Category Archives: New York Parks

New York/Lower East Side

I’ve been browsing the local blogs for how the neighborhood fared in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Although some water sloshed over the seawall along the East River, the biggest damage seems to be fallen trees, as much the result of water saturated soil as wind, which was not extraordinarily strong.

Via EV Grieve,  I see that a willow tree that I photographed in a neighborhood park called La Plaza Cultural at 9th Street and Avenue C toppled in the storm. This photograph, which prominently features the fallen tree, is one of my favorites from the recent phase of the Lower East Side project:

E9th  Street and Avenue C (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

As I’ve written elsewhere, I seem to be in the business of photographing things that are soon erased from the earth. But let’s not get too dramatic about it.

A Willow in a small New York park–fed, perhaps, by an underground stream–is not among the most permanent of things. Nevertheless, I feel the loss, and I expect many in the neighborhood will miss this great tree.

New York/Governors Island

Mark di Suvero on Governor’s Island — © Brian Rose

Back in New York after five days in Virginia. My father is hanging on at 90 years old. I spent much of the past week visiting him in the hospital, and then as soon as I get back, my son Brendan ends up in the ER with a badly sprained ankle. Before that happened we went out to Governor’s Island in New York Harbor. The Mark di Suvero sculptures currently on display around the island are magnificent.

I just received word today that one of my photographs is on display at the Museum of Modern Art. I’ll go tomorrow and take a look.

New York/East River Park

Williamsburg Bridge and East River Park — © Brian Rose

I went to East River Park to my son’s soccer game yesterday evening. 107 years ago when the Williamsburg Bridge was opened, this area, just to the south–called Corlears Hook–was comprised of docks, factories, and tenement housing. 19th century Corlears Hook had an unsavory reputation due to its thieves and prostitutes–hence the term “hookers.”

Today, the docks have been replaced by parkland, and towering housing projects dominate the area.

New York/The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library, Sculptor Edward Clark Potter (1857-1923) — © Brian Rose

Everyone knows the majestic lions in front of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Far less appreciated are these female lions guarding the steps of the Morgan Library on East 36th Street. Both sets of lions were carved by Edward Clark Potter, a sculptor known especially for his life-like depictions of animals.

I was in the Morgan to see an exhibition on romantic gardens curated by Betsy Barlow Rogers, the former head of the Central Park Conservancy. I worked for Betsy early in my career making photos of the park, which were used, in part, for fundraising purposes. I also did more utilitarian photographs for park publications and events. I was offered the job as first full time photographer of Central Park, which I turned down, as tempting as it was–I wanted to remain a free lance photographer. In retrospect it may not have been the best career decision, but it’s doubtful that I would ever have begun my Iron Curtain/Berlin Wall project had I taken the job.

While at the Morgan I also saw an exhibition on the influence of Palladio on American architecture–which was serendipitous since my son is doing a school project on Colonial American architecture. And I saw drawings by Albrecht Dürer including his famed Adam and Eve.

In the main library I saw an original manuscript of Magna Carta from 1217. Here’s a bit from the library’s press release:

One of the earliest original manuscripts of Magna Carta dating to 1217 goes on exhibition Wednesday, April 21, at The Morgan Library & Museum. This extremely rare and important document came to New York for a special event for Oxford University but could not be returned to Britain because of the disruption to air traffic caused by the recent volcanic ash cloud. The Bodleian Library generously offered the Morgan the opportunity to exhibit Magna Carta while new arrangements were being made to transport it back to England. The document is on view at the Morgan through May 30.

As I have noted elsewhere, there are those who would set aside many of the principles set forth in this document, which served as the foundation for the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

New York/Hudson River Park

Hudson River Park — © Brian Rose

A beautiful day in New York. It got up above 50F degrees. After dropping my son off at a middle school test/interview–even public schools are selective in New York–I walked several miles along the Hudson. Just took a few pictures.

Hudson River Park — © Brian Rose

Still a lot of snow piled up in places, but it’s going fast. The parks police placed yellow tape around this snow mountain and posted a sign. Keep off.

New York/Primeval

Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx, 1984 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Soon after the Lower East Side project was completed in 1981 I began photographing Central Park, partly on my own, and partly working for the newly formed Central Park Conservancy. This led to further explorations of New York City’s parks focusing primarily on the natural landscape throughout the five boroughs. There were sponsors, exhibitions–but no book–and eventually this work was left mostly unseen in my archive. I’ve always felt that these several park projects contain some of my best pure photography–images made from the raw material of the landscape–and greatly influenced how I approached the Iron Curtain landscape, a project begun in 1985.

I recently discovered that Joel Meyerowitz has published a book–Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks–covering much of the same ground as my work from 20 years ago. Seeing it stopped me dead in my tracks, a little stunned. It’s obvious that he was unaware of my earlier work, also done in color with a view camera, so I can hardly complain. But it leaves me, nevertheless, with a feeling of loss.

Inwood Park, Manhattan, 1984 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

It’s a beautiful book, of course, as one would expect from Meyerowitz, who assiduously explored the far reaches of the city. And an exhibition opens this week at the Museum of the City of New York. So, what to do now with my work, the hundreds of negatives, years of effort?

The answer, as best I can do for the moment, is New York primeval, a web presentation of my natural parks work. It includes almost 70 images along with documentation of how things came about, who funded it, and where it was exhibited. Rather than order the photographs geographically as in Meyerowitz’s book, I’ve made a continuous flow of images, sequenced sometimes by place, but often just by what feels right to me. I have identified the boroughs in which the photos were made.

In the coming days I’ll link the site up to my homepage. And then move on.

New York/Green-Wood Cemetery

Main Gate, Green-Wood Cemetery (Richard Upjohn, architect)

Today, I continued working on a series of photographs of Civil War monuments in Brooklyn–specifically Green-Wood Cemetery. There are a number of memorials here of celebrated generals, but also many of the unsung who died on the battlefield. There are many other famous New Yorkers buried here as well. As I was setting up a shot of the Civil War Soldiers’ Monument, I looked down and saw, at my feet, the grave of Leonard Bernstein, the conductor and composer.

Clouds moved in during the afternoon, and as I was packing up my camera I spotted a diminutive stone fireman surrounded by flags and flowers. The first line of the inscription read: On September 11, 2001, the rescuers at the World Trade Center not only saved over 25,000 lives – they saved America.

Green-Wood Cemetery

The fireman was depicted almost as a doll-like figure despite the detailed uniform and equipment. Less a hero, more a huggable object. It’s a curious need, to fetishize these heroes of 9/11 who were doing their jobs. Who acted as heroes as they did every day when confronted by burning buildings or other dangers. I was struck, however, by the face of the real firefighter in the laminated photos hung around the statue’s neck, his vitality a rebuke to the awkward carving and grandiose prose etched in stone.