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.
Frozen New York, 2 degrees fahrenheit this morning. Walked through the park in the afternoon. Almost no one around. Peaceful. Quiet.
The thin building at center left is 432 Park Avenue, the 15th tallest in the world. And tallest in New York if measured by roof height. One WTC’s spire is taller.
My slide talk at the library three days ago went well. Over a hundred people showed up despite several inches of snow earlier in the day. Sold some books, met some interesting people, had a great time.
As Cooper Square gets a makeover, and Cooper Union “reinvents” itself — students entering the school now pay tuition for the first time since 1859 — Peter Cooper sits protected, for his own good we are told, in a box at the center of the square.
Some of us still hold out hope, that when Peter emerges from his plywood prison, his pioneering school will have returned to the mission he set out for it: tuition free, open to all, at the pinnacle of higher education in America.
That hope now rests primarily on a lawsuit brought against the Board of Trustees of Cooper Union accusing them of violating the school’s charter and squandering its resources. We wait — alumni and friends — with mounting anticipation for a positive decision from the judge of the New York State Supreme Court.
Please visit the website of the Committee to Save Cooper Union to learn more.
My contribution to the book done by my ICP class, Photographing New York: the Lower East Side. Three images of street basketball in Sarah D. Roosevelt Park. This is a world I know well having spent years playing on New York City courts. My knees are shot now, but I still get out there now and then. And I work with my 15 year old son, Brendan.
There are moments of peak action, bodies in perfect equipoise, the kind of thing you might see in Sports Illustrated — even on the playground. But I’m more interested in the faces transfixed by the ball somewhere out of the frame. The various shapes and sizes of the players — tall and lean, short and dumpy. The transient moments, the downtime, the shuffling for position between plays, the walk off at the end of the game.
I was up in the Bronx photographing a Fordham University office space. After that I headed down to Brooklyn with my assistant Chris Gallagher. I wanted to get an image of the Tribute in Light — two focused beams of light symbolic of the Twin Towers.
I’d been thinking of a good location for a while, and decided upon the park just above the Brooklyn Bridge near Jane’s Carrousel. We walked around for about an hour looking for a good spot. The area was swarming with photographers carrying everything from iPhones to zoom lensed SLRs. Unsurprisingly, I appeared to be the only person with a view camera.
I found my vantage point — at a safe distance from the shutterbugs — and alternated shooting with 4×5 film and the Canon 5D Mark III (for those interested in such things) that I’d been using for my earlier architectural shoot. The image above was made with the latter.
It was an exceedingly warm, muggy, and windless night. But good for long exposures with the view camera. Dozens of people took up stations nearby awaiting the lights. As it got darker I became aware of the amber glow from a nearby streetlight being thrown on my foreground. The result has a strange theatricality, almost like the different elements were pasted together.
I’m picking up the 4×5 film later in the day. It will be interesting to compare to the digital image..
After finishing with photography of the Statue of Liberty a couple of weeks ago, I set up my view camera and walked around the perimeter of the island. I was looking, in particular, for views of 1 World Trade Center that might go in my upcoming book WTC. One of the peculiarities of being on Liberty Island is that you can’t get back far enough from the statue to really see it well, and getting it and the skyline of New York together isn’t possible. But I found several views toward the city quite compelling nevertheless.
Two of them were in and around the superintendent’s house on the back side of Liberty Island. Renovation work on the Statue of Liberty was actually complete last October, and the island opened for visitors. For one day. Hurricane Sandy hit New York on October 29th flooding Liberty Island, knocking out power to the statue, and damaging various infrastructure and support buildings, including the superintendent’s house. The cleanup took months, and the statue was just reopened on July 4th.
My understanding is that the house will be torn down — it is part of a small complex of buildings of little architectural or historic importance. I found the house just beyond the contractor’s trailers sitting abandoned and exposed to the elements. I did one picture in front looking toward Lower Manhattan, and another in the living room looking toward a picture window framing a view of the skyline, a ruined piano and couch in the foreground.
Reminders of the vulnerability of New York, natural or otherwise.
Two weeks ago, I photographed the Statue of Liberty on assignment. It was a two-day shoot focused on improvements made to visitor circulation inside the statue’s pedestal, and various other infrastructural upgrades that will be mostly invisible to the public. Liberty Island was a beehive of activity as construction workers sped to complete renovations in time for the July 4th reopening.
At the end of the second day of photography, I got out my view camera and made a number of images looking toward the city and 1 World Trade Center. By 4pm, most of the construction workers had left, and I had the island, more or less, to myself.
The sun, blazing most of the day, became partly obscured by clouds producing a more muted palette — something that suits me fine. Although I use a digital camera for architectural shoots, I still work with the big camera for my own work. Switching cameras was a relief. I slowed down, found a groove, and made several images that I think are potential keepers.
Now that my exhibition is down, and Time and Space on the Lower East Side is about 2/3 sold, it’s time to shift gears to my next book, another long-term project dealing with New York City. A couple of years ago it occurred to me, almost out of the blue, that I had in my archive enough photographs taken over the years for a book about the World Trade Center. This was not a premeditated project, but something that grew organically, one series of images at a time.
Most of the book is done. It’s just a matter of pulling it together with several images of 1WTC reaching its full height on the skyline, and possibly a few more thematic images that act as connective tissue. Awhile ago I did a walking tour through the St. George area of Staten Island and came across a mural of the Twin Towers and firefighters. I snapped a couple pictures with my pocket camera. On Saturday I went back with my view camera. As is so often the case, the whole situation seemed different–different light, different atmosphere, vehicles blocking some of the sight lines to the wall. But you never know about these things. I found other ways to photograph the same subject. I’ll post the results when the film gets developed.
My son Brendan plays baseball with his middle school team and little league. Fields are hard to come by in Manhattan, and those that are available are usually artificial turf, oddly shaped, and somewhat difficult to get to. This year, we’ve had to go up to Randall’s Island several times. It’s a mess to get to by public transportation. Situated in the East River adjacent to Harlem, it has historically been a place to hide things like psychiatric hospitals and sewage treatment plants. Recently it has become a recreational park with, track and field, tennis, soccer, and baseball facilities.
Randalls Island is crisscrossed by major transportation infrastructure, the Triboro Bridge, famously built by Robert Moses, and the Hell Gate bridge that carries Amtrak and freight trains into and out of the city. The massively built structure passes over the entire island and a bicycle and foot path runs beneath the arches. Here’s an aerial view made some years ago:
Tompkins Square Park basketball courts in 1980 (4×5) from Time and Space on the Lower East Side
© Brian Rose/Ed Fausty
Throughout the 80s and the early 90s I was regular at the pick-up basketball games on the courts near Avenue B and 10th Street in Tompkins Square Park. I played quite a bit on West 4th Street as well, the small cage-like court that still draws crowds of spectators today, but games there were hard to get into, and they often seemed more about the show than the game. The quality of play at Tompkins was pretty good in those years–lots of ex-high school stars and a few college castoffs. A couple of guys played pro in Europe for a while, and the NYU varsity team would sometimes show up together and challenge the neighborhood locals.
Games were typically played to 20 baskets, and you had to win by two with the winners staying on the court. Lots of close games would go on for an hour or more, so there was a heavy incentive to win, and as a result, games were played with great intensity. There’s still good street ball on the Lower East Side, but it has moved to Sarah D. Roosevelt Park, and the old courts in Tompkins are barely used.
Pat Cummings, former Knick center
One day in the early 90s, the Knick power forward Pat Cummings came down and joined one of our games. I’m not sure if he was retired from basketball at that point, or between teams. But he was still in shape, a solid 6’9″ body. Fortunately, one of our bigger guys was there that day, heavy set, but relatively agile at 6’7″. He and Cummings battled away under the basket, neither one backing down, or bailing out by taking long jumpers. Cummings was on my team, and though it was a competitive game, it definitely helped to have an NBA starter on my side. I remember playing really well, the recipient of several sharp passes from Cummings, and I was surprised by how well this notoriously slow-footed player moved up and down the court. I think we played two games and won both. Even though we were a bunch of playground wannabes he played with us without the least condescension.
I read sadly the other day that Pat Cummings died at 55–just a few years younger than I. Probably a heart attack or something equally sudden. He lived in the Village. I don’t know what he had been up to since retiring from the game, but my thoughts immediately went back to that afternoon in Tompkins Square Park. Here is Peter Vescey’s column in the Post.
Mike Barrett of the ABA Virginia Squires
Years earlier when I was 17, I had another opportunity to play with a professional basketball player, also memorable, but not a happy story. I was attending a summer basketball camp at a community college in Newport News, Virginia, and was thrilled to hear that my hero Mike Barrett of the Virginia Squires of the now defunct American Basketball Association, was making an appearance at the camp. Barrett was the slender shooting guard–about my height–on a terrific team that for a fleeting moment included Hall of Famers Rick Barry, George Gervin, and Julius Erving.
It was the last day of camp and the counselors and better high schoolers were playing a pick-up half court game. Mike Barrett took part and played on my team. I didn’t see exactly what happened, but suddenly Barrett stopped play clutching his hand. The game ended there, and a few days later it came out in the press that Barrett had broken his wrist and would likely miss a good part of the upcoming season. I was devastated. The injury, as I recall, did not heal easily, and Barrett did not play again for the Squires. He was later traded to San Diego where his career ended early in the season, apparently from another injury. In researching for this post, I discovered that Barrett died last year of cancer at age 67. All reports are that he was terrific guy.
Charleston Gazette article here.
Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, 1982 (35mm Kodachrome) — © Brian Rose
A couple of days ago I posted several photographs made while walking through Central Park. Early in my career I worked a lot in the park with both a view camera and a 35mm camera. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the image above–often I was shooting for the Central Park Conservancy when using the small camera. I had a 4×5 internegative made from the slide, and made a couple of prints, but never did much with them.
It’s a romantic image of New York, two couples passing each other on the stairs, almost black and white, quiet.
Yesterday, I met some friends at the Museum of Modern Art, and afterwards returned to my studio by subway. On the 57th Street platform I encountered a couple of musicians playing bluegrass, old time mountain music. One played a banjo, the other a mandolin. They were really wonderful, and several of us dropped bills in the open banjo case.
A man stepped forward carrying an oddly shaped black instrument case and gave some money. I immediately thought to myself, that is somebody.We ended up sitting opposite each other on the train, and I saw a sticker on his case — Kronos Quartet. It was their cellist, Jeffrey Zeigler, which I confirmed later when I got back to my studio. They had just played the night before at Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall.
I once saw the Kronos Quartet play at Lincoln Center. They were performing the string quartets of Alfred Schnittke, the late Russian composer. I did not have tickets and went to the hall expecting to sit far from the stage. Instead, due to a last minute cancellation, I ended up in the front row just a few feet from the performers. It was both exhilarating and nerve wracking to sit so close, hearing every breath, every groan, seeing beads of sweat form on the musicians’ faces.
Quotes from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation website:
The Wiechquaskeck Lenapes occupied this site when, in 1639, the Dutch East India Company brought the first Europeans to settle in the Bronx. In 1646, Dutchman Adriaen Van Der Donck (1620-1655) became the first single owner of what is now Van Cortlandt Park. His vast estate “de Jonkeerslandt” gave Yonkers its name. The land passed through several families, each gradually developing it into viable farmland and a working plantation. During the 1690s, the 16-acre lake was created when Tibbetts Brook was dammed to power a gristmill.
The Van Cortlandt name was first associated with the tract of land bounded by modern Yonkers City Line between Broadway, Jerome Avenue, and Van Cortlandt Park East in 1694, when Jacobus Van Cortlandt bought the property. The Van Cortlandt Mansion was built in 1748 by his son, Frederick Van Cortlandt, whose family occupied the land until the 1880s. Frederick also established the family burial plot on Vault Hill where, at the onset of the American Revolution, City Clerk Augustus Van Cortlandt hid the city records from the British Army.
My New York park photographs: New York Primeval