Category Archives: Lower East Side

New York/Interview

betteryBettery Magazine interview

This is an interview with me and my wife Renee Schoonbeek. First time, I think, we’ve been featured together. Bettery Magazine is an initiative of smart, the car company.

Here’s what it says on their “about” page:

Bettery Magazine is an online publication featuring the people, places and ideas that are changing our urban landscapes today. In giving their unique foresights an international stage, Bettery Magazine aims to encourage the creative thinking poised to reshape and revitalize cities around the globe.


New York/Art School/Protest

Step Down, Cooper Union, with student leader Victoria Sobel seated on floor
© Brian Rose

Art school, protest, and how I got to Cooper Union

Before transferring to Cooper Union in 1977 I was attending MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art). It was an expensive private art school — tuition is now just over $39,000 per year. I remember the college president telling the incoming class in a welcoming speech what percentage of students would complete their degrees and go on to find careers in art. It was a discouragingly low number.

Previously, I had studied urban planning and architecture at the University of Virginia, and art school was difficult step for me. But my interest in photography had blossomed, and I saw myself becoming a fine art photographer down the road. At first, the diverse course offerings for obtaining a BFA were daunting — I hadn’t done any drawing or painting before — but I became increasingly appreciative of the interconnectedness of the different media, and as I became more confident in my abilities, I began to evaluate the students around me as well as the quality of the professors I was studying with.

It was a mixed bag. Many of the students seemed more enamored of the art lifestyle than the actual practice of art. And many of the professors, especially the entrenched tenured ones, seemed to be coasting as artists. There seemed a lack of ambitiousness all round. A large faculty art show in the college gallery confirmed my suspicions. The work was weak and directionless, and to me, it was insulting to those of us paying a ton of money to attend the school. So, a friend of mine and I engaged in a little guerrilla action, creating a flyer printed in black courier type that panned the faculty show and suggested that our tuition money was going to waste. We taped these flyers up everywhere on the campus — on walls, doors, in classrooms, restrooms, inside drawers and underneath desks. It caused quite a sensation.

I should say here, however, that some of my motivation was simply unearned hubris, and that some of my professors were excellent. Furthermore, not knowing what things are like at MICA in these days, this should not be construed as criticism of the present school. However, I was right about needing a more challenging environment, and as a result, began looking into exchange programs with other art schools. Above all, I wanted to explore color photography. It was 1976, and color was just becoming a viable medium outside of advertising and magazines, and seeing that Joel Meyerowitz, one of the pioneers of color photography was teaching at Cooper Union, I knew where I should go. I did my one semester exchange, hung around unofficially for another semester auditing classes, using my student ID good for a year, and eventually got in as a transfer student. The dean of the art school later told me they accepted four out of 450 applicants for transfer that year.

It had to be Cooper. My parents had pretty much given up on me and my educational wanderings, and had cut off my funding. Cooper, of course, was tuition free, making it possible for me to continue my dream even without parental support. A full telling of the story would describe in detail how life-changing the experience of attending Cooper was. How terrific the teachers were. How brilliant the students were. How it was understood without questioning that we were artists, and would go on to be artists in the real world, in New York City just outside the door, our campus and hometown. And that’s what happened for me. I was able to immediately begin an extended photography project upon graduation, and have been pursuing my dream for 30 years since.

Art School, protest, and (the end?) of Cooper Union

On Saturday I attended both Show Up, the annual end-of-year student show at Cooper Union, and Step Down, the renegade art show on the 7th floor of the Foundation Building just outside the office of Jamshed Bharucha, the college president. As those of you following the news already know, the president’s office has been occupied by students demanding that he and the chairman of the board of trustees resign. The sit-in was precipitated by the decision to begin charging tuition to close a budget gap brought on by financial mismanagement and the lack of imagination and leadership required to fix the problem. This alteration of Cooper’s central mission of providing free education to all, regardless of economic status, threatens to destroy the egalitarian meritocracy that has made this place a unique treasure.

Step Down is an openly polemical show full of anger and biting humor. The work was provided by students, alumni, and friends. I donated my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side with a letter to the students who are leading the effort to save Cooper Union. The letter explains that Time and Space would not have happened without Cooper, and that it reconnects, for me, the gap between the present and that time when I first arrived in New York City. The student protest at Cooper goes far beyond my modest flyer of 1976, but both actions, on different levels, are about the quality and the value of education.

The book is displayed on a table, and you can read my letter below. (Click on the letter for an easier to read view)

Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Step Down — © Brian Rose

Letter accompanying my book at Step Down 

Step Down, Cooper Union — © Brian Rose

The art blog Hyperallergic wrote about Step Down:

…the exhibition Free Cooper Union put together, in only a week’s time, is probably one of the most significant and symbolic shows of the year. …this is an important exhibition, singular in capturing a raw provocation to authority. It’s an endeavor as worthwhile as it is rare.

And another article from ArtInfo.
More photos of Step Down here.

The New Academic Building, Cooper Union — © Brian Rose

As I was leaving the 7th floor, I pointed my camera out the window and made the photograph above across Cooper Square. Normally, when a university constructs a major new building it gets named for a prominent donor who helped make it possible. At Cooper the NAB, or New Academic Building, is a grand architectural statement bereft of a benefactor’s name. A large part of Cooper Union’s financial woes are connected to that fact. It was a complex real estate deal so they say, but, in a nutshell, the trustees chose to borrow the entire cost of construction, and now find they are unable to make the mortgage payments. As a result, they have shifted the debt to the students and abandoned the mission as expressed by Peter Cooper that education should be as “free as water and air.”


New York/Lower East Side

Time and Space on display at the Tenement Museum Store — © Brian Rose

It has been one year since Time and Space on the Lower East Side was published, and over 800 of approximately 1,100 books have been sold — well on the way to selling out. At the moment, I have no plans to go to a second printing. So, the first edition is undoubtedly something worth collecting. You can always go to my website to purchase, or to one of the independent booksellers in Manhattan like the Tenement Museum store above. I am now shifting gears to working on a new book, WTC, partnering again with Bill Diodato of Golden Section Publishers. This book will focus on the skyline of New York, principally the Twin Towers and their replacement One World Trade Center, and includes pictures from 1978 to the present.

I found this recently — the blog I Fear Brooklyn. Bob Hill, who keeps the blog wrote a short but wonderful encomium to Time and Space on the Lower East Side. Hill writes:

…Time & Space presents the New York that we talk about when we talk about New York. The beauty of this exhibition being Brian Rose set out again a few short years ago, this time to document the same East Side a full three decades now removed. If anything, these photos serve as a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. But they also leave a sense of setting out again at twilight, if not the very awkward feeling it’s much later than you know.

Of all the things written about Time and Space, this is my favorite.




New York/The Ghost of Peter Cooper

petercooperThe ghost of Peter Cooper — © Brian Rose

Cooper Union students have taken over President Jamshed Bharucha’s office in the Foundation Building on Cooper Square. They are demanding his resignation in response to the decision made by the board of trustees to begin charging tuition at one of America’s last free colleges.

The president and the board of trustees have failed in their stewardship of this magnificent institution. May the ghost of Peter Cooper forever haunt their dreams.

Sign the no confidence letter here.

New York Times article from this morning.




New York/Meatpacking District

mp011 14th and Hudson Street, 1985 — © Brian Rose

14and9th14th and Hudson Street, 2013 — © Brian Rose

A few months ago I posted some of my photographs of the Meatpacking District taken in 1985. At that time, the area was desolate by day–the city seemingly abandoned. People have been clamoring for me to do before/afters of the images, and I have more or less decided to go ahead with it, even though it was an approach I largely eschewed when doing Time and Space on the Lower East Side. The changes in that neighborhood were much more complex and deserved a more nuanced investigation. But here in “MePa” the transformation of the streetscape is so gobsmacking that it just seems a necessary thing to do. So, the plan is to repeat about dozen of the images made in ’85, and do various other contemporaneous views as they strike my fancy.

Yesterday, I was on 14th Street with my point-and-shoot camera and made the picture above. Soon, I’ll get out there with my view camera.


New York/Cooper Union

As a proud alumnus of Cooper Union, I write the following post with the heaviest of heart.

The quotes below come from the New York Times March 9, 1904, in a tribute to Peter Cooper, during which Andrew Carnegie and others expounded on the responsibility that comes with great wealth. The director of Cooper Union, Charles Sprague Smith, spoke as well honoring the gift of $300,000 by Carnegie that made Cooper debut free “from basement to roof.” He went on to honor Abram Hewitt, son-in-law of Peter Cooper, former mayor, and father of New York’s subway system: “I know that the supreme desire of his life was that Cooper Union should be free. Every part of it is now free in every sense.”

It is no longer.

The values espoused eloquently in 1904 — albeit in self-congratulation — have now been repudiated by the decision of the board of trustees of Cooper Union to charge tuition beginning in 2014. Those who have guided this institution in recent years have failed in their trusteeship of this treasure of New York and the nation.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Cooper Union is too small, too specialized, to survive in direct competition with larger better-funded institutions. The fact that it was a full scholarship — free — college put it in a class by itself. It brought the best students and professors together in an egalitarian community unlike any other in the world.

That unique community of intellect and creativity has been sacrificed. Unless another Andrew Carnegie comes to the rescue quickly, or some other scheme is devised to return the school to its former mission, Cooper Union, in its now comprised state, will not likely survive.






New York/Boston

twintowerspeanutsNorfolk Street, Lower East Side — © Brian Rose

I was in Boston Thursday evening when the marathon bombers ran amok. Well… not physically. But I witnessed the events as they unfolded in a most unexpected, vividly surreal way.

I was fascinated by the attempts of the public to find the bombers amidst the crowd near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Amateur sleuths were reviewing dozens of photographs available on the internet, engaged in a real-life version of “Where’s Waldo,” except that Waldo wasn’t in red and white stripes. He, and his likely accomplice, were supposedly carrying black and silver backpacks big enough to contain pressure cooker bombs.

The crowd source detectives had managed to identify a number of suspects, all innocent as it turned out, and the New York Post had run one of the photos on their front page essentially fingering two young men in the crowd as the bombers. They were the wrong guys. Adding another black mark — if it’s even possible — on the shameful record of Rupert Murdoch’s odious tabloid. On Thursday the FBI cleared things up by releasing video and photographs of the actual bombers who were still at large.

I wanted to see how things were playing out on Reddit, the social media site with a group actively combing through the Boston crowd photos. It was after 9pm and I was reading the comments on Reddit, when suddenly, someone wrote that the bomber’s address had just been given out on the Boston police scanner. I tuned in, which is easily done on the internet, and began listening to the mostly tedious back and forth between police officers and dispatchers. Though nothing more came up about the address, for some reason I kept listening while continuing to read commentary about the photos.

At around 10:30 an anguished voice punctuated the static — “officer down!” —  and then a few minutes later I heard the strangled cries for help from the MIT campus in Cambridge. Having no idea that it was related to the marathon bombers I continued to listen as the police rushed to the scene and began searching the subway and the surrounding streets. It was obvious that something dramatic and highly unusual had occurred in this normally placid college town.

And then, a short time later, the initial report of a carjacking, the pursuit of the stolen car, “shots fired, shots fired,” explosions, calls for “long guns” and “gold cars.” It was pandemonium, as one police cruiser after another notified dispatch that they were headed for the scene. I listened deep into the night as the police began setting up a search perimeter and a command post. By then, it was clear that the carjackers were indeed the fugitive bombers, and I went to bed knowing that one of them was dead and the other at large in Watertown, the community adjacent to Cambridge.

None of this raw and riveting information came from TV news or the websites of major media like the New York Times. I was one of a relatively small number of people — tens of thousands certainly — but small in country of over 300 million who witnessed in real time the dramatic events of that evening, listening through the cross talk, the cryptic jargon, the Boston accents, unfolding on the police scanner.

There will be a lot of discussion about how things were handled — to my ears, the police were amazingly calm and professional under the most extreme circumstances — and whether we, the public, should be permitted to hear things from the inside in the future. For me, it was a unique, unforgettable experience, unfiltered by the bobble heads of TV news. I’m still thinking about it, but my initial feeling is that having access to the police scanner was more help than hindrance.

I was there.



New York/Seagram Building


The Seagram Building (375 Park Avenue) — photo by Ezra Stoller

A few days ago the Times ran a story about Phyllis Lambert’s book Building Seagram, which tells the story of her role in the selection of Mies van der Rohe for the commission. The Seagram Building (now 375 Park Avenue) is regarded by many as New York’s finest skyscraper of the modern era. Lambert was the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, the head of Seagram, and her zeal for architecture and civic responsibility led her to take up the cause in New York and in her hometown of Montreal. It may sound unlikely, but there is a small connection to Time and Space on the Lower East Side in this story.

In the late 70s at Cooper Union, one of my professors was Richard Pare, who at the time was assembling a collection of architectural photographs for Seagram under the direction of Phyllis Lambert. Those photographs, acquired by Pare, from all over the world, would eventually comprise a unique part of the collection of the Canadian Center for Architecture, another Lambert initiative. Soon after graduating, I began the Lower East Side project with Edward Fausty. After a number of months of work — once we had gotten some momentum going — we contacted Pare and showed him our pictures.

I remember visiting Pare in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in 1980 bringing a box of 11×14 prints. We eventually sold a dozen or so prints to Seagram, which helped fund the project at a critical time when our money was running low. I also remember meeting Lambert, and attending an event honoring Berenice Abbot, the great photographer of New York City. I’m not sure I appreciated her importance until then.

There were several key funding moments that made the Lower East Side project possible — a New York State CAPS grant (similar to today’s NYFA grants), an unexpected windfall of $10,000 left to me by a deceased relative, and the Seagram/Canadian Center for Architecture purchase. Without those three sources of money, it’s doubtful that the Lower East Side project would have been completed, and my career — such as it is — launched.

Thank you Phyllis Lambert — and Richard Pare.



New York/The Cooper Union


Cooper Union, Foundation Building — © Brian Rose

I have not previously weighed in on the controversy embroiling my alma mater The Cooper Union, one of the most prestigious and historic schools in America. I read the paper, I look at websites, and hear things, but I have no inside track on what is going on. What I do know is troubling, and I believe the school’s viability is in grave danger.

In a nutshell, Cooper was founded by the industrialist Peter Cooper as a school for art, architecture, and engineering that was affordable for all regardless of ability to pay. It was located, appropriately, on the edge of the teaming Lower East Side, and for decades it has been tuition free. One of the few all scholarship institutions of higher learning in the world. Many of its graduates are now leaders in their respective fields–and have a particularly important impact on New York City.

Due to hard economic times, mismanagement, and the growing cost of higher education, Cooper finds itself in financial trouble. The board of trustees is about to make a momentous decision on whether to charge tuition possibly ending the school’s unique charter as stated by Peter Cooper to be “open and free to all.”

With regard to the art school, should the board decide on charging tuition, Cooper will then have to compete head-to-head with several highly esteemed art schools in New York City, as well as many other fine schools around the country. Cooper’s strength has always been the quality of its students–astonishingly bright and talented–the best of the best chosen without regard to ability to pay. Cooper’s facilities, two architecturally outstanding buildings notwithstanding, are meagre compared to other art schools. Cooper, being a small school, has fewer course offerings than others, and its faculty, while outstanding, is equal to those who teach elsewhere, but not necessarily better.

Charging tuition will end the uniqueness of Cooper Union and place the school at a competitive disadvantage. It will no longer be the most sought after art school in the city. The best students will choose schools with more to offer for their money. The money raised from tuition on a mere 1,000 students will not ultimately solve other structural financial problems. A death spiral is possible, if not likely.

A way has to be found forward that will retain Cooper’s unique tuition free status. The principles espoused by Peter Cooper must be reestablished, and the school should embark on new fund raising efforts. Those of us who do not have much money to give, do have our work, which could be leveraged to raise money. The art alumni need to be engaged, not simply asked for pledges. While doing my Kickstarter campaign last year to fund my book, I thought about how Cooper might undertake a similar campaign, except on a much larger scale, using the work of alumni as rewards for donations. Forget phonathons and other outmoded fundraising models.

It’s not just about money–it’s about engagement. A sense of belonging and responsibility. Should the board choose for tuition, many alumni will walk away, and that will be the beginning of the end.



New York/New York Times




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:

Dillon Gallery
555 W25th Street
New York, NY 10001

March 7 – April 9
Opening Reception, Thursday 6-8pm




New York/Exhibition

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.





New York/East Village/Lower East Side


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




New York/Lower East Side



East 3rd Street — © Brian Rose

Inauguration day (and Martin Luther King day) 2013. Just a scary reminder of what could have been had things turned out differently four years ago. The poster above, of course, is Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate, now sliding, it would seem, into general dissipation in the mid-winter gloom of Alaska.

I posted a similar picture last year taken with my digital camera. This is a scan of a 4×5 negative.