A secret garden behind my building on Stanton Street.
Adrian Jovanovic was a hero to me. He is, tragically, gone — and the Cooper community is reeling from the loss.
From the Committee to Save Cooper Union’s statement:
But it was Adrian’s creation of CSCU that channeled that broad community passion into a cogent legal argument and lawsuit that would succeed in validating the core intent of Cooper Union’s Trust, driving out managers and trustees who would not (or believed we should not) continue the fight for a free Cooper, and instituting critical board reforms and oversight. Without Adrian’s leadership, unstoppable optimism, and conviction, none of that would have been achieved.
During the heat of the battle to save Cooper Union, I frequently posted on Facebook, despairing that important information was not getting out because of ongoing litigation, gag orders, and even self-censorship. Although we were all on the same side, there were disagreements, even rancor within the ranks.
Several times, Adrian called me at night, patiently telling me what he could from his perspective on the inside as one of the petitioners in the lawsuit against the school. He was always optimistic, confident, and believed fervently that we would prevail. We did prevail — although the ultimate goal of returning to free remains elusive.
The photograph above was made during one of the high points of the past few years — we had just returned from the courthouse downtown where the Cooper Union and CSCU lawyers informed the judge of their agreement to the consent decree brokered by State Attorney General Schneiderman. It was a shining moment of triumph, and an ecstatic Adrian led the brief victory ceremony in front of 41 Cooper Square.
That unnamed building, and the onerous mortgage attached to it, has been a symbol of everything that went wrong with Cooper Union. Let’s do what my friend M’Liz Keefe suggests, and forever wipe it clean of the taint of bad history. Let’s make it the Adrian Burton Jovanovic Building.
The three books I have published in the past seven years comprise a New York trilogy — the city seen and explored over an extended period of time. Taken together they form a portrait of New York, especially lower Manhattan, during a period of extreme transformation. I hesitate to say “unprecedented” because change is integral to the nature of New York going all the way back to the first Dutch settlers.
The story told in these books relates to past photographic projects even to the way in which Marville and Atget documented Paris during the remaking of the city under Haussmann. I was familiar with all of that history when I began photographing the Lower East Side in 1980. At the same time, I was influenced by contemporary strains of street, architectural, and landscape photography. Color was an exceptionally new thing when I started this work in the 1970s, Today, it is the default photographic medium. As I was exploring New York with my camera, I was also discovering color’s descriptive nature, and its capacity to reveal as well as obscure.
These books also form a personal narrative, and I have kept my voice present throughout the text accompanying the photographs. I was 23 when the first images were made, and 62 when the most recent were done. At the center of this trilogy — though not seen directly — the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001. That wrenching event propelled the city forward, inexplicably, as a complex barely understood motive — and simultaneously, propelled the nation backward, convulsively, to the present moment of political crisis.
The trade edition of this book is, unfortunately, sold out, though used copies can be found on the internet.
The limited edition is still available — signed books in a slipcover with an 8×10 inch print inside.
Purchase the limited edition or browse images and reviews here.
Metamorphosis. Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013 is before/after view showing rthe dramatic transformation of the former meat market of New York City. Rose spent several days in 1985 photographing the neighborhood with a 4×5 view camera. The negatives remained in a box unseen for over three decades. Rediscovered a few years ago, the images portray the streets and architecture of New York, stunningly empty, but vividly real.
There are only 150 copies of this book still available.
Purchase the trade or limited edition of the book here.
WTC is a visual history of the Twin Towers and the rebuilding of the city after 9/11. It serves as both historical record and personal story going all the way back to 1977 when the Trade Center was only a few years old and Rose was a newcomer to the city.
WTC pivots off of 9/11 with a series of images made directly after the destruction of the Towers, and moves forward to the ascendance of One World Trade Center on the skyline.
Purchase the trade or limited edition of the book here.
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.
Post election New York. Despite the shocking result — Trump mustered barely 10% in Manhattan where his fraudulent antics have been known for decades — beauty is still to be found in the ordinary. The morning sun glints off of aluminum studs stacked upright in a construction supply business. Hearts pop colorfully (maybe cheerfully) from the doorway of a bar as a figure darts by. Two pictures, less than 30 seconds apart.
Mark Byrnes writes:
…most who page through WTC will contemplate Manhattan’s relentless transformation since a turbulent and mythologized 1970s. Change has come through economic shifts, public policy decisions, and tragedy. Rose’s work provides a clear, visual understanding of what the city has lost and gained through it all.
Please support WTC by pledging to my Kickstarter campaign.
Your help is needed!!
WTC is book about the Twin Tower, their presence and absence, and about the rebuilding of the city after September 11. It is also a tribute to New Yorkers and all who carry a piece of this great city with them. It is a book that commemorates rather than exploits, a book that preserves memories, both painful and hopeful, and celebrates, however cautiously, the resilience of this city in the face of adversity.
Please make this book possible with your support on Kickstarter.
A little indulgence on my birthday — a photograph of myself made in 1980 while doing the Lower East Side project with Edward Fausty. We were out shooting with the 4×5 view camera, and Ed took this picture. I was 25 years old. Looking very determined and focused.
WTC, my book about the World Trade Center, is now complete. It starts with pictures made when I was 22, and comes all the way up to the present. All the pieces are in place, the last being a wonderful essay written by Sean Corcoran, the photo curator of the Museum of the City of New York. I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign on April 17, which will then run about a month. Stay tuned.
Sean writes about the way in which the book came together:
Looking through his archive recently, he realized he had created something very profound and personal that he needed to assemble and share. Serving as a form of personal catharsis, Rose’s words and pictures reflect on the nature of tragedy, remembrance and resilience. He never obtained special access to photograph from particular vantage points, but rather he stood amongst New Yorkers and captured views from the sidewalks they tread every day.
In the previous post I compared two images taken on the corner of the Bowery and East 4th Street made in 1977 and 1980. Now, 35 years later, I am still hanging around the neighborhood. I’ve lived overseas, of course, and have hardly been sitting on a stoop passively watching the world go by, but this part of New York remains my base of operations.
It is a dramatically changed place to be sure — for better or worse. I said to someone yesterday, that the impetus for everything I’ve done as a photographer springs from that moment I arrived in New York on a train in 1977, the day of the blackout, the summer of the serial killer Son of Sam, the year the Yankees won the World Series and the Bronx was burning. I ended up here in this neighborhood.
A few contemporary street views:
Cooper Square in flux. A picture taken just after the wreath laying in honor of Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union.
A mashup of buildings, boxes, snow, and trash — a midwinter medley.
More architectural wonders arrive in the neighborhood. Ian Schrager’s hotel, 215 Chrystie — forcibly wedged into the urban fabric — designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron under construction around the corner from my studio.
In 1977 I was fully engaged in shooting color, and although I still had a black and white lab set up in my tiny East 4th Street apartment, once I began making color prints, I took down my lab and never looked back. My early color work tended toward spontaneous quick grabs of things seen while going about my business. The picture above was taken while making the three block walk to school just up the Bowery to Cooper Square.
There was a Shell station on the corner of East 4th and the Bowery, and I used to walk cater-corner across it. I came upon a family dressed in colorful plaids and stripes moving in a little group, and photographed them compressed against several other people passing by, or filling up at the gas pump. The low winter sun cast a shadow of the gas station sign against the moving mingling of coats, and that was enough to make a photograph. It was about a moment more than about place — about phenomena more than information — although one may take note of the Mercedes filling up at the pump, or the fact that gas was 75 cents a gallon. You can tell it’s New York only because of the tenements glimpsed in the rear. It’s a cool picture — a keeper.
East 4th Street and the Bowery, 1980– © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty
Three years later, standing in almost the same spot, I was onto something else all together. I had assimilated my instincts for formal elements into a carefully considered investigation of place, a documentation of the Lower East Side made in collaboration with Edward Fausty. In this picture, visual anecdotes are still present — the little knot of kids in the background, the reflection in the pool of water — but instead of chasing after them, I am allowing these moments to play out within a broader scene.
In the first image I am following my instincts and showing off (a little bit) my visual chops with the camera. In the seond image I am trusting my instincts to show rather than tell — and I am relying on the viewer to bring something to the process. In a sense, asking the viewer to look with me at this place and to discover its multi-layered details.
Interestingly, you might notice that the gas station has closed. The pavement has been torn up, and dirt and rubble have accumulated. There are abandoned cars strewn about, and the kids are hanging out in the middle of the street oblivious to traffic.The door to the apartment building at right stands open to anyone off the street to enter. In 1980, when this picture was taken, New York was still in economic free fall. Eventually, a subsidized housing project for seniors rose on this lot. A drably monolithic box of good intentions, it’s still there today.
When I moved to New York in 1977, I lived on East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue. It was a relatively stable block compared to East 3rd, which was the location of a large homeless shelter with dozens of derelict men milling about in the street much of the day. The picture above was taken between 3rd and 4th Streets on he Bowery. Why it didn’t make it in my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side I can’t explain. Things fall through the cracks.
The buildings in the photograph are still there, relatively unchanged, but the facades have been cleaned up, and just to the right, there is a shiny new apartment tower with a 7-Eleven in the storefront. Why anyone goes there I can’t imagine since there are any number of better stocked bodegas and delis nearby. I guess the Bowery is 7-Eleven’s idea of a flagship location. It was a pretty rough scene in those days, and I have no intention of romanticizing its gritty authenticity. It certainly was authentic — and they were not serving Slurpees.
It was also a time of great creativity. CBGB was in the next block with the usual gaggle of black jacketed musicians out front, and lots of artists occupied lofts in or near the Bowery, the legendary end-of-the world skid row of New York. The apocalyptic nature of the neighborhood was both a scourge and an inspiration — at least it was for me. I wrote songs about the place, and of course, I photographed it.
The reality, however, looking at the photograph of myself above, is that we artists and musicians were to a great extent middle and upper middle class expats from the suburbs, products of America’s finest schools — and white. I was going to Cooper Union. Free tuition notwithstanding, it was an elite place, and you didn’t stumble in by accident. A recent article in Artnet News postulates that most successful artists come from relatively privileged backgrounds, and certainly, from my perspective, that is absolutely true. The starving artist is largely a myth, though no doubt there are easier and more reliable ways to make a living. And the other reality is that most artists are not doing fine art, either by necessity or by choice. They are in media, design, illustration, branding, advertising, commercial photography and film, etc. New York is full of these jobs — more now than ever.
Going back to the Bowery and the Lower East Side of the 70s and 80s — art was not so much born out of the decay and poverty of the neighborhood, as it was the place we chose to make art, to reinvent ourselves, to run away from mom and dad, and for many, to waste time. It was cool, and a little dangerous. It helped that it was cheap — my parents had basically cut me off financially — and I often got by on pizza slices and falafel. When I graduated from Cooper, debt free, I began photographing the Lower East Side. But 4×5 film was bloody expensive, and I struggled to complete the project. One day, however, a check arrived in the mail — for $9,000 — which (looking it up) would be worth over $27,000 in today’s dollars. A relative had died and left me the money. It saved the day, and made the LES project a success. There was also a grant from New York State, and the Seagram Corporation bought a dozen prints for what would eventually become the collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The print sale happened because of a connection made at Cooper Union.
There’s nothing wrong with sudden windfalls or connections made in school, but let’s put aside the idea that artists are impoverished denizens of rotting neighborhoods. That’s not to say that gentrification has no impact on artists who need workspace to paint or create installations. It does. The truth is, however, that artists are entrepreneurs who calculate profits and expenses like everyone else — who network and negotiate — who create works that are often very expensive to produce. It helps to start with some money, and success breeds more success, fairly or not.
Do I still believe that art can express the highest aspirations of humanity? The deepest emotions? Can it still address the social and political issues of the day? Yes. That’s why I started, and why I’m still doing it.
But now, on to my next Kickstarter campaign.
A recent comment on my blog led me to do some research on the time when I first put down roots in New York. It was the summer of 1977, and I had just come by train to the city arriving before dawn, and parked myself in an all night coffee shop in the West Village waiting for the Village Voice to be thrown off the truck. It was 60 cents back then, which was kind of expensive when you think about it, but it was the indispensable weekly at that time, and if you were looking for a place to live downtown, you had to get the Voice for the classified ads.
Since I was going to be studying at Cooper Union in the East Village, I was looking for a place on that side of town. And it needed to be a sublet because I was only at Cooper as a one-semester exchange student. I skimmed dozens of ads, most of which were advertising apartments for $200 or $250. You could easily get an apartment on the high end of that range in the West Village. Or you could get a 2,500 square foot loft for $350 a month in Soho or Tribeca. Maybe even get a 5 to 7 year lease. If you played your cards right, you ended up buying one of those lofts for $50,000, which would now be worth millions of dollars. The sticking point for me was that those lofts often came with a “fixture fee” of several thousand dollars to cover the cost of the things – heater, lights, appliances — inside what was basically a raw loft. There was no way I could come up with that kind of money.
East Village apartment listings 1977
But there were lots of more modest apartments in the East Village, and really, all things considered, I had a lot of choice. In fact, there were dozens of choices, and all in the $200 range. Never mind that many of the buildings were crumbling, and anything east of First Avenue looked like Berlin in 1945. I realized very quickly, however, that I would be making a lot of phone calls and looking at a lot of apartments.
So, there I was, planning on a long day of house hunting, when I saw this:
Cooper Square Vicinity, near NYU, New School, 2 rooms, $800 for whole year. That couldn’t be right I thought. $800 for a year! Well, it turned out to be legit. A philosophy professor at NYU was taking a temporary job teaching at Tulane down south, and decided to sublet his apartment for a year. It was in a city-owned building, pretty rundown, but on a largely intact block, East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue.
I took it, and by noon I had an apartment in Manhattan, and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the city. In the evening I headed for Penn Station to return to Washington, D.C. (where I was living) with the idea of bringing my stuff up in a week or two. As I got onto my train, the whole station was plunged into absolute darkness. Fortunately, my train had auxiliary power, and we sat in relative comfort — it was still bloody hot — and the police kept coming on board urging us to stay put. The entire city was blacked out. The following morning when power was restored we pulled into Washington and I saw the dramatic headlines about the rioting and looting that had convulsed large parts of the city overnight.
A few weeks later I moved into my tenement on East 4th Street. My professor never came back and the apartment was mine. And after a semester as an exchange student, I applied to Cooper Union and was accepted. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I was one very fortunate guy.
In the Shadow of the Highway: Robert Moses’ Expressway and the Battle for Downtown
— © Brian Rose
One of my Lower East Side photographs is part of an interesting exhibition about one of Robert Moses’ last projects, a proposed elevated highway that would have connected the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg Bridge and an offshoot to the Manhattan Bridge.
New York Times article about Seward Park site — © Brian Rose
Had Moses not been stopped, Soho would have been largely destroyed, and highways would have torn through parts of the Lower East Side. A piece of that imminent destruction had already taken place when I made my photograph above — a view of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area from the Williamsburg Bridge. Thousands of mostly low income residents were evicted from their tenements to make way for the highway, and nearly 50 years went by before a plan was approved to redevelop the site in an economically balanced way. Although they will have the right to return, it will be too late, unfortunately, for most of the original displaced residents.
Frances Goldin and Brian Rose
There were a number of reasons that Robert Moses, the powerful master planner of New York, was finally stopped. After ramming one infrastructure project after another through neighborhoods all over the city, the tide had turned, and the primacy of automobile-centric planning lost favor. Foremost in opposing Moses and his acolytes were activists like Jane Jacobs, whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities championed the fine-grained urban fabric of Greenwich Village and similar neighborhoods, and called for their preservation. Other activists took up the cause of low income people, the most at risk from the planners’ bulldozers. Frances Goldin, pictured above, was the most tenacious and eloquent of the Downtown activists.
She and Jacobs represent different perspectives of neighborhood activism, but both were essential in turning things around, and reasserting the right of ordinary citizens to defend their neighborhoods, and, in fact, participate in the planning process. While Goldin is most known for her political actions — her flare for street theater and colorful demonstrations — it was her espousal of neighborhood planning that may be her greatest legacy. Under her leadership, along with the planning expertise of her partner Walter Thabit, the Cooper Square Committee prevented the destruction of a six block strip of the Lower East Side, and in the end, saved or built a thousand units of low income housing. She also led the decades-long fight — after stopping Moses — to redevelop the Seward Park urban renewal site so that it includes a significant percentage of affordable units of housing. A lot of people were involved in these struggles, but she was the glue that held it all together.
Frances Goldin, City Hall Blue Room, 1990 — © Brian Rose
It was my privilege to work with her on the steering committee of the Cooper Square Committee. She and I were very different sorts of players — an array of adjectives come to mind to describe her — brilliant, charismatic, persuasive, indefatigable, optimistic. She was a socialist, Jewish, a quintessentially sharp-tongued New Yorker. I was an artist, soft-spoken Virginian, middle class, protestant background, a Jeffersonian idealist. We clashed at times, but my respect for her deepened over the years, and I think hers for me. One of the things I tell people about Frances is that for all her fierce radicalism, she was ultimately pragmatic and capable of compromise. She got things done. And is still getting things done at the age of 91.
Here’s a recent article in Bedford and Bowery about the history of the Cooper Square Committee.
I knew about Adam Purple back when I photographed the Lower East Side in 1980. He was impossible to miss riding around on his bicycle dressed in tie-dyed purple. I made the photograph above of his famous Garden of Eden, which consisted of concentric rings planted with flowers and vegetables.
Purple was an eccentric character, to say the least, and from what I could tell, a man of rather severe temperament. So I steered clear. But that was a superficial judgement for sure. We all thought his garden was amazing, carved into the rubble of one of the many vacant lots of the Lower East Side, one of the many individual and group efforts to reclaim land that had been abandoned by property owners.
Later, in the 80s, Purple’s creation became caught up in a range war like the cattlemen and the sheepherders out west. The housing activists wanted low income housing, and the garden activists wanted community gardens and green spaces. Adam Purple was a single minded gardener and an artist — and he wasn’t interested in building bridges with other political elements of the community. That was the downfall of the Garden of Eden, though I don’t blame him for it. He was who he was.
Above is what got built on Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden. It isn’t lovely. It is low income housing providing shelter for dozens of families. There are no shops built along the street to provide opportunity for small businesses and to bring life to the neighborhood, and there is barely any architecture to speak of. But the apartments are decent and affordable, and the area is safe and convenient to everything.
Imagine, if you will, a different scenario in which a sensitively designed complex of affordable housing was created embracing the Garden of Eden at its center. It could have been glorious. But it would have taken vision, something the housing activists and the city planners lacked. And I’m not sure that Adam Purple with his fierce independence would have gone along anyway. After vanishing for many years, Adam Purple was seen again on his bicycle around town, carrying cans and the like for recycling. He died on his bike on the Williamsburg Bridge.
Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
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.
Here in the East Village we are in shock over the explosion and fire that have leveled three historic tenement buildings on Second Avenue at East 7th Street. At present, there are missing people and numerous injured.
This is the downtown of the East Village, the heart of the culture and subculture that makes this place special, from high to low, the Beats, the Hippies, the Punks, and all who have chosen, or who have been chosen, to live in this crazy part of the world.
From 1966 to 2008 there was Love Saves the Day, a vintage clothing and bric-a-brac shop in the building now a heap of rubble. Above is a picture I took passing by not long before the shop closed.
Love Saves the Day.
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: