Category Archives: Photographers/Photography

New York/Metamorphosis


Holiday Price Cut! 

Metamorphosis is available for $50 through the holidays. The quintessential gift book about New York City — a stunning, and perhaps, sobering look at the change that has swept over Manhattan in recent years. Desolate streets of the former meat market that now bustle with shoppers and tourists.

Jeremiah Moss writes in his vivid and classic introduction:

Those of us who remember, who dream that gorgeously decaying world as it existed right up to the end of the last century, might sometimes wonder if we were imagining it. The shells remain, but the guts have all gone. Meat on hooks, libertines in leather, sex-shifters, artists, poets, the indescribable stink of it all, that mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful (to crib e.e. cummings) underbelly of the old New York—was it all a collective hallucination? Was it ever real? The bewildering change happened in a blink. Thankfully, Brian Rose was there, in reality, with his camera. In Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District he gives us the stunning evidence to prove that the old world wasn’t just a dream.

New York/Queens

Borden Avenue under the Long Island Expressway (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A ghostly image of the Twin Towers in Queens. I did this picture a number of weeks ago, and posted a similar digital image from my point and shoot. This is the 4×5 film version, reduced from a hi res scan of about 700 MBs. The context is hard to grasp from this frame, but the elevated Long Island Expressway was directly above my camera position, and a steady flow of heavy trucks rumbled in front of me. I knew what time to be there for the raking early morning sunlight — there was only an hour of sun each day on the slightly northeast facing facade earlier in the fall. And I didn’t try to do anything fancy.

I’m working on my book, WTC, which will tell the story of the World Trade Center from about 1977 to the present. One section will be comprised of vernacular images of the Twin Towers like the one above. The recent events in Paris (and elsewhere) gives this book project a certain urgency, not that I have any solutions to offer for religious violence or the hyper anxiety currently on display by politicians. This book is offered as an antidote to some of that toxcitity. Stay tuned for further updates.

New York/Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

It has been 16 months since my book Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013 was published, and there are now about 250 books left of the print run of a thousand. Based on my experience with Time and Space on the Lower East Side, I expect it to sell out by the two year mark. I am now working on a third New York themed book, WTC, which will be a visual chronicle of the World Trade Center from 1977 to the present. Doing these books has become an important component of my career, and it has greatly extended my reach as a photographer. The books haven’t made me rich, but I have not lost money on them, which is saying something, considering how much established publishers have pulled back from fine art photography books.

I am doing a book event next week sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation at the Hudson Library located on Leroy Street. I will be there with a number of other photographers and authors to present and sell our books, all of which have something to do with Greenwich Village. It would be great to see you there!

Register for the event here.


From the GVSHP website:

A Book Fair with authors and their books about the Village

Tuesday, November 17
6:30 – 8:00 P.M.
Free; reservations required
Hudson Park Library, 66 Leroy Street, between 7th Avenue South and Hudson Street
[This venue is NOT wheelchair accessible.]

Together in one room, we are happy to assemble a collection of diverse books about the history, architecture, people, and culture of the Greenwich Village area, so you can get a head start on your holiday shopping. Or you may want to buy them all for yourself!

Authors Robert Herman (The New Yorkers), Lynn Robin and Francis Morrone (Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes), James & Karla Murray (STORE FRONT and NEW YORK NIGHTS), Janko Puls (Point of View New York City), Brian Rose (Metamorphosis), Ellen Shumsky (Decade of Progress 1968-1978), and Robin Shulman (Eat the City) will be on hand to sign copies of the books you purchase. What great gifts these will make, and all in one room!

Register for the event here.

New York/Salt Shed

I can remember back in the 90s when it seemed that New York had become an architectural backwater. I was living in Amsterdam, and a Dutch planner friend, about to leave for a trip to New York, asked what interesting new buildings to look for. I was momentarily silent — nothing immediately came to mind. I ended up recommending a few contextually sensitive projects that were admirable if not exactly innovative.

Innovation is not everything, in architecture or in other fields, but the lack of it in the 90s suggested a city treading water creatively. That sense of stasis is long gone for a variety of complex reasons — the post 9/11 vitality of the city is an area rich for exploration by journalists and social scientists. I am neither of those. But I am a photographer of the urban landscape, and there is much to observe in the swift rapids of the present.

Travel wide 4×5 camera with film holder — © Brian Rose

Architecture can be dramatic or prosaic, showy or utilitarian, but usually not both simultaneously. Let me tell you about a salt shed in lower Manhattan on Canal Street. I had just gotten a new camera to play with — a hand holdable 4×5 camera designed by a couple of guys in Chicago funded by a Kickstarter campaign. As small as a DSLR and half as light. I decided to take it out for a spin to see how it would work for me photographing a building. My wife works in the Hudson Square area, the old printing district west of Soho, and she suggested I take a look at the new Spring Street salt shed designed by Dattner Architects, a New York based architectural firm.

It is just that. A shed meant for storing the stuff used to melt ice and snow on the streets of the city. But instead of the usual metallic tent-like structure, there is, here, a multi-facetted shard of concrete looking very much like a salt crystal, or at least that’s what two different sanitation workers passing by told me while I was taking pictures. And it has walls three feet thick. They loved it.

Here it is:

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose



New York/Blue Dress

Like practically everyone in the world attached to the internet, I’ve been perplexed by the conundrum of the blue and black (or white and gold) dress. No, I can’t solve the puzzle, nor explain things from a scientific perspective. However, the subjective nature of color is something I am acutely aware of — it can be baffling when you discover that an image you’ve worked on assiduously one day, looks wrong when you come back to it the next day. There is no doubt a psychological component to the perception of color.

Original photograph

So, the dress. My son showed it to me first, and I saw it immediately as blue and black, which, it turns out, are the actual colors of the physical dress. However, my son and my wife both saw the dress as white and gold. We did not have a family meltdown, but the discussion was lively. Since then, I’ve read a number of articles explaining the phenomenon. But none of them, Wired and Scientific American included, are correct.

Process of elimination. Scientific American seems to think it has to do with all the different screens and devices with widely varied color balances. That’s pretty easy to shoot down when you have, as in our case, three family members all looking at the same screen and two seeing a different color dress. It’s not the screen.

Wired seems to think it has to do with color constancy and they provide a couple of examples of how the brain is fooled into seeing colors differently based on context. A simple example is shown below. The center blue squares appear different because of the lighter or darker blues surrounding them. The problem with this explanation is that almost everyone sees this phenomenon the same way — unlike the dress where people see two widely divergent color schemes. It’s not color constancy.

Example of color constancy

Some people have written about the bright background fooling the eye in some way, so I cropped out the background and showed it to my white and gold family members. They still saw white and gold. It was not the background.

Background fill using Photoshop sample of the blue of the dress

I then selected the blue of the dress in Photoshop and replaced the background with that blue. See above. Some experts have suggested that different people have different numbers of blue sensitive cones in their eyes and therefore are better able to distinguish blue. My wife and son now saw a white and gold dress against a blue background! It’s not the cones.

My son suggested that we print the images on paper and compare them with viewing on a backlit and luminous computer screen. I printed the original image and my blue background image, and my family still saw the dress as white and gold. Again, it has nothing to do with the screen.

Setting white point of the image to the blue of the dress

I then opened “curves” in Photoshop and designated the blue of the dress as the white point of the image. Presto! The dress became white and the black trim became gold. But the blue background also became close to white. My family was seeing a white and gold dress on a very blue background. Mmm. I had been thinking that it had to do with a different perception of color balance, but that should affect the blue throughout the image, not just the dress. It is not just white point and color balance.

Clearly, the white/gold phenomenon is occurring only with the dress itself. It’s a low contrast image, hazy, with muddied and mottled blacks and a relatively unsaturated blue color. There’s a warmish light hitting the dress, which further distorts the color relationships. And the blue and black of the dress are not solid RGB color like my Photoshop background. My son, however, says he sees a cooler. bluish light hitting the dress, while I see a warmer light coming from the right, particularly visible in the blacks. There’s obviously some kind of psychophysical aspect to what is going on.

That’s as far as I can go with it. As Republicans are fond of saying when challenged on the veracity of global warming, “I’m not a scientist.” I am convinced, however, that what we are seeing here is explainable, but perhaps falling into an area of visual perception not well understood. Certainly, the answers offered so far by the experts miss the mark.

Now enough about the damn dress!





New York/No Such Thing As Was


An interview in Joe Bonomo’s blog No Such Thing As Was.

I want to engage and provoke, but not preach. I want people to overlay their own mental maps of the city onto mine, and in the process look at things differently, see things freshly, re-examine their relationship to the familiar. The story in these pictures is yours as much as it is mine.



New York/Chelsea Art Walk


I will be at Dillon Gallery for the Chelsea Art Walk from 5 – 8pm this evening, July 24. My new book, Metamorphosis, will be available for purchase and signing. If you missed the opening a week ago, It’s your second chance. Hope to see you there.

Dillon Gallery
555 West 25th Street
(between 10th and 11th Avenues)


New York/4th of July

he Brooklyn Bridge, 100th anniversary, 1983 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Happy Independence Day!

After a number of years, the fireworks return to the East River. The above photo is a reprise of one of my “best hits.” A picture taken in 1983 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge. Thanks to a connection to the developer of the South Street Seaport, I had a spot among the rocks and sand at the edge of the river. There were a few other photographers around, but I was the only one crazy enough to shoot with a 4×5 view camera. And unlike the others, I used a wide angle lens to take in the entire scene.

Fortunately, it was not too windy, and I tried about a dozen wildly varied exposures. Because of the calm, smoke hung low in the air, and the second tower of the bridge is barely visible in my photograph. Remarkably, the negative is razor sharp without the slightest camera shake. It makes a great large print.

In photographing New York, one is frequently confronted with world famous icons — the bridges, skyscrapers, monuments. It’s all been done. But rather than worry about it, I just treat everything equally, seen as any pedestrian might see it. The trick sometimes is not about framing the extraordinary thing, but rather treating the extraordinary as a normal and unprivileged part of the landscape.

And then add fireworks!


New York/911 Museum

911faces911 Museum memorial wall — © Brian Rose

I visited the 911 Memorial Museum on Monday as an invited guest — the museum is interested in acquiring some of my photographs of the World Trade Center taken over the years. I am working on a book based on those images. A book that I hope will serve as an antidote to the poisoned politics surrounding the subject of 911 — and a book that will speak, in particular, to New Yorkers.


I went with my 15 year old son Brendan and my wife Renee. He was three back then, and does not remember the event with any specificity, though a year later, he gave me a Father’s Day gift of a drawing of the Twin Towers and with me and my camera. It’s my most cherished keepsake.

I was happy to see that the fencing around the memorial fountains and plaza had been partially removed, and it’s now possible to walk freely in and out. It will become even more accessible once the construction of One World Trade and the transportation center is completed. The museum is entered through a modestly scaled building on the plaza, and then one descends below ground.

It was a somber crowd. Lots of people in suits, and others in jackets and caps with NYPD or FDNY insignia. As much as I wanted my son to see the museum, I had misgivings about going myself. But I knew this was a special opportunity to see it before the hordes of tourists arrived.

911 Museum — © Brian Rose

I expected the visit to be an emotional experience, but I was strangely unmoved. The main space with the exposed slurry wall of the original WTC foundations is impressive and well done. It has grandeur and posses an elegiac atmosphere. But the hall containing photographs of the victims made me uncomfortable. The colorful, mostly smiling faces, of the deceased seemed almost lurid to me. And immediately adjacent was a multi-media presentation about the rebuilding of the WTC site with faux inspiring music and gratuitous optimism.

The main exhibition located directly underneath one of the tower footprints is meticulously done, and it’s hard to find fault with the attention to detail and comprehensiveness. But as I began winding my way through the images and artifacts, I quickly tired, overwhelmed by the barrage of information presented. Maybe it will be useful to future generations when the event itself becomes distant and abstract. But to one who lived through it, I do not want or need this. I found myself sitting on a bench beneath a gigantic video screen showing the collapse of one of the towers running on a loop over and over. I had to get out of there.

unionsquare2001_lgUnion Square Park impromptu memorial, September 2001 — © Brian Rose

The biggest problem with the 911 Memorial Museum is that it tries to be both — memorial and museum. They are not compatible purposes, and it was a mistake to merge them. The gift shop would not be a problem were it serving only a museum. But it seems wrong because it sits in the middle of what is also a memorial — one that even houses the remains of unidentified 911 victims. Were it only a museum, the $24 admission charge would be high for many people, like MoMA or the Metropolitan, annoying, but acceptable I suppose. As a memorial, however, the admission charge is disrespectful to us all, even if the victim’s families and rescuers get in free. Sadly, I do not think many New Yorkers will visit.


New York/Meatpacking District


An article in Société Perrier about my upcoming book Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013. Written by Jim Allen who is branching out a bit from his usual music beat. 

I approved the final proof of the cover last Tuesday, and expect to have books in a few weeks. Unfortunately, it will be a small shipment sent by air. The rest of the books will travel by boat from Hong Kong, and will take a number of weeks. So, we’re still looking at July for the release of the book.



New York/Finding Vivian Maier

maier_libertyPhotograph by Vivian Maier — From Liberty Island looking toward Ellis Island

I saw the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” the other day at the IFC theater on Sixth Avenue. It’s reminiscent of “Searching for Sugarman,” the film about the singer-songwriter Rodriguez, who made a couple of commercially unsuccessful albums in the 1960s and then essentially vanished — vanished at least everywhere except South Africa where his music was circulated like samizdat during the struggle against apartheid. In both films, the central artist is a mystery, known only through the discovery, or rediscovery, of his or her work.

Finding Vivian Maier tells the story of how John Maloof became the custodian of her negatives, and how he assiduously sought to find out who she was and what her motives were as a photographer. As is well known at this point, Maier made her photographs in isolation, never showed them to anyone, and died completely unknown aside from the various families she worked for as a nanny over many decades. Although the film does show a number of her images, and photographers Mary Ellen Mark and Joel Meyerowitz speak eloquently about the quality of her work, most of the movie focuses on interviews with her “families.” Even Phil Donohue, the Chicago based talk show host, was a Maier client early in his career. All were aware of her photographic obsession — her dangling Rolleiflex — which is not a snap shooter’s camera, but none ever saw her pictures, or for that matter, showed an interest in seeing them.

Various questions are posed in the film. Why didn’t she make any attempt at getting her work seen? Was she satisfied simply making pictures for herself? Would she have approved of the attention her work is now getting? To most of us, it is all hard to fathom, and the mysterious nature of Vivian Maier only adds to the almost cultish attraction to her and her work.

maier_yardUntitled by Vivian Maier

Looking at her photographs, it is striking how many self-portraits she did, and how carefully staged they were. There is even now a book of them. She was clearly a self-aware individual on a serious mission. She collected newspapers and magazines and photographed the headlines. She visited museums. She referred to herself as a spy. But despite this engagement with the world around her, she remained essentially separate, an observer. There was a solipsistic nature to her photographic endeavor, not unlike Diane Arbus, whose images were as much about her interior psyche as the outside world.

As a photographer, I am familiar with the territory — the sense of solitude that comes with being the observer. The internal dialogue that sometimes acts as surrogate for social interraction. I’ve taken thousands and thousands of pictures, and relatively few have been seen or exhibited. There have been long dry spells with little attention, but I’ve continued to work doggedly. It is easy for me to understand Maier’s commitment to her work.

But of course, that’s where the comparison ends. I have a family. I work for clients. I teach. I publish books. The point I’m trying to make, however, is that her strangeness as a person — and she was an extreme eccentric — and became more so late in her life, should not be allowed to distort our appreciation of her visual intelligence, nor should it  be used to explain away her apparent lack of ambition. To my eye, she was as ambitious as they come as a photographer. And I have no doubt had someone discovered her work before her death, that she would have been fine with museum and gallery exhibitions of it. She just didn’t seek it.

The truth is that once the pictures have been made — the electricity of those split second moments passed — the prints on the wall feel oddly distant, almost like the work of someone else. You’re grateful for the kudos, and the money, if you’re so fortunate. For Vivian Maier, living in her relatively self-contained world, talking to herself, repeatedly documenting her presence in the street — saying I was there — that was enough. Like Fred Herzog, the Vancouver based photographer, who I wrote about recently, you do the work regardless of the outcome. Vivian Maier knew she was good. It was her secret, her validation. That’s all we need to know.







New York/ICP Class


I will be teaching a class at ICP this spring called Photographing New York: The Lower East Side. Each student will photograph some aspect of the neighborhood, and the class will put together a book using Blurb, the print on demand web platform. It’s a lot of fun, for me and the students, but it’s also a pretty challenging assignment because it all happens in a relatively short period of time. For those who are not used to making photographs on a deadline, it can be quite a shock. And then a book has to be laid out and printed in time for the last class.

Both times I’ve taught the class it has been nerve wracking, but then, exhilarating, once the finished book was in hand. It’s a little bit like I what I just did in putting together my book on the Meatpacking District. It all came together in a matter of months — photography, image sequencing, and book design. If you’re up for it, there are still spots open in the class. Just go the ICP education website and sign up. I’d love to have you.

ICP Education






New York/Spirit of Marville

marville_05Place Saint-André-des-Arts, c. 1865 — Charles Marville

I went to the Metropolitan Museum last weekend to see the Charles Marville show, the photographer who documented Paris during the time of urban planner Baron George-Eugène Haussmann. Haussmann, under the supervision of Napoleon III, razed large sections of the old city in order to create the grand boulevards and monumental squares and traffic circles we associate with contemporary Paris. Photography was still new — only two decades old — when Marville was commissioned to photograph the transformation of Paris. And today, 180 years since the invention of photography, the documentation of the urban environment remains an essential and vital focus of the medium.

marville_08Boulevard Henri IV (de la rue de Sully) (fourth arrondissement), c. 1877 — Charles Marville

I was familiar with Marville prior to seeing the exhibition, but not in great depth. The inspirational touchstone for me was always Eugène Atget, who also photographed Paris with a large format camera. I have always found Atget’s work central to my understanding of what documentation could be — that even the most clear-eyed description of place can evoke emotion and mystery. Marville, however, is Atget’s immediate predecessor, and as such, progenitor to all of us who make architecture and the urban landscape our subject.

Entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts, c. 1870 — Charles Marville

To Marville and his contemporary audience, I can imagine that everything recorded by the camera was new and wondrous. The organized elegance of Marville’s compositions belies his training as an artist, and appears almost modern to our eyes. But Marville was not employing today’s self-conscious visual strategies. He was a pioneer discovering the medium of photography while simultaneously carrying out his commission to photograph the changing visage of Paris. It was the beginning of a long violent transfiguration initiated by Haussmann, the great destroyer and creator of the City of Lights. And indeed, some of Marville’s most architecturally precise images show the newly designed gas lamps that brought that light into the heart of the formerly dark medieval city.

marville_09Top of the Rue Champlain, 1877-78 — Charles Marville

Old Paris is gone (no human heart

changes half so fast as a city’s face)…
There used to be a poultry market here,
and one cold morning… I saw

a swan that had broken out of its cage,
webbed feet clumsy on the cobblestones,
white feathers dragging in the uneven ruts,
and obstinately pecking at the drains…

Paris changes . . . but in sadness like mine
nothing stirs—new buildings, old
neighbourhoods turn to allegory,
and memories weigh more than stone 

A translation of The Swan by Charles Beaudelaire

In the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman writes about Paris: “An architecturally harmonious capital rose from the rubble, a city of spectacle, built for a new, modern economy, but homogeneous and no longer welcoming to many of the poor souls who had helped make the place run and had always been deep in its cultural lifeblood.”

Some of the same dynamic is taking place in New York City, though without the wholesale physical destruction of Haussmann or New York’s own Robert Moses, who leveled neighborhoods to create his parks and parkways. But what has happened in Manhattan represents a dramatic shift of capital back to the center city from the periphery where it fled in the ’60s and ’70s, and Manhattan has increasingly become a safe parking place for vast sums of foreign money. No, there were no visionary utopians like Haussmann or Moses this time, but there was Michael Bloomberg, businessman extraordinaire, who took up the reins of a city reeling from the devastation of 911 and set the city on its present track.

marville_07Drilling of the Avenue de l’Opéra — Charles Marville

Kimmelman also writes: “I wonder, here in the early third (millennium), whether photographers are now out and about, in the spirit of Marville, documenting 57th Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and East Harlem, Willets Point, Long Island City and Hell’s Kitchen. Big cities change. That’s urban life. But the best cities don’t leave the vulnerable behind.”

At least some photographers are out and about, despite a trend these days toward staged reality and the ultimate myopia of selfies. I’m certainly out and about. And the vulnerable citizens of this ever changing metropolis ride the jammed subways day and night commuting to and from increasingly far flung quarters of a city that still attracts immigrants from around the globe. Where this all leads — all this constant motion — all this restless energy — I have no idea. But the spirit of Marville remains alive among contemporary photographers, and the visual history of these times will be preserved.


New York/Color before Color

herzog-foot-of-main-1968-time-1Foot of Main — by Fred Herzog

A curious thing has happened in the telling of the history of color photography. In recent years, it was discovered that two photographers, Fred Herzog of Vancouver and Saul Leiter of New York, had worked in color long before the familiar names associated with the development of the medium. And their color work was not just a casual sideline to black and white. Both produced extensive bodies of work made over years of time. While I prefer Herzog’s clear topographic style to Leiter’s aqueous street photos, they both did terrific stuff. Why are we only hearing about them now?

saul-leiter-window-1957-snowTwo photographs by Saul Leiter

When I decided to pursue color in the mid-70s, there was no Fred Herzog or Saul Leiter to be found. I was primarily aware of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston–and Joel Meyerowitz who I studied with at Cooper Union. As it turns out, Herzog and Leiter had been shooting color slides for decades, showing them to friends and colleagues, but outside of their immediate circles, they were almost unknown. Herzog was documenting Vancouver, British Columbia, a dynamic, growing city, but until relatively recent times, a provincial town far removed from the East Coast art centers. Leiter was known more for his fashion photography, and as he said, to explain his relatively low profile: “In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined. One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.”

There are many reasons why it took so long for color to arrive to the museums and galleries, but the key thing to understand is that before the 1970s, color printing was problematic. Chromagenic prints (C-prints) were invented by Kodak and brought to the market in 1942. Well into the 70s this material was mostly associated with family snapshots, and as anyone who has looked at old color prints knows, the color faded and the paper yellowed. It was possible to have enlargements made–you could have your local photo finisher make an 8×10 print. But you had no control over the final outcome. For these reasons, early C-prints were not suitable for fine art purposes.

Magazines like National Geographic and Life began to use color in 60s, but they worked directly from slides or large format transparency material. which were made into separations for offset printing. That was the norm for magazines right into the 1980s. When I began photographing architecture around 1982, all my clients still wanted 4×5 transparencies, luminous sheets of film handled like irreplaceable jewels. The impetus for color printing–the kind that went on the walls of galleries came from elsewhere.

To a degree, fine art color printing was born out of the advertising industry. Photographers were shooting color transparencies and the ad agencies had dye transfer prints made, an additive process that involved making color separations and sandwiching them together–much too complicated to get into here–but a method of color printing that provided a great deal of control over the final result, often an intentionally unnatural result for ad purposes. It was a time consuming and expensive process, but worth it to the ad agencies.

At some point, photographers realized that dye transfers were a stable archival material that could be used to make beautiful fine art prints. Joel Meyerowitz, who worked in advertising, made dyes of his early 35mm street photography, and William Eggleston’s prints shown at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976 were dye transfers. Helen Levitt’s color prints were made by Tartaro Color, the leading dye lab in the city. Most of us could not afford to make dye transfers, though I remember one of my fellow students at Cooper Union, whose father worked in the industry, had his slides printed as dye transfers. I was jealous. Eventually, with improvements to C-printing and the advent of ink jet printers, the medium of color photography rapidly expanded in the 1980s.

Things had already begun to improve when I first started color printing in the darkroom at Cooper Union in 1977. I made 11×14 prints in drums, pouring the chemicals in and out by hand, often ending up with green chemical streaks on the paper, which meant starting over again. It was laborious work, but I managed to make about 25 prints for an exhibition in the hallway of the photography department. Since I was shooting 35mm slides–a positive film, and printing on reversal material–I had to have internegatives made from the slides. There were only a few labs in New York City that specialized in that kind of thing, but at least here it was possible. The prints I made back then look pretty bad today. In the early 80s I printed at a rental lab called My Own Color Lab, which gave individuals access to large scale processors used by commercial labs. For a number of years My Own was a Mecca for color photographers and free lance printers, and there I came into contact with people like Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, and Phillip Lorca DiCorcia.

516ef145eee9dphoto_high_8707Main Barber — by Fred Herzog

But if you were Fred Herzog in Vancouver shooting Kodachrome in the 50s, 60s, and 70s there was really no way to make decent exhibition prints. You loaded the slides into a Kodak carrousel tray and projected them just like your neighbors showing their latest vacation snaps. The amazing thing is that Herzog kept at it for decades, all the while eschewing the pictorial cliches of the day, taking a hard look at a beautifully gritty place, a Canadian city both familiar and foreign, full of advertising signs, fin-tailed automobiles, and working class men and women. It’s a remarkable achievement, all done outside of the art world bubble, full of a freshness and sense of discovery so often lacking in the arch and self-conscious product presently displayed in our finest salons.

So, the narrative has changed. Leiter and Herzog were first–but their photographs, 35mm Kodachromes, were mostly unseen–until after the big wave of color photography had crashed ashore establishing a pantheon of art world stars. They eventually received the attention they deserved, but very late. Saul Leiter died last year at the age of 90, and Fred Herzog is now 83.



New York/Greenpoint

lou_reed_adManhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (digital) — © Brian Rose

It’s the end of the year and I’m feeling somewhat wistful. A year of accomplishments — the success of Time and Space on the Lower East Side — my show at Dillon Gallery — the completion of Metamorphosis, my Meatpacking District book to be released this coming summer .  But also a year punctuated by moments of poignancy as is inevitable with the passage of time.

Earlier today I tested out my new camera, a Sigma DP1, a much improved refresh of the somewhat balky second generation of the camera. The former took incredible pictures in ideal light conditions — better than other point and shoots I’ve used. But it was a difficult camera to handle, even for me. Nevertheless, I’ve stuck with it because of its large image sensor size and stripped down design. The new version is better in almost every way, and now produces image files large enough to make decent size prints.

The picture above was made in Greenpoint, Brooklyn while waiting for my family to meet me at a nearby restaurant. I came across one of the ads seen around town with Lou Reed in headphones. I’ve been unsure how I felt about them coming so soon after his death. But the image of Reed is beautiful, and when I came across one of the posters caught in a stream of low winter light, I felt a pang of sadness for the loss of one of rock and roll’s greatest figures.

Yesterday evening I went to see “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese’s latest. I’ve generally been a fan — from his rough and tumble Little Italy films to the magical “Hugo.” But I walked out of this one barely an hour into it. I’ve never been so beat down, so bored, so exhausted by a film. Bah humbug! Happy New Year!


New York/Jumping the Shark

Museum of Modern Art — © Brian Rose

Way back when — the late 70s — I studied with Hans Haacke, the distinguished political/conceptual artist. Although I did not go in that direction as a photographer, it was an important experience for me, and I have believed ever sense, that art should be grounded in historical and political context, that it needs to interact dialectically with the world we live in. This process, to me, does not necessarily resolve the questions surrounding truth and beauty, but it exposes or illuminates the language — visual or textual — that we use when we talk about these ineffable things.

Does this make sense to you? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a little dangerous going down this road, especially a road so well-trodden and rutted as to be, perhaps, irrelevant.

In New Photography 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art we get to go down this and other well-worn paths concerning conceptual/polemical photography. Curator Roxana Marcoci asserts that “there has never been just one type of photography,” as if throwing down a gauntlet. Her show presents a group of photographers who “have redefined photography as a medium of experimentation and intellectual inquiry.” In this show it is not enough to focus attention on individual artists who are attempting to stake out some small scrap of new turf in an already expansive field. No, they must be doing something truly ground breaking, “creatively reassessing the meaning of image-makingtoday.”

Museum of Modern Art text panel

Please read the text panel above. It is, of course, not necessary or desirable to actually see the photographs. The meaning is in the text. Were one to encounter the above guinea pig portraits unburdened of their meaning, one might miss the “historical links to the slave trade,” and one might gaze in bafflement at the “ribbon, string, and Mylar” intended to animate the “deadpan expressions” of these furry rodents.

One might, in all likelihood, not care one way or another about any of these photographs, and move on to other, hopefully more trenchant, examples of social and aesthetic engagement. Say, for instance, the Walker Evans “American Photographs” upstairs in the museum, which still look pretty new 75 years after they were made.

I believe this is one of those moments characterized by the expression “jumping the shark.” In this case guinea pigs.



New York/Interview

betteryBettery Magazine interview

This is an interview with me and my wife Renee Schoonbeek. First time, I think, we’ve been featured together. Bettery Magazine is an initiative of smart, the car company.

Here’s what it says on their “about” page:

Bettery Magazine is an online publication featuring the people, places and ideas that are changing our urban landscapes today. In giving their unique foresights an international stage, Bettery Magazine aims to encourage the creative thinking poised to reshape and revitalize cities around the globe.


New York/Meatpacking District

mp011 14th and Hudson Street, 1985 — © Brian Rose

14and9th14th and Hudson Street, 2013 — © Brian Rose

A few months ago I posted some of my photographs of the Meatpacking District taken in 1985. At that time, the area was desolate by day–the city seemingly abandoned. People have been clamoring for me to do before/afters of the images, and I have more or less decided to go ahead with it, even though it was an approach I largely eschewed when doing Time and Space on the Lower East Side. The changes in that neighborhood were much more complex and deserved a more nuanced investigation. But here in “MePa” the transformation of the streetscape is so gobsmacking that it just seems a necessary thing to do. So, the plan is to repeat about dozen of the images made in ’85, and do various other contemporaneous views as they strike my fancy.

Yesterday, I was on 14th Street with my point-and-shoot camera and made the picture above. Soon, I’ll get out there with my view camera.