Category Archives: Family/Friends

New York/Owls Head, Maine

Owls Head, Maine — © Brian Rose

My son, Brendan, and my wife, Renee. We spent a week in Maine — beautiful weather except the last day when rain moved in. Brendan is now off to college for the first time — SUNY Purchase. Not so far away from NYC, but it feels like a million miles at the moment.

New York/Paris

Paris 1981 `– © Brian Rose

My first trip to Europe was in 1981 to France where I was exhibiting my photographs of the Lower East Side in the city of Nancy as part of a theater festival. The focus of the festival that year was the Downtown New York scene, and my photographs provided a visual context for the performances being presented at various venues in the city. Each day the festival participants lunched outdoors in a city park sitting at long tables laid out with cold cuts, bread, and carafes of red wine. I was there for a week, hanging out with the students who helped me install my exhibition — they were only a couple of years younger than I was — and one day my friend, Jack Hardy, the folk songwriter, showed up in my hotel lobby, fresh from a tour of clubs in Germany.

After a friendly dinner together in a cous cous restaurant, he suddenly lashed out at me accusing me of standing in his way with regards to a certain woman who shall go unnamed, and I did my best to defend my rights and my honor against his torrent of righteous indignation. It was an impressive display of romantic nonsense, and hardly justified given that I was actually quite conflicted about my feelings, and was at that very moment rather smitten with one of the aforementioned French students. Jack left town after a couple of days, and I followed a few days later, ending up sitting on the floor in a packed train stalled for hours somewhere between Nancy and Paris.

I stumbled off the train in the morning in a stupor and found a most wretched buggy hotel near the Gare de l’Est. After a brief walk around the city, I returned to my hotel for a fitful night, the halls echoing with shouted French epithets and slamming doors. I believe I went to the Louvre on that trip, though my memory is clouded, and has blurred together with subsequent visits. I had no idea where I was going most of the time, and somehow, managed to find only horrible food. But I was in Paris, broke, alone, and never happier in my life.

Jack wrote a song after he — and I — got back from Paris.

take the night train to paris
hoping to escape all the rules
take the night train to paris
you hopelessly romantic fool

I regretted leaving France without getting the address of my French student, but such was life, pre-internet, and I moved on. Weeks went by, when one day while having breakfast in my favorite spot on Second Avenue in the East Village, I looked across the restaurant, and to my astonishment, like an apparition, she was there — the French student — alone, her leg in a cast propped up on a chair. I got up, walked over, and said, “Do you need some help?” She did. And so began a short romantic episode that turned into an unsustainable trans Atlantic relationship. Alas.

I only took a few pictures while aimlessly wandering around Paris. 35mm Kodachromes. One of them is above. As foggy headed, and unsteady on my feet as I was, I was still capable of finding moments of visual equipoise. It was 1981 and U2 was playing Paris according to the poster. They just cancelled their most recent Paris engagement, 34 years gone by. The most tragic circumstances imaginable. I won’t even try to comment…

New York/Dueling Portraits

My 15 year old son Brendan had a school photography assignment to do this weekend — to make pictures of his family. When given the option to take painting or drawing, or architectural rendering, Brendan thought it would be “easier” to take photography, given that’s what his father does. We had a little time Saturday afternoon to take pictures before guests came over for dinner. So, Brendan and I walked around the Williamsburg waterfront together taking turns shooting with my Sigma DP 1.

Here’s Brendan:

North 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Brendan wanted to take off the cuff pictures of me walking around, and we did some of those. But one of my favorites is something in between. Despite all the development in this part of Williamsburg, there are still desolate areas — some fenced in industrial sites — that will not be there long. I stopped along a chain link fence with the skyline behind me. The light was beautiful.

Here’s Brendan’s photo of me:

River Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brendan Rose

And finally, a snapshot I did looking, more or less, in the other direction.

vespasNorth 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose


New York/Momentous Occasion

Renee, Brendan and statue of Henry Ward Beecher — © Brian Rose

A family snapshot — frozen grins — it was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. But a momentous occasion. My wife Renee had just taken the oath for her U.S. citizenship in the Federal Courthouse nearby. Cameras were not allowed inside for the ceremony, so we looked for an appropriate spot outside.

The statue in the rear is of Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most important abolitionists of the 19th Century. He was the pastor of Plymouth Church located a few blocks way in Brooklyn Heights. His sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel about the cruelties of slavery, which was instrumental in galvanizing the abolitionist movement.

From Wikipedia:

In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent Beecher on a speaking tour of Europe to build support for the Union cause. Beecher’s speeches helped turn European popular sentiment against the rebel Confederate States of America and prevent its recognition by foreign powers. At the close of the war in April 1865, Beecher was invited to speak at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where the first shots of the war had been fired; Lincoln had again personally selected him, stating, “We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of raising the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise.”

New York/Richmond, Virginia


Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I made a quick escape from post-Sandy New York to get to a burial service in Richmond, Virginia for my aunt and uncle–my aunt died recently–and their ashes were buried together according to their wishes. It was difficult getting out of New York in the aftermath of the storm, but I was able to book a flight to Washington, D.C., and then drive to Richmond.

The burial was in Hollywood Cemetery, a historic, dramatically gothic landscape of rolling hills, perched on a bluff overlooking the James River. It was a crisp fall day, the trees in full color.


Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia — © Brian Rose


Richmond skyline and the James River — © Brian Rose

I arrived at the burial service just as it was about to begin, and hastily parked my car down the hill away from the small knot of family and friends assembled by the grave site. After the service I retrieved my car, which was standing next to an odd grouping of statues decorated with several confederate flags, and realized to my surprise that this was the grave of Jefferson Davis, the one time president of the Confederacy.


Grave of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy — © Brian Rose

As I drove out of the cemetery I came across a huge stone pyramid built in memory of the Civil War dead. There were more confederate flags scattered about the stones, and as much as I understand the complex historic symbolism of the flag, the sight still gives me a chill. I find it hard to separate the flag from its connection to slavery and the lingering presence of racism in society–and the atmosphere around the current presidential election only sharpens that awareness.


Monument dedicated to Civil War dead — © Brian Rose

I express these reservations in light of my own family history, some of which I’ve only discovered in recent weeks. My mother’s side of the family traces its roots to Mississippi, and my great great great grandfather was killed at the battle of Vicksburg. For all I know, there is a stone marker for him down there, like one of these in Hollywood Cemetery.

Update: I checked. There is a marker in Vicksburg for my ancestor.


Hollywood Cemetery plaque — © Brian Rose

The plaque above, placed next to the pyramid reads:

OF VIRGINIA, 1861-1865

Portsmouth, Virginia

High Street, Portsmouth, Virginia — © Brian Rose

My mother, sister, and I drove around the Hampton Roads area revisiting places where we once lived, or places that held some significance. Near the picture above, I remember–at age 4–going to a bowling alley above an A&P supermarket. My mother was a competitive duckpin bowler in those days. I remember the pins were set by hand–by young black boys. It was a segregated city then, and it is still. The whites have moved out except for the beautifully preserved Old Town, and much of the city looks like a smaller version of Detroit.


New York/Williamsburg, Virginia

My sister, father, and me one week ago in Williamsburg.

It has been a roller coaster of a weekend for me. Saturday, a story and interview about my photos of the World Trade Center ran on the homepage of CNN. Today, I rushed down to Virginia after receiving a phone call informing me that my 90 year old father was rapidly slipping away. I arrived too late. He died this afternoon before I got there.

The photo above was taken a week ago. After an extended stay in the hospital and in rehab, my father had come back home to his assisted living apartment. It was a short-lived, but triumphant return. He was happy to be with friends and in familiar surroundings. My sister and I wheeled him around the building greeting residents along the way, and we  sat with him in the dining room accompanied by his table buddies. It appeared, fleetingly, that he might resume a measure of his former routine. But it was not to be.


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.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I am in Williamsburg, Virginia visiting my father who is in the hospital. He appears to be doing fine after surgery, but is still unsure where he is and what is going on.

Last night I took a walk down the Duke of Gloucester Street, the original main street of the 18th century town. The light was beautiful.

New York/Colonial Williamsburg

Last weekend I went to AIPAD, the giant photography dealer’s fair at the Armory on Park Avenue. I don’t have any particular opinion about what I saw–a lot of photographs–no trends spotted. Not enough time or energy to think critically about such a dizzying display of dreck to pearls. Primary observation: more galleries present and a number from outside New York. Business seems to be picking up. So far, it’s not helping me.

Afterward, I dashed uptown to the Guggenheim to meet my sister who was visiting from San Francisco. We wanted to see a video installation by Omer Fast who in 2005 made a piece dealing with Williamsburg, Virginia, the restored colonial capitol, and where we grew up.

From the 2008 Whitney Biennial:

In Godville (2005), a 51-minute, two-channel color video, historical reenactors at the Colonial Williamsburg living-history museum in Virginia describe their eighteenth-century characters’ lives and their personal lives in ways that seem interchangeable. Fast splices the reenacted and real biographies together, often word-by-word, into a rambling narrative that is as aurally fluent as it is temporally dissonant. The work tells the story of a town in America whose residents are unmoored, floating somewhere between the past and the present, between revolution and reenactment, between fiction and life.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

Both my sister and I played roles in the open air museum of Colonial Williamsburg. I was part of the fife and drum corps, a professional musical group that performed regularly for visitors as well as for presidents and dignitaries. My sister was a costumed ticket taker, and later a costumed sweeper hostess at the nearby Busch Gardens “old Europe” theme park. A sweeper hostess, as I understand it, picked up trash and chatted with tourists.

I found the film fascinating, though unsure about its ultimate message. I liked the idea of intercutting between real and fictional, and in the process blurring the lines. I have made photographs of the architecture of Colonial Williamsburg, and was particularly interested in the juxtaposition of views of the historic structures and contemporary suburban neighborhoods. Confusing, however, was that many of the contemporary architectural and landscape images shown were not made in Williamsburg, but in unidentified generic locations.  Some of the images included mountains and scenes from the west, which I presume was intended to allude to larger American mythological themes.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

Three costumed reenactors spoke either in character or from their real life experiences. Some of the time they were shown speaking uninterrupted, other times their words were chopped up and reconnected. The depiction of these people–and their words–is extremely manipulative, but I can’t say that they were shown unsympathetically or portrayed unfavorably. It is, however, a highly problematic approach. Knowing what I know about art and media, I would be very wary of participating in such an enterprise.

Godville by Omer Fast — seen at the Guggenheim Museum — © Brian Rose

In so many ways Colonial Williamsburg is an easy mark. It is easy to see it as kitsch and a distortion of American history. Too easy. There is lots of room for critical analysis, but unfortunately most of it to date has been facile. Omer Fast’s Godville, despite my reservations, is worth seeing and thinking about. Not that many people visiting the Guggenheim are doing that. In the hour that I spent watching the video in the museum on a busy Sunday afternoon, not one person gave it more than a minute’s attention.

Colonial Williamsburg outbuildings  (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Which brings me to my own work dealing with Williamsburg. A number of years ago I photographed the outbuildings and surrounding gardens behind the main buildings. The pictures deal with the structures as architectural vocabulary filtered through modern interpretation and context. On the one hand they reveal the complex dichotomy of old and new, and on the other hand they are what they are–formally composed, often beautiful, collections of little buildings, fences, and trees.

Since it appears I will be continuing to go down to Williamsburg in the future–my father still lives there, and my mother may return there soon, I am thinking I should revisit the project. The idea I have is to photograph some of the new urbanist communities that have been developed outside of the restored area–places that recycle the architectural and urban planning vocabulary of the past–and juxtapose those pictures with the ones I have taken of the outbuildings and dependencies of Colonial Williamsburg.

New York/Tom’s Diner

Received a DVD in the mail the other day with the video embedded below. It’s about Tom’s Diner, the song by Suzanne Vega, and an unlikely hit. The video was done for Norwegian TV, but the interviews with Suzanne, Lenny Kaye, and others are all in English, so it’s easy to follow. I make several appearances talking about the song. There’s even a snippet of my song Burn Burn Burn, and some of my photos are in there as well.

Vega from the New York Times:

I have a photographer friend, Brian Rose, who has taken pictures of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Berlin Wall. He told me once long ago that he felt as though he saw the world through a pane of glass. This struck me as romantic and alienated, and I wanted to write a song from this viewpoint.

Photographs of Suzanne Vega and Jack Hardy

New York/PS 3

Brendan and photo at PS 3 — © Brian Rose

My son Brendan has just completed elementary school at PS 3 in the West Village, and we’re pleased that he will be attending the NYC Lab School in the fall. Our experience at PS 3 has been extraordinary, beginning with second grade when we arrived in New York from the Netherlands. Special thanks to Otis Kriegel, Bendan’s 5th grade teacher, one of a string of exceptional teachers we’ve had at PS 3.

One of the last projects Brendan did in Otis’s class was to take a photograph with black and white film, and then make a print in the darkroom. Although it isn’t necessary these days to work with film, one’s understanding of the nature of photography and its history is deepened by experiencing the whole process of shooting, developing, and printing. The magical moment an image appears in a tray of developer can’t quite be duplicated in digital photography, though digital has plenty of other kinds of magic to offer.

A few days ago I went to Brendan’s class photo show. Each student displayed a black and white 8×10 and a short description of what went into making his or her picture. Brendan, who has accompanied me on several photo shoots when working with the view camera, brought an architectural photographer’s eye to his choice of imagery. He photographed the arch above one of the doors to PS 3, perfectly composed, lines absolutely straight, despite being hand held.

San Francisco/The Mission

David Baker house, the Mission, San Francisco — © Brian Rose

My wife Renee and son Brendan stand in front of David Baker’s house on Shotwell Street in the Mission. On the street side, the house retains much of its original facade, but Baker’s intervention is clearly visible on the ground floor. An office entrance is to the left, the house above is accessible through the center door, and our rear apartment is reached through the wood slatted gate to the right, originally a carriage passage way. Solar panels can just be seen on the roof.

According to Baker in Dwell magazine:

“There were about 20 people living in this warren of windowless rooms,” recalls Baker, “along with assorted pit bulls, cats, and chickens. Whenever someone wanted to expand, they just nailed on some Sheetrock and a new roof.”

David Baker house, rear yard — © Brian Rose

David Baker house, rear yard — © Brian Rose

The back courtyard is covered in a thick carpet of loose pebbles. There is a workshop behind sliding wood and plastic doors, a spiral staircase provides access to the main living space, and very tall bamboos shield one side of the yard. Hovering over it all is the word “why” apparently taken from an old sign. Reminds me of “Hell Yes” on the New Museum in New York. But I much prefer “why.”