Category Archives: New York Parks

New York/Basketball

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.


New York/Central Park

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.

New York/Van Cortlandt Park

Van Cortlandt Park — © Brian Rose

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.

Van Cortlandt Park — © Brian Rose

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.

Pizza place at the Van Cortland Park subway stop — © Brian Rose

My New York park photographs: New York Primeval


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.