Category Archives: Photographers/Photography

New York/Old Topographics


Stephen Shore, Wilde Street and Colonization Avenue, Dryden, Ontario, August 15, 1974

Forty-two years ago, an exhibition called New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape caused a stir in the photography world, and the controversy around it, surprisingly, has continued to ripple down through the decades. I was 21 in 1975 when William Jenkins mounted his now famous exhibition of landscape photography. I was in art school in Baltimore, and just beginning to shoot in color. No one at the Maryland Institute – teachers or students – was doing anything like what Jenkins highlighted in his exhibition, and certainly not color landscape photography.


Scene from Red Desert, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1965

It took longer in those days for new ideas to percolate through the image making community, especially if you were not in New York City, or Rochester, the home of the George Eastman House where the exhibit took place. My strongest influences at that time were masters of the 35mm camera like Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander, but perhaps to a greater extent, I was fascinated by the color imagery of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s films from the 1960s and 70s, especially Red Desert and The Passenger. Consciously or unconsciously, I set out to bridge those worlds – socially aware street photography and the more studied color landscapes of Antonioni’s movies.


Joel Meyerowitz, ‘Camel Coats, New York City’, 1975

In 1975 I was basically following my instincts, not exactly in a vacuum, but at a remove from the groundbreaking shows that were coming out of the Museum of Modern Art under the leadership of the enormously important curator John Szarkowski. At some point, I came across several images by Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Meyerowitz, pioneers of color photography. Seeing those pictures printed in a magazine, it was as if the future flashed before my eyes. I knew what I needed to do.

By 1977 I was in New York where I studied with Meyerowitz at Cooper Union. It was the heyday of Light Gallery, which was one of the few galleries in the world dedicated to serious art photography. I remember seeing Frank Gohlke’s pictures of grain elevators at the Museum of Modern Art, and became familiar with Joe Deal and Robert Adams, particularly their images of the expanding suburbs of the American West. The way in which many of these photographers stayed back a bit, and allowed the detail afforded by the large format to do the work, appealed to me. When I photographed the Lower East Side in 1980 I turned to the 4×5 view camera as the best way to describe the neighborhood and its architecture.


Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973

I don’t remember when I became aware of the term New Topographics, but for me it was a curator’s thing – I was interested in individual photographers whose work I found compelling. To me, Robert Adams’ images possessed an almost spiritual power that transcended labels and art theory speak. At the same time, his pictures expressed  the uneasy symbiosis of our relationship with the natural world. That is true to some extent of all of the photographers that Jenkins grouped together in his show.

That’s where Jenkins was most persuasive, I think, to point out that landscape photography had moved away from the romantic idealization of the world epitomized by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. I’m afraid, however, that Jenkins unintentionally diminished the individuality of the photographers he chose for New Topographics. Placed in the same cubbyhole, the singular richness and complexity of their images was diluted by proximity, and this diverse group of photographers were seen to be part of some kind of group think. At the same time, many viewers were put off by the cool temperature of the images, the way in which visual content was diffused over the entire frame, rather than organized hierarchically.


Watering, Phillips Ranch, California, 1983

Recently, in a Facebook group about contemporary landscape photography, a contributor suggested that too much of the work posted there looked derivative of New Topographics. I don’t actually know what that means. I suspect it refers to the wide angle, evenhanded, approach that many of Jenkins’ selected photographers employed. But that seems to me a narrow criterion for work by markedly different photographers. Are we talking about Lewis Baltz? Stephen Shore? Henry Wessel? New Topographics was a cuator’s thesis supported by the work of a number of talented photographers who eschewed conventional approaches to landscape. But it was never a movement, nor a particular style.


Charles Marville, Demolition of Butte des Moulins for Avenue de l’opera, 1870

The reality is that photographers have been documenting human presence on the landscape since the medium was invented. It could be argued that the photographs of Ansel Adams and others depicting a pristine picturesque world were the true aberrations, and that the New Topographics photographers were actually extending  — in various different ways — an unbroken line running through Marville, Atget, O’Sullivan, Evans, and others. The Düsseldorf School photographers who are often connected to New Topographics were undoubtedly influenced by this continuum inspired as well by German photographers like August Sander and Albert Renger-Patsch. Even the more conceptual work of Bernd and Hilla Becher echoes that history.


Albert Renger-Patzsch, Winter landscape with colliery Pluto in Wanne-Eickel (1929)

Walker Evans, Birmingham Steel Mill and Workers’ Houses, 1936


Lee Friedlander, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980

As photographers we need not feel enslaved to curatorial constructs like New Topographics. What Williams Jenkins came up with was a timely recognition of the way in which photographers were becoming attentive to the accelerating encroachment of urban development in the late 20th century. That attention and the formal rigor of the images ran counter to the prevailing aesthetics of fine art photography, which had already been challenged by Winogrand, Frank, and other small camera practitioners. In my view, the whole uproar around New Topographics had less to do with an aesthetic or conceptual break than it had to do with a reconfiguration of the photography world including the growing importance of museums, curators, art schools, and galleries.


Eugène Atget, Porte de Bercy, 1910

Let’s not get distracted by all this. In my view, the critical observation of the landscape by photographers remains an important if not essential practice. With the explosion of new technologies, the increasingly inward gaze of virtual reality, and the lure of alternate notions of truth, the counter weight of objective observation keeps us attentive to the physical world we continue to inhabit with its ongoing environmental depredations, spasms of war and destruction – and beauty — wherever we may find it.

New York/WTC


St. Nicholas Church, under construction, WTC — © Brian Rose

When the Twin Towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, a small Greek Orthodox church, St. Nicholas, was obliterated by the falling debris. A replacement church designed by Santiago Calatrava is now under construction a short distance from the original structure. I snapped the picture above returning from an appointment at the 9/11 Museum offices. My book, WTC, will soon be available in the museum shop.


St. Nicholas Church, 1981 (4×5 negative) — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

The original church served a small congregation just south of the WTC on Cedar Street. The building, converted from earlier use as a tavern, stood alone on a parking lot. Photographers were fond of tilting up at the cross with the Twin Tower rising above. It was a perspective that Edward Fausty and I avoided when we made our picture back in 1981.

New York/AIPAD


Empty AIPAD booth — © Brian Rose

There are hundreds of booths at AIPAD (The Photography Show) and thousands of people attending. Lots of different languages overheard while walking around, which is typical of New York.

But one booth is empty. The sign says:

Due to the recent travel ban and
the uncertainty of international
travel from countries identified
in the ban, Ag Galerie, Tehran,
is unable to participate in The
Photography Show this year.

Ran into several friends, Hans Knijnenburg from the Netherlands who is avid photo book collector, Art Presson and Eve Kessler, who have a wonderful photography collection, Joel Sternfeld, the photographer, and I met Hendrik Kerstens, the Dutch photographer who I wrote about in my blog a number of years ago.

 

New York/DART

DART, the newsletter for design professionals and photographers, is promoting the work of artists who are responding to the election of Donald Trump and the current political fallout from this national disaster. Today, my Atlantic City project is being featured. Thanks go out to Peggy Roalf for providing a showcase for this work and that of other artists.

The full project, Atlantic City: In the Wake of Destruction left by Donald Trump, can be viewed here.

New York/AIPAD


Dillon + Lee booth at AIPAD

I am pleased to be in this year’s AIPAD  (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) show at Pier 94 on the westside of Manhattan. I’ve attended several times in the past, but this is the first time I’ve had a piece on display. AIPAD provides a great overview of what the galleries are showing in New York and beyond. My gallery, Dillon + Lee, is not exclusively a photography gallery, but they have assembled a diverse stable of artists that includes a significant number who work with photography. I hold down the landscape view camera department.


AIPAD show — East 4th Street 1980 (Rose/Fausty)

I am showing a 4×5 foot print of one of the Lower East Side photographs made in 1980 by me and Edward Fausty. It’s the cover image of Time and Space on the Lower East Side, and it was taken in front of the building I lived in at the time. It is, perhaps, the most iconic of the Lower East Side images, and although shown a lot, it’s still one of my favorites.


Dillon + Lee booth at AIPAD

If you are serious about photography collecting — or want to see what is going on the photo gallery world — it is definitely worth the $30. There are more than 100 dealers and galleries represented, and they have added a section on photo book publishing this year, which I will be checking out. The show runs from March 30 – April 2.

 

 

New York/Truth

Eons ago — about 10 years — when George Bush was president, I wrote with dismay about how reality was becoming more and more a relative concept, untethered from facts, infinitely malleable. I quoted a Bush administration aide who said:

”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This was was from Time magazine, which still exists, despite the vast dispersion of the media across the internet in an information space that freely mixes social media and journalism, where rumor and fake news compete — and oftentimes win — over factually based reporting and observation.

Last week Time’s cover features only the text Is Truth Dead? This is where we are now. A dangerous con man was elected president on a wave of lies, disinformation, and willful ignorance. We are in big trouble.

There has been a lot of discussion over the years about photography and its relationship to truth and  reality. You hear a lot about how Photoshop has undermined the credibility of the image. You hear terms like “post factual.” There are deeply mind numbing discussions about semiotics and the indeterminate nature of meaning — and truth. These themes make wonderful parlor discussions, and graduate school theses.

They are irrelevant right now. We are in an emergency. We need to employ words and images as we understand them — to drill down to what is essential and knowable in practical terms.

I’m sick to death of hearing things from
Uptight short sided narrow minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth
I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic psychotic pigheaded politicians
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth

— John Lennon

UPDATE:

Case in point. I just received an email from a photography organization in the Netherlands promoting their next exhibition, Simulacrum. The basic premise of the show is that reality and manufactured reality are becoming indistinguishable. This is hardly an original concept — a curatorial container for a bunch of artists using technology to create alternative realities. I am not interested in this. I am interested in what artists have to say concretely and coherently — including those who make use of new technology. When we get waylaid by aesthetic and philosophical strategies that purposely blur the difference between truth and untruth in images and language, we run the risk of becoming complicit with the shape shifters and charlatans who seek dominance of our institutions and who currently occupy the White House in Washington, D.C.

Get real!

http://www.noorderlicht.com/en/photogallery/expected/

Simulacrum
What is real, what is artificial? The border between the two is beginning to fade. In the visual language of the advertising industry, the border between real photography and digitally calculated models is almost indistinguishable…  It’s becoming somewhat of a challenge to distinguish between images that represent reality and images that depict reality. This theme lies at the heart of the exhibition: a Simulacrum stands for a simulation that takes the place of the reality it stems from.

 

New York/2,000 Books

book_storage_sm
Storage closet in Chelsea — © Brian Rose

This is what 2,000 books looks like when stacked nine boxes high. 169 boxes in all. Your first thought when they arrive is — what have I done?! — and then they fit exactly as determined weeks ago when they were on a container ship slowly making their way to New York. So, no surprises.

The moment of truth is here. Please join me for the book launch in Cooper Union’s Great Hall. I will be doing a slide talk, taking questions, and there will be a reception afterwards with books available for purchase and signing. See you there!

WTC Book Launch
September 8, 6:30pm

The Great Hall
Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street
New York City

launch card 5x7

New York/WTC Launch

launch card 5x7

Save the date — September 8th — for the launch of WTC! Books are in the port of New York and should arrive soon.

WTC Book Launch
The Great Hall at Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street
New York, NY

6:30pm (until about 8pm)
Slide talk and book signing afterwards
Light refreshments served

WTC/Advance Copies

wtc_cover

This is it folks. Advance copies of WTC have arrived from the printer, and — what can I say — the book is stunning. The original design for the cover had the letters WTC dissolving into a close-up of the skin of one of the Twin Towers, symbolic of their disappearance and ghostly presence. But we decided to go with silver reflective letters that almost float above the matte background. The effect is stronger, more iconic. It is simple, elegant, and I think, powerful.

wtc_inside

The spine and endpapers are a cool blue, taken from wedge of sky seen between the Twin Towers in one of the images. The photographs and text blocks are a consistent scale with white borders throughout except for the bleed images that break up the different sections. This is a book to be read — both the writing and the imagery.

I am very proud of WTC. It is the third in a trilogy of books about New York City. It is the culmination of a lifetime of observing the urban landscape and architecture, the center stage for human endeavor. It is a story both personal and shared — this great city and the tragedy that befell it 15 years ago. It is an attempt to honor and commemorate even in this moment of public vulgarity and corrosive discourse.

The official release of WTC is September 8th. I will be providing more information about the launch later. In the meantime, the book can be pre-ordered on my website.

New York/F&Gs

f&g_02
WTC folded and gathered pages — © Brian Rose

It may look a little sloppy, but the loose pages shown in the photo above are actual offset printed pages for my forthcoming book, WTC. These are the so-called F&Gs (folded and gathered) straight off the press and air freighted from Hong Kong to New York for approval.

f&g_01
WTC folded and gathered pages — © Brian Rose

The quality of the printing is stunning, and I am expecting to receive a small number of bound books in the next couple of weeks. The rest of the books will be shipped by boat and should arrive by the end of August, in time for the book launch on September 8th. More information on that soon.

New York/The Bronx

bronx_carwash
White Plaiins Road, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

In the midst of running my Kickstarter campaign — which was successful despite a nail biting finish — I traveled up to the Bronx to see my son play baseball with his school team. New York City has decent quality baseball despite horrible conditions, fields that would be considered unplayable elsewhere. And they are often in out of the way places where space is at less of a premium. I got off the 6 train and joined a crowd of people waiting for the Bx39. It’s moments like this when the pocket camera comes out and I snap a few pictures, usually one right after another, and then I’m done. So, here are two such pictures. Thin slices of urban tissue, waiting for a bus.

zico
White Plains Road, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

New York/WTC

citylab

A great article and interview about WTC in CityLab, The Atlantic’s web zine about urban affairs.

Mark Byrnes writes:

…most who page through WTC will contemplate Manhattan’s relentless transformation since a turbulent and mythologized 1970s. Change has come through economic shifts, public policy decisions, and tragedy. Rose’s work provides a clear, visual understanding of what the city has lost and gained through it all.

Please support WTC by pledging to my Kickstarter campaign.
Your help is needed!!

New York/”Freedom Tower”

oneworldtradeflag
Paul Avenue, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

Whatever happened to the Freedom Tower? That is what former Governor George Partaki called One World Trade Center when it was still an architectural concept. And if you wander through the crowds of tourists downtown, you will still hear people refer to David Child’s 1,776 foot tall skyscraper as the Freedom Tower. The Port Authority, however, abandoned that name years ago, and few New Yorkers seem inclined to use it.

One section of my forthcoming book WTC is comprised of vernacular images of the Twin Towers — posters, murals,and graffiti. And there are books and photographs for sale in the street, many of which graphically show the destruction of the Trade Center. It has been 15 years, but helped by constant visual reminders, the Twin Towers remain fixed in the mind’s eye. Images of One World Trade, however, are harder to find.

One World Trade — or Freedom Tower — was envisioned by some as a patriotic gesture, not just real estate. Some might argue that in New York City real estate and patriotism go hand in hand. Whatever the case, One World Trade Center has only slowly begun to achieve the iconic status of its progenitors, the Twin Towers. Maybe it never will. So, I was stopped in my tracks yesterday while walking through the Bronx. There on the ground was a pizza box with One World Trade and an enormous American flag printed in red white and blue. The Freedom Tower lives…perhaps.

And then in Brooklyn — there it is again —  standing tall in support of Bernie.

bernie
North 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Please help make WTC possible by supporting my Kickstarter campaign.

New York/WTC Cover

wtc_cover_proof
WTC Cover — © Brian Rose

I’ve been showing a cover mockup for WTC that has dull gray lettering — looks good, but not inspiring. Yesterday, we got the cover proof with silver foil stamped onto a matte background.  The result is, in my opinion, stunning. The letters WTC appear almost to float in air.

wtc_frontback_proof
Cover proof — © Brian Rose

The rear cover will have another of the images from my WTC Frieze, comprised of close-ups of the steel piping of the Twin Towers’ skin. The spine of the book will be blue — a somewhat brighter blue than shown above — as will the endpapers inside the cover. The correct blue can be seen below.

blue-endpapers
Blue Endpapers — © Brian Rose

The final cover design is something I’ve been playing with in recent years as the overall concept of the book came together. When I would talk to publishing people, they would almost always say, it looks nice, but of course, we’ll need a regular photograph on the cover. My artist and photography friends told me to stick to my guns.

Help make that decision the right one. Please support my Kickstarter campaign.

New York/Brooklyn Bridge Park

WTC is book about the Twin Tower, their presence and absence, and about the rebuilding of the city after September 11. It is also a tribute to New Yorkers and all who carry a piece of this great city with them. It is a book that commemorates rather than exploits, a book that preserves memories, both painful and hopeful, and celebrates, however cautiously, the resilience of this city in the face of adversity.

Please make this book possible with your support on Kickstarter.

New York/Death of Photography (greatly exaggerated)

shh
S1st Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Every few years someone or other, usually an art/photo critic, declares photography dead. Or if not dead, then relegated to a quaint sideshow off the midway of progress. I’ve written about it before, way back in 2007, in response to Peter Plagens’ Newsweek article “Is Photography Dead?” An article that ends with the line: “The next great photographers—if there are to be any—will have to find a way to reclaim photography’s special link to reality. And they’ll have to do it in a brand-new way.”

Last August, Stephen Mayes repeated many of Plagens’ assertions in a Time article that keeps popping up in my Facebook newsfeed, no doubt because hundreds of my “friends” are photographers. His article ends by conjuring up the old Elvis meme: “It’s very far from dead but it’s definitely left the building.” Which means, all you losers waiting for an encore should go home because the show is over. It has moved on to a new venue.

The argument for the death of photography generally revolves around how technology has stripped the medium of its claim to veracity. Never mind that photographic reality has since its inception held a tenuous grip on reality — despite the faith placed in it. Mayes believes that the nature of digital capture is fundamentally different from lens based imagery, and touts the infinite arrangeability of pixels as a transformative phenomenon.

No doubt, of course, technology has changed the medium, but Mayes flails about trying to describe what that change might look like. Having just drowned in MoMA’s inchoate “Ocean of Images,” the latest installment of the museum’s New Photography series, I can only conclude that no one seems to know where things are, much less where things are going.

Arrangements of digital data in the post internet image vortex. That’s where we are, apparently.

Lauder4-jumbo
“THE VIOLIN (MOZART/KUBELICK)”
Georges Braque, 1912

There is one paragraph of Mayes’s article in particular that illustrates where his argument about photography goes wrong. He compares the present image revolution as comparable to the period when Picasso, and the other Cubists, deconstructed the traditional way of seeing, which forever transformed the nature of representation. Cubism was definitely a transformative movement in the history of art, but it did not kill off painting.

True, critics have called painting dead, too. And for quite a while, it appeared that the march of art history was essentially reductive — from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism to the grave. But lo and behold, painters have continued to paint, and the medium remains alive and well within the multiplicity of ways that artists approach the task of making art — of expressing the nature of human existence — in the age of image capture.

Photography, and its tenuous tether to reality, will continue to be important to culture, as is music, film, and literature. The digital revolution will not render these things irrelevant. The act of observation, of bearing witness, will not become less important — it may in fact become more important as we increasingly live in a world alternating between the real and the virtually real. Sometimes, going to contemporary photo exhibitions is like experiencing one bad Holodeck adventure after another. I’m mean come on, let’s get real.

Here is a comprehensive list of articles on “painting is dead” vs. “painting is back.” One could easily do a similar list about photography. Actually, I think it’s the “such and such is dead” paradigm that is dead.

New York/On the Bowery

e4th_1977
East 4th Street and the Bowery, 1977 — © Brian Rose

In 1977 I was fully engaged in shooting color, and although I still had a black and white lab set up in my tiny East 4th Street apartment, once I began making color prints, I took down my lab and never looked back. My early color work tended toward spontaneous quick grabs of things seen while going about my business. The picture above was taken while making the three block walk to school just up the Bowery to Cooper Square.

There was a Shell station on the corner of East 4th and the Bowery, and I used to walk cater-corner across it. I came upon a family dressed in colorful plaids and stripes moving in a little group, and photographed them compressed against several other people passing by, or filling up at the gas pump. The low winter sun cast a shadow of the gas station sign against the moving mingling of coats, and that was enough to make a photograph. It was about a moment more than about place — about phenomena more than information — although one may take note of the Mercedes filling up at the pump, or the fact that gas was 75 cents a gallon. You can tell it’s New York only because of the tenements glimpsed in the rear. It’s a cool picture — a keeper.

e4th_1980
East 4th Street and the Bowery, 1980– © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

Three years later, standing in almost the same spot, I was onto something else all together. I had assimilated my instincts for formal elements into a carefully considered investigation of place, a documentation of the Lower East Side made in collaboration with Edward Fausty. In this picture, visual anecdotes are still present — the little knot of kids in the background, the reflection in the pool of water — but instead of chasing after them, I am allowing these moments to play out within a broader scene.

In the first image I am following my instincts and showing off (a little bit) my visual chops with the camera. In the seond image I am trusting my instincts to show rather than tell — and I am relying on the viewer to bring something to the process. In a sense, asking the viewer to look with me at this place and to discover its multi-layered details.

Interestingly, you might notice that the gas station has closed. The pavement has been torn up, and dirt and rubble have accumulated. There are abandoned cars strewn about, and the kids are hanging out in the middle of the street oblivious to traffic.The door to the apartment building at right stands open to anyone off the street to enter. In 1980, when this picture was taken, New York was still in economic free fall. Eventually, a subsidized housing project for seniors rose on this lot. A drably monolithic box of good intentions, it’s still there today.

New York/On the Bowery

bowery4th
The Bowery near East 4th Street, 1980 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

When I moved to New York in 1977, I lived on East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue. It was a relatively stable block compared to East 3rd, which was the location of a large homeless shelter with dozens of derelict men milling about in the street much of the day. The picture above was taken between 3rd and 4th Streets on he Bowery. Why it didn’t make it in my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side I can’t explain. Things fall through the cracks.

The buildings in the photograph are still there, relatively unchanged, but the facades have been cleaned up, and just to the right, there is a shiny new apartment tower with a 7-Eleven in the storefront. Why anyone goes there I can’t imagine since there are any number of better stocked bodegas and delis nearby. I guess the Bowery is 7-Eleven’s idea of a flagship location. It was a pretty rough scene in those days, and I have no intention of romanticizing its gritty authenticity. It certainly was authentic — and they were not serving Slurpees.

It was also a time of great creativity. CBGB was in the next block with the usual gaggle of black jacketed musicians out front, and lots of artists occupied lofts in or near the Bowery, the legendary end-of-the world skid row of New York. The apocalyptic nature of the neighborhood was both a scourge and an inspiration — at least it was for me. I wrote songs about the place, and of course, I photographed it.

rose_1980
Brian Rose in 1980 — © Alex Harsley
Masking tape on camera to make it look less attractive to potential muggers.

The reality, however, looking at the photograph of myself above, is that we artists and musicians were to a great extent middle and upper middle class expats from the suburbs, products of America’s finest schools — and white. I was going to Cooper Union. Free tuition notwithstanding, it was an elite place, and you didn’t stumble in by accident. A recent article in Artnet News postulates that most successful artists come from relatively privileged backgrounds, and certainly, from my perspective, that is absolutely true. The starving artist is largely a myth, though no doubt there are easier and more reliable ways to make a living. And the other reality is that most artists are not doing fine art, either by necessity or by choice. They are in media, design, illustration, branding, advertising, commercial photography and film, etc. New York is full of these jobs — more now than ever.

Going back to the Bowery and the Lower East Side of the 70s and 80s — art was not so much born out of the decay and poverty of the neighborhood, as it was the place we chose to make art, to reinvent ourselves, to run away from mom and dad, and for many, to waste time. It was cool, and a little dangerous. It helped that it was cheap — my parents had basically cut me off financially — and I often got by on pizza slices and falafel. When I graduated from Cooper, debt free, I began photographing the Lower East Side. But 4×5 film was bloody expensive, and I struggled to complete the project. One day, however, a check arrived in the mail — for $9,000 — which (looking it up) would be worth over $27,000 in today’s dollars. A relative had died and left me the money. It saved the day, and made the LES project a success. There was also a grant from New York State, and the Seagram Corporation bought a dozen prints for what would eventually become the collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The print sale happened because of a connection made at Cooper Union.

There’s nothing wrong with sudden windfalls or connections made in school, but let’s put aside the idea that artists are impoverished denizens of rotting neighborhoods. That’s not to say that gentrification has no impact on artists who need workspace to paint or create installations. It does. The truth is, however, that artists are entrepreneurs who calculate profits and expenses like everyone else — who network and negotiate — who create works that are often very expensive to produce. It helps to start with some money, and success breeds more success, fairly or not.

Do I still believe that art can express the highest aspirations of humanity? The deepest emotions? Can it still address the social and political issues of the day? Yes. That’s why I started, and why I’m still doing it.

But now, on to my next Kickstarter campaign.