most spontaneous–the white chalk drawings on black paper that he did throughout the New York subway system. Back then, when ads were replaced, black paper with a toothy matte surface temporarily filled the billboard frames on the subway platforms providing an enticing canvas for Haring. I saw him once in the Bleecker Street station of the #6 train (the old IRT) sketching alone, moving rapidly from one black frame to another.
It’s not ideal putting them behind reflective plexi in the museum–though I’m sure they are fragile and have to protected. I don’t know how many actually survived, but you can see images of dozens of them– 35mm slide documents of the originals–in an adjacent gallery.
I always liked Haring’s imagery, but tended to dismiss it as commercial fluff, though I understood its relationship to earlier Pop Art. He was both commercial and an artist of substance. This exhibit helps set the record straight.
Lucille Ball, 1944, Harry Warnecke
This photograph of Lucille Ball made in 1944 by Harry Warnecke jumped out at me this morning while thumbing through the New York Times. It’s part of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Like most people, I think of “Lucy” in comedic settings, exaggerated facial expressions, slapstick, wonderful goofball humor. I don’t know the context of this photo shoot, but it’s clearly a carefully set up studio portrait. Makeup is perfect, a magnificently colorful skirt overflowing in the foreground, she seems to be sitting on a stool with her legs to the side, one over the other, her left elbow resting just above her knee. It’s’ a relaxed pose, but slightly awkward at the same time. Her famous red hair is topped with an even redder headpiece, a flimsy scrim of red fabric framing her face. But there is scarcely a hint of the clownish Lucille Ball of a few years later.
Neil Genzlinger in the Times thinks she looks a little sad, and I agree, possibly. One expects Hollywood stars to project more personality, however forced. But here Lucy appears pensive, perhaps tired. Is she waiting for something? Is it a moment of boredom in the course of series of more typical mugging for the camera? She almost seems to be saying, all right, I’m ready, let’s do the next shot. Despite all the formal portrait artifice at play, this appears an unguarded moment, a moment expressive of her unadorned self, and more naturally beautiful than ever. Warnecke didn’t do anything at that moment but click.
Of course this is all speculation. We’ll never know what was going on during that shoot, what was in her thoughts. But the enigmatic quality of that image is what brings me back to photography again and again, why I never tire of it, and why I continue to be fascinated by the world as it presents itself to me.
Untitled, 2008, Cindy Sherman
The big show in town right now is Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art. She is, as the website text states, “widely recognized as one of the most important and influential artists in contemporary art.” Note, art, not photography. We are all artists, of course, but some of us, the ones who utilize photography, are more artists than others. The curators and gallerists will never let go of this.
I don’t quarrel with Sherman’s importance, and I find her late ’70s “Untitled Film Stills” quite arresting. The references to Hollywood and TV imagery were clear, sharply realized, and there was a nifty balance between artifice and spontaneity using minimal means to evoke rather than simply mimic. In her later series, Sherman goes heavy handed, Baroque, Gothic, macabre, clownish (literally), and what have you. A grab bag of identity cliches weighed down with pounds of makeup, costuming, and prosthetics. I lost interest twenty years ago.
The photograph above shows a woman of some means sitting for a portrait, her legs to the side, her arm resting just above her knee, with a frizzy pooch, staring at the camera with a pensive, perhaps tired, look. The woman floats in a seamless environment of muted colors and surfaces. She represents a type–maybe a Park Avenue socialite. But we are gazing at a wax figure, not a person, even though that is Cindy Sherman in there somewhere. And like visiting a wax museum, we are amazed, but unmoved.
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.
Friday evening I walked down to the World Trade Center with an invitation to the 48th floor of 7 WTC, the first completed structure in the rebuilding post 9/11. Silverstein Properties, the owner, has made the 48th floor available as an artists’ studio, though soon the occupants will have to make way for a paying tenant.
The entire floor was unpartitioned and open with raw concrete floor, exposed fire proofed steel beams, and wrap around floor to ceiling windows with stunning views. At least four artists were on display including Marcus Robinson who is a painter and videographer. His time lapse images of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center were shown on a large video screen.
Another artist, Todd Stone, had a gallery-like exhibition of his paintings on one side of the floor documenting 9/11 as seen from his Tribeca studio. I usually don’t like to see images of the horror of 9/11 itself, but these were done as a spontaneous reaction to what was happening a short distance away, the paint somehow distancing the event while at the same time heightening the attention to it in a way that photographs do not.
I took a few photographs through the windows, one looking down on the memorial–glass reflections unavoidable. Stone has been doing paintings of the rebuilding, and he was working on one of the 1 WTC while I was there. I spoke with him for several minutes, and I traded one of my WTC books for one of his exhibition catalogues.
Painting by Todd Stone
Snow scene from the 48th floor with Diebenkorn-ish colors.
A model of 1 WTC stood on the south end of the 48th floor adjacent to the real thing going up outside the window. The late afternoon sun just caught the translucent plastic of the model giving it a golden glow. The actual tower will never appear so crystalline I am afraid, despite its faceted exterior. But we shall see…
The process of making photographs varies with different photographers. There are some who work within conceptual frameworks that require a great deal of calculation ahead of time. Others, like me, tend to think in projects that take in long time lines, or that slowly, image by image, explore the relationship between self and the outside world. However, in any case, there is usually an element of discovery–a path found–a thread identified and then pulled–a momentary recognition of something essential. Often, these discoveries are fleeting, provisional, trivial. Not exactly mind bending paradigm shifting stuff.
So, I pick up the paper this morning, as usual, and flip through the arts section, and land upon a review of a photography show–a rarity these days in the New York Times. It’s about the latest New Photography exhibit at MoMA. I was already aware of it mostly because I knew that Doug Rickard’s Google Streetview images are in the show. Rickard’s work is fascinating in that the images made are essentially available to all. He simply reframes the 360 degree anonymous pans of the world glimpsed from Google’s ceaselessly cruising eye.
On the one hand, Rickard uses the images as social commentary, focusing primarily on the most neglected and down and out areas of the United States. There’s nothing new about photographing such areas. But on the other hand there is something different about seeing these places through a robotic lens–literally drive-by photography–seen voyeuristically as if through a roving security camera. Rickard has us gaze at the underbelly of society, at poor people, scary looking people, caught unaware by the camera, captured in the barrel distorted, light flared reality of Google–and we all become Big Brother in the process. Guiltily, I cannot stop looking at these disturbing images.
This is work that deserves a good deal of critical thought, and even soul searching. But as I begin to read Ken Johnson’s review of New Photography 2011 I am slammed dead in my tracks by this:
In the 1980s photography mutated into a monster that threatened to swallow fine art altogether. In the hands of artists like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Andreas Gursky and legions of copycats, photography parsed the day’s most urgent questions about representation, propaganda, truth and reality. But in the ensuing decades, the answers became increasingly routine, and today the beast that art photography was finds itself tired and toothless.
If you are searching for signs of rejuvenation in “New Photography 2011,” an exhibition of six artists at the Museum of Modern Art, you will look in vain.
With that dispiriting introduction, Johnson then goes on to dutifully praise the work in the show including Doug Rickard’s “species of meta photography.” But why bother make the effort if none of the work offers signs of rejuvenation? Why saddle these photographers with this unfair and miserable burden? What a drag for Johnson to have to write this article. What a drag for us to have to read it. And now, excuse me while I resume my pointless search for relevance outside–or inside–I don’t know which–the tired and toothless art photography monster.
The WTC montage is up and it looks pretty cool. Don’t miss the opening reception this Wednesday. There will be nine WTC images on exhibit in the cafe, which is directly across the street from the installation. Hopefully, the weather will allow for outdoor mingling.
77 East 4th Street
Wednesday, September 28