Category Archives: Lower Manhattan

New York/On the FDR

On the FDR Drive — © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

Manhattan back in 1982 had many areas that were extremely quiet, even desolate. Few people lived in lower Manhattan then, and the weekends were exceptionally still. One Sunday morning Ed Fausty and I actually walked up on the FDR Drive and took several photographs. You would not want to try that today at any time of the week.

This is a new–and dramatically improved–scan of an image on my WTC webpage. I’ll update those images once I’m finished with the new ones.

New York/Under the FDR

Under the FDR Drive, 1982 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

I am working on a book about the World Trade Center that spans a 32 year time period. It’s a big job pulling together all the images from my archive, scanning new images and rescanning older material. In some ways this will be a book about the ghost of an icon in the way that my Berlin pictures, post-Wall, are about something that no longer exists. The fall of the Berlin Wall–marking the end of the Cold War–led to a profound reconfiguring of world politics. The fall of the Twin Towers signaled another altering of the world order–possibly not to the benefit of the United States, which appears vulnerable as a world power since 9/11. Such opinions, of course, lie outside the scope of my photographs, though they invite the viewer to take a long view of such matters.

The photograph above, which has never been printed before, was taken by me and Ed Fausty in 1982 underneath the FDR Drive in the area of the Fulton Fish Market. We were still working together at the completion of the Lower East Side project. It was a sullen day, the sun weakly shining between the buildings. A backlit situation, the warm glow at center/left is the sun position. Very difficult to print–or in this case work up in Photoshop.

For those interested in technical things, I selected the shadow areas of the image, and worked with curves to try to coax tonal range out of what could easily turn into a black mass. Working on contrast globally without selecting can be problematic because highlight detail is easily lost. The shadow /highlight tool can be useful if handled with care. Often I anchor points on the RGB curve at either end, and push and pull in between to achieve mid-range contrast. I also used a Wacom pen to paint dark and light areas, zooming in to small pieces of the image to work at a more detailed level. There is a limit to how much you can open up shadows, and if there’s nothing there, it should stay black. In a previous post I railed against Ansel Adams and his zone system approach to printing, but I’m not opposed to the idea of  achieving a full range of tonal values. I prefer, however, to work more intuitively.

You won’t be able to see this at the resolution of  your computer screen, but there are about 15 people standing on the observation deck of WTC 2 to the left. Easily visible in a decent sized print–if I ever get the chance to do an exhibition.

New York/Noho/Nolita

Lafayette and Bond Street — © Brian Rose

The New Museum — © Brian Rose

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Song lyrics by Leonard Cohen

New York/WTC

Ground Zero construction — © Brian Rose

The weather broke yesterday after days of temps in the 90s, so I decided to go down to the World Trade Center site for another round of photographs. This is my fourth or fifth visit with the view camera. The biggest difficulty for me is that there are few vantage points available for making photographs with a camera on a tripod. A small army of security guards working for various property owners and institutions enforces the one firm rule governing photography on “private” property–no tripods. Private is in quotations because there are so many areas that are ambiguous public/private realms with no signs or the signs that are there clearly state that the public is welcome. The public may be welcome. A hundred people could be simultaneously taking snapshots, but put a tripod down and you’re kicked out. It’s gotten so ridiculous that I usually just work quickly, get a shot or two off, and then leave once the nearest rent-a-cop springs into action. God help us if something really serious were to happen–these guys are useless.

Liberty and Greenwich Sreet — © Brian Rose

Construction is in full swing across the site with 1 World Trade Center up 20 or more floors, and Tower 4 is also well above ground. The Calatrava designed transportation center is still mostly below grade, and the memorial waterfalls are not visible unless you go to a higher viewing level.

Cortlandt and Church Street — © Brian Rose

Tourist wander aimlessly about dodging construction equipment, navigating sidewalks to nowhere, reading a forest of contradictory signage, all the while attempting to see and understand what is going on.

The Winter Garden, World Financial Center — © Brian Rose

The best place to see the whole site, though still not high enough, is from behind the glass wall at the top of the stairs in the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center. I did a photograph of tourists looking out from the Winter Garden–just managed get off one 4×5 image before being ordered to vamoose.

West Broadway and Warren Street — © Brian Rose

An unofficial Twin Towers memorial just to the north of ground zero. I was all packed up by the time I reached this spot, so I only shot it with my digital camera. But I will come back with the 4×5 in the future. Despite the difficulties of working around the WTC, I am getting good stuff. The idea is to come back from time to time, slowing building a series of photographs that documents the rebuilding and captures some of the craziness of the ground zero atmosphere. I have no doubt that when the memorial is completed there will be a ban on tripods, and I will be one of the last view camera photographers left.

New York/Hudson Square

More photographs of Hudson Square, sometimes known as the Printing District, on the west side of Manhattan bordered by the West Village, Soho, and Tribeca. These are digital images made alongside similar ones on 4×5 film.

Greenwich Street — © Brian Rose

Dominick Street — © Brian Rose

Varick and Dominick Street — © Brian Rose

Renwick Street — © Brian Rose

New York/West Side Highway

West Side Highway artifacts — © Brian Rose

Stan B. in his comment to the last post mentions the “post apocalyptic piece of concrete” that stood abandoned for years on the west side of Manhattan. Inexplicably, despite all the fixing up and covering up of New York’s industrial past, a couple of art deco slabs of the West Side Highway can still be seen lying on a scruffy stretch of waterfront on the Hudson River.

Here are a couple of views from 1974 including a detail similar to the pieces in my photo above.

West Side Highway, 1974, Library of Congress photos

Below are a couple of oblique views of the highway taken around 1978 when I was a student. They’re on 35mm Kodachrome–one of the best films ever made, now discontinued. One was taken on the roadway looking down on the Calder sculpture at the World Trade Center. Destroyed on 9/11. In the other view of the reflected Twin Towers, you can just see some of the West Side Highway receding in the distance. It was desolate over there in those days.

West Side Highway, World Trade Center, Bent Propeller by Alexander Calder, 1978
© Brian Rose

Along the Hudson River piers, 1978 — © Brian Rose

You can see more of my World Trade Center pictures here.

New York/Canal Street

Canal Street — © Brian Rose

I was down on Canal the other day taking pictures of what is sometimes called the printing district, now updated to real estate friendly Hudson Square. Canal Street remains a tumultuous strip of cut-rate hardware, electronics, and jewelry shops, but some of its rough edges have been smoothed, as in the park above. It’s a pleasant, if over designed, replacement for a parking lot. Is there some way that New York parks could be designed with less predictable gentility?

Canal Street — © Brian Rose

A couple of blocks west there’s a more typical bit of Canal Street scruffiness. Here’s your inspiration for attempting an answer to the question above.

New York/Seven Years

The World Trade Center • 1982 (4×5 film)
© Brian Rose

In 1974 when the WTC was just being completed, Philippe Petit, a French street performer strung a cable between the Twin Towers and proceeded to tightrope walk back and forth 6 or 8 times. Thousands watched in amazement from below. Eventually he surrendered to the waiting arms of the police. In the end, public sentiment ruled in his favor, and charges were dropped in exchange for a performance by Petit for children in Central Park. His breathtaking walk between the Twin Towers has become part of the folklore of New York, made all the more poignant by the horror of 9/11–seven years ago.

The World Trade Center • Phillipe Petit’s signature (4×5 film)
© Brian Rose

In the early ’80s I did a series of photographs of Lower Manhattan, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, back when there was still NEA support for individual artists. Shortly after the destruction of the Trade Center, I sifted through my archive for photographs that included the WTC. They can be seen here. On of the pictures I came across was taken from the observation deck on Tower 2. I did a high resolution scan of the 4×5 negative and discovered something unseen in normal prints of the image, Philippe Petit’s scratched signature and tightrope icon.

New York/Ground Zero

Ground Zero/WTC

Ground Zero/WTC

I took an exploratory walk with my view camera around the World Trade Center site today. It was in the mid-20s and icy underfoot, but the air was clear and sharp. I hadn’t been down there with my camera since just after 9/11, on Broadway, the first day they let people get that close. It was rough going that day trying to set up a view camera among thousands of jostling people–all with cameras, of course– but I got a couple of good photographs.

Broadway, September 2001 (4×5 film)

At one point I stepped off Broadway onto a side street away from the crush of gawkers. A man walked up carrying a single digital camera, no camera bag as I recall, and he asked me if I was a documentary photographer. I said yes, more or less. I looked at him more intently, and then said, you’re James Nachtwey aren’t you. He said yes. Later that week I saw his extraodinary pictures of the scene in Time magazine.

Ground Zero/WTC

After that, Joel Meyerowitz got access to Ground Zero and made the photographs that are now published in an oversized book called Aftermath. I had no press pass or special access, so I left the subject alone except peripherally in images made in other places. Now that the big boys have left for other photographic battlefields, maybe it’s time for me to do what I have always tried to do–take a longer, more patient, view of history.

New York/Lab

The last few days have been life in photo hell sifting through hundreds of negatives from the past 25 years, taking them to the lab to scan on a high quality Imacon scanner. I’m putting together three sets of work: New York, Amsterdam, Berlin. There have been few overlooked pearls discovered, but it’s a good exercise going through everything and re-evaluating. There was one discovery, however. A photograph of a Checker Cab in all its glory. Those of a certain age will remember these capacious cars, which could seat five in the back seat with the use of fold down jump seats. I can remember waiting for Checkers–there were lots of them–when transporting boxes or bags, or when going out with a group of friends. New York desperately needs a somewhat smaller replacement for these workhorses.

Checker Cab, World Trade Center, early/mid ’80s (4×5 film)

I can’t remember making the photograph of the Checker cab. But I knew it was downtown, and the marble wall behind the car was undoubtedly from the World Trade Center. A small sign on the wall says “Tall Ships Bar.” I looked it up on the Internet, and found that it was in the Vista Hotel–later Marriott–WTC 3. All gone now.

I like the photograh because of the way the light spotlights the car against the neutral background. There was nothing to do but set the camera up in the right spot and shoot. No fancy business. Just get it on film. It’s a car that had already seen some wear and tear. The front license plate is wired to the grill, there are a number of dents, the rear bumper is askew, but basically, the car is in great shape for the New York streets.