Category Archives: Lower Manhattan

New York/Fulton Fish Market

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U
nder the FDR Drive, 1981 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

A photograph made underneath the FDR Drive in 1981 in the area of the Fulton Fish Market. Early in the morning the area under the highway would have been busy with trucks and all the hustle and bustle of the market. Later in the day, like in the Meatpacking District, the storefronts were shuttered and the streets relatively devoid of people. The Twin Towers loom in the distance.

This is one of the photographs in my upcoming book WTC. Please consider supporting the book on Kickstarter. Thanks.

New York/Happy New Year!

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One World Trade Center (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A final punctuation mark for the end of the year, and for my forthcoming book WTC. This was taken with my new Travelwide 4×5 camera. It doesn’t have movements, but it is feather light and can be handheld — though this was made on a tripod.

It’s been a tumultuous year in our household with any number of highs and lows. But the new year is looking bright as it approaches. Bring it on!

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Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus

New York/1977

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.

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Village Voice real estate classifieds in 1977

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.

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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:

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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.

New York/Salt Shed

I can remember back in the 90s when it seemed that New York had become an architectural backwater. I was living in Amsterdam, and a Dutch planner friend, about to leave for a trip to New York, asked what interesting new buildings to look for. I was momentarily silent — nothing immediately came to mind. I ended up recommending a few contextually sensitive projects that were admirable if not exactly innovative.

Innovation is not everything, in architecture or in other fields, but the lack of it in the 90s suggested a city treading water creatively. That sense of stasis is long gone for a variety of complex reasons — the post 9/11 vitality of the city is an area rich for exploration by journalists and social scientists. I am neither of those. But I am a photographer of the urban landscape, and there is much to observe in the swift rapids of the present.

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Travel wide 4×5 camera with film holder — © Brian Rose

Architecture can be dramatic or prosaic, showy or utilitarian, but usually not both simultaneously. Let me tell you about a salt shed in lower Manhattan on Canal Street. I had just gotten a new camera to play with — a hand holdable 4×5 camera designed by a couple of guys in Chicago funded by a Kickstarter campaign. As small as a DSLR and half as light. I decided to take it out for a spin to see how it would work for me photographing a building. My wife works in the Hudson Square area, the old printing district west of Soho, and she suggested I take a look at the new Spring Street salt shed designed by Dattner Architects, a New York based architectural firm.

It is just that. A shed meant for storing the stuff used to melt ice and snow on the streets of the city. But instead of the usual metallic tent-like structure, there is, here, a multi-facetted shard of concrete looking very much like a salt crystal, or at least that’s what two different sanitation workers passing by told me while I was taking pictures. And it has walls three feet thick. They loved it.

Here it is:

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

 

 

New York/Frances Goldin

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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.

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Lower Manhattan Expressway brochure

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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.

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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.

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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.

New York/WTC

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Behind the Colgate clock, Jersey City, New Jersey (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a book about the World Trade Center for some time. Just before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I came to the realization that I had in my archive a remarkable series of pictures — made at different times in different formats — that focused on the Twin Towers as a presence ( and absence) on the New York skyline. It was too late to produce a book in conjunction with the anniversary, but I began putting together a dummy based on what I had. And at the same time I continued to make photographs that showed the emergence of the new Trade Center, specifically One WTC, now completed, which stands as tall as the former Twin Towers.

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Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

None of my Twin Towers photographs were ever primarily about the buildings themselves, but rather they were urban landscapes that included the towers as architectural signposts. As the new tower of One WTC rose to fill the hole in the sky left by the destruction of 9/11, I chose to treat it the same way, as part of something, as opposed to an object all by itself. Nevertheless, I did not feel that I had one singular image (or a few) that adequately described the new tower as a prominent architectural expression.

So, when the weather broke earlier in the week, soaring into the 50s, I dashed out with my 4×5 view camera and spent a day stalking One WTC from various vantage points in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Jersey City. Three days later, I’m still a bit sore from the exertion, but it was a great day, and I’m pleased with what I came up with.

There remain many unanswered questions about One WTC. Does it command the skyline as powerfully as the Twin Towers did? Does the design make the kind of iconic statement that many wanted from it? What does it mean to people across the political spectrum — some still insist on calling it “Freedom Tower.” And was it necessary to build it at all? My book will not settle any controversies about the new building, but ending the narrative with several strong images of the tower seemed a necessity in bringing the story around full circle.

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Fulton Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

There was a time during the 20th century when the skyline of lower Manhattan had an almost romantic storybook aspect. It was defined by a number of thin towers with spires like the neo-gothic Woolworth Building from 1913 and later, the Art Deco styled Cities Service Building. The first significant disruption to the stalagmite look of lower Manhattan was the Chase Manhattan Bank building, a modernist slab uncomfortably inserted among its svelte neighbors. The building itself, arguably, is one of the best early modernist office towers in Manhattan, but it began a trend of ever bulkier boxes that eventually obscured many of Manhattan’s most iconic skyscrapers.

Nevertheless, when the Twin Towers went up in 1974 they dominated the skyline in almost every direction. When I did my pictures of lower Manhattan in the early 80s they were ubiquitous, poking up and between other buildings, visible from a million different vantage points. It helped, of course, that there were two of them, and the vertical pin striping of the skin — the vulnerable exo-skeletons of the towers — seemed always to lead the eye upward.

One World Trade Center, despite its height, seems lost in the crowd much of the time. And while the Twin Towers often visually lined up with the erratic street grid of downtown Manhattan, the new tower seems rarely to do so. One exception, is Fulton Street where I photographed it juxtaposed with a richly articulated cast iron building from more than a hundred years ago. And as before with the Twin Towers, One WTC appears at its most commanding from across the Hudson in New Jersey.

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Fulton Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is ongoing, and construction will dominate the area for years. But several WTC towers have been completed, and Santiago Calatrava’s winged transportation center is getting closer to taking flight. The memorial fountains and the 9/11 Museum, most of which is underground, will not be a part of my narrative, which is focused on the skyline of New York, its mythic nature, and its more workaday reality as seen from the ground — on the street — the democratic commons of New York.

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One WTC entrance — © Brian Rose

There is no doubt, however, in the post-9/11 political climate, that the democratic commons is under assault. The Trade Center site crawls with police officers and other agents of what is now painfully called Homeland Security. And various private security guards hover about at the ready to correct the wayward tourist or local who finds him or herself caught in the blurring confusion between public and private property. These zones of ambiguity are multiplying around the city, not just at the World Trade Center.

The photograph above shows the entrance to One World Trade Center, a strangely beautiful, but chilling place — the glinting sunlight reflected onto the street, the regimented rows of steel bollards, the striping of the colored glass behind the revolving doors, the solitary black-suited sentinel awaiting anyone brave enough to step forward with the idea of entering this silent fortress.

 

New York/4th of July

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T
he Brooklyn Bridge, 100th anniversary, 1983 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Happy Independence Day!

After a number of years, the fireworks return to the East River. The above photo is a reprise of one of my “best hits.” A picture taken in 1983 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge. Thanks to a connection to the developer of the South Street Seaport, I had a spot among the rocks and sand at the edge of the river. There were a few other photographers around, but I was the only one crazy enough to shoot with a 4×5 view camera. And unlike the others, I used a wide angle lens to take in the entire scene.

Fortunately, it was not too windy, and I tried about a dozen wildly varied exposures. Because of the calm, smoke hung low in the air, and the second tower of the bridge is barely visible in my photograph. Remarkably, the negative is razor sharp without the slightest camera shake. It makes a great large print.

In photographing New York, one is frequently confronted with world famous icons — the bridges, skyscrapers, monuments. It’s all been done. But rather than worry about it, I just treat everything equally, seen as any pedestrian might see it. The trick sometimes is not about framing the extraordinary thing, but rather treating the extraordinary as a normal and unprivileged part of the landscape.

And then add fireworks!

 

New York/Clayton Patterson

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Clayton Patterson, the documentarian of the Lower East Side, whose raw videos of the Tompkins Square Park riots of 1988, brought him to prominence, has decided to quit New York for the Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. Okay…

A few choice quotes from the article in the New York Times:

“There’s nothing left for me here,” said Mr. Patterson, who, at 65, is still a physical presence, with his biker’s beard, Santa Claus belly and mouth of gold teeth. “The energy is gone. My community is gone. I’m getting out. But the sad fact is: I didn’t really leave the Lower East Side. It left me.”

Maybe for Detroit? For Berlin? For deep into Brooklyn — maybe even the Bronx? It’s true that things have changed in Lower Manhattan, profoundly changed. There was a period of time that began in the ’70s and gradually tapered in the ’80s, when the LES was cheap and edgy (and scary), a place where an underground scene could flourish. These moments are always fleeting, and at some point you realize as an artist that you have work to do that is independent of the scene that nourished you. If your work is about the scene, then follow it wherever it goes.

 “What Clayton is telling us is that his world is gone and that he’s going too,” said Alan Kaufman, a writer and a friend of Mr. Patterson’s. “This ought to send up a red flag for someone. It’s remarkable, really. It’s kind of like Atget quitting Paris.”

Kind of like, I guess. Atget, whose work documenting the changing face of Paris, is indeed synonymous with that city. But what has always connected me to his work is not so much Paris itself, but the eye of Atget, his visual intelligence, and the expression of beauty as he found it.

To Daniel Levin, who directed “Captured,” a 2008 documentary about Mr. Patterson and his work, the plan to leave New York was further evidence of the city’s cultural decline. “Sadly, ironically, New York is displacing the people that made it what it was,” Mr. Levin said. “The entire city has become a playground for money, wealth and sterilized housing, and that’s not what’s traditionally made it interesting.”

People tend to think of Manhattan as New York. And historically, Manhattan was an all inclusive place with slums and mansions, industry and offices, white collar and blue collar side-by-side, the entry point for foreign immigrants and young strivers alike. In the past two decades, Manhattan has shed a good deal of that diversity and become more homogenous. While many urban centers in the United States declined, Manhattan absorbed more and more people and money. But New York, “the entire city,” remains as diverse as ever. Except for certain enclaves, perhaps, the other boroughs are not exactly “a playground for money, wealth and sterilized housing.”

Tell the hundreds of thousands of people schlepping every day on overcrowded subways to get to work that the city is a playground. And who are these newcomers who have swelled the city to the highest population in its history? Are these the 1% who occupy the “sterilized housing.” There is something wrong with the way we are talking about this city and what is actually happening to it.

***

I wish Clayton Patterson well in his move to Austria. There is a time to leave, and a time to find more comfort in life. I’ve written in the past about Patterson’s work here. It’s not so much about individual pictures, but ensemble, as installation. I really liked the last exhibit I saw of his work. He’ll be missed around here.

 

 

New York/Lower East Side

NYT_spuraPhotograph from Time and Space on the Lower East Side in the New York Times — © Brian Rose

One of the photographs from Time and Space on the Lower East Side appeared in the Sunday New York Times .

50 years ago a number of blocks of densely occupied tenement housing along Delancey Street were razed and thousands of low income families, mostly Puerto Rican, were displaced. Robert Moses attempted to build a freeway across Lower Manhattan directly through Soho and the Lower East Side, and these blocks were the first to be cleared. The highway was stopped, but the vacant lots remained a political battleground for decades. A rebuilding plan, reached by neighborhood consensus, is finally moving forward. This article explains why it took so long.

It’s a shocking story of corruption and racism. It centers around Sheldon Silver, the New York State representative from lower Manhattan, and one of the most powerful politicians in Albany. If there is justice in the world, it signals the end of his ignominious career.

 

New York/Statue of Liberty

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Inside the Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”

– Bob Dylan

 

 

New York/Statue of Liberty

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Inside the Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

New York State has reopened the Statue by paying the salaries of federal employees who have been furloughed by the Republican shutdown of the government.

Meanwhile the countdown to default and financial apocalypse continues.

 

 

New York/Meatpacking District

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On the street with a print from a 1985 image. (digital) — © Brian Rose

Everyone thinks I should do it, so I am working on a series of before/after images of the Meatpacking District. I originally photographed the area in 1985, also venturing uptown into west Chelsea. I had completed the Lower East Side project — which I later came back to — and I had finished photographing the Financial District — with an NEA grant. I had also begun photographing various NYC parks, and later that year I would begin my travels along the Iron Curtain border across Europe. But for a week or so in late winter of 1985 I wandered around the west side of Manhattan and documented the profoundly empty streets, like a stage set with the actors on break. Eventually, as we all know, the people would come.

mp033Gansevoort Street 1985 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose

mepa004Gansevoort Street 2013 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose

My experience with photographing New York, however, does not always follow the usual expectations about then and now. And with the Time and Space on the Lower East Side I deliberately wanted to challenge preconceived notions about what change actually looks like on the streets of the city.

New York, even the relatively glittering canyons of Manhattan, remains an often gritty place. The Meatpacking District has become a center of fashion and art, but like Soho before it, it continues to show its utilitarian roots, and is still dominated by late 19th and early 20th century architecture. The Gansevoort Market is still in business under the High Line housing a number of meat purveyors. In the view above of Gansevoort Street, one has to look twice to see the changes. Florent, the famous restaurant from ’80s is gone, and another restaurant has taken its place. The storefront of the small reddish building is now a boutique, but much of the block remains empty — as a Maserati rumbles along the cobblestones.

r&lGansevoort Street 2013 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose

As is often the case, “after” photographs can be less compelling than “befores.” The factors that led to the first image being made, are no longer present. These can be very subtle attributes, atmospheric, ineffable. So, part of my strategy in rephotographing the Meatpacking District is to look for new pictures, or variations on the originals.  The image directly above was made a few minutes after repeating the 1985 picture. It is, perhaps, a better description of the block with the Standard Hotel looming in the background.

mp009Washington Street 1985 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose

wash13Washington Street 2013 (digital) — © Brian Rose

mp025Washington Street 1985 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose

redmustangWashington Street 2013 (digital) — © Brian Rose

I am shooting the new photographs in 4×5 film using a similar camera and lens as in 1985, but then scanning the negatives and working up the images in Photoshop. Some of the images here were taken with my point-and-shoot, which I usually have with me while working with the big camera. As the film gets processed and the images completed, I will replace the digital snaps with the final 4×5 photos.

royalevealWashington Street 1985 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

mepa003Washington Street 2013 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

mp029Washington Street 1985 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

mepa016Washington Street 2013 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

In a previous post, I wrote about this being the former location of the Mineshaft, an infamous men’s sex club closed at the height of the AIDS crisis just a few months after my photograph was taken in 1985. Now, other sybaritic delights beckon.

mp003West 14th Street 1985 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose

mepa013West 14th Street 2013 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose

The images above are both 4x5s. I made several pictures with the 14th Street Apple store clearly visible on the right, but stepping a few feet forward better duplicated the original image.

mp011Hudson and 14th Street 1985 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

hudson14Hudson and 14th Street 2013 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

sellfromhereLittle West 12th Street and West Street 1985 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

centurywasteLittle West 12th Street and West Street 2013 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

pierarchPier 54 2013 (digital) — © Brian Rose

When I photographed the area in 1985, Pier 54 was an enclosed building as seen above. At present, only the steel structure of the facade remains. Occasionally the the otherwise empty pier is used for events. A small part of it is open to the public, and while I was there a couple of female skateboarders zoomed about while bicycles and joggers streamed along West Street.

Stay tuned for more pictures.