My show at Dillon Gallery closes on April 9. Still a few days left to see Time and Space on the Lower East Side.
Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Dillon Gallery — © Brian Rose
It took much of the afternoon Wednesday to lay out the show and get the frames up, but I already had a pretty good idea where I wanted things to go. The opening Thursday evening was well attended, despite wintry weather, and it was great to see lots of old friends and meet new people. Ed Fausty who collaborated on the 1980 pictures was there as was Suzanne Vega, who wrote the foreword of Time and Space along with music friends, Frank Mazzetti and Norman Salant. Bill Diodato, my publisher, was there along with Warren Mason, who designed Time and Space.On the photography side, my friend and mentor, architectural photographer Cervin Robinson was there, and Mark Jenkinson, fellow Cooper Union grad, and Jan Staller, another color photographer who goes back to the late 70s and is still doing strong new work. Very pleased to see Sean Corcoran, the photography curator from the Museum of the City of New York. And it was particularly nice to have my painter friend Tim Raymond down from Buffalo.
I’m leaving out lots of people, but I’m appreciative of everyone who made this a festive occasion on an otherwise “dark and stormy night.” And thanks especially to Valerie Dillon for making it all possible.
Did anyone take pictures? I don’t have a single image from the opening.
Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Dillon Gallery — © Brian Rose
Cooper Union, Foundation Building — © Brian Rose
I have not previously weighed in on the controversy embroiling my alma mater The Cooper Union, one of the most prestigious and historic schools in America. I read the paper, I look at websites, and hear things, but I have no inside track on what is going on. What I do know is troubling, and I believe the school’s viability is in grave danger.
In a nutshell, Cooper was founded by the industrialist Peter Cooper as a school for art, architecture, and engineering that was affordable for all regardless of ability to pay. It was located, appropriately, on the edge of the teaming Lower East Side, and for decades it has been tuition free. One of the few all scholarship institutions of higher learning in the world. Many of its graduates are now leaders in their respective fields–and have a particularly important impact on New York City.
Due to hard economic times, mismanagement, and the growing cost of higher education, Cooper finds itself in financial trouble. The board of trustees is about to make a momentous decision on whether to charge tuition possibly ending the school’s unique charter as stated by Peter Cooper to be “open and free to all.”
With regard to the art school, should the board decide on charging tuition, Cooper will then have to compete head-to-head with several highly esteemed art schools in New York City, as well as many other fine schools around the country. Cooper’s strength has always been the quality of its students–astonishingly bright and talented–the best of the best chosen without regard to ability to pay. Cooper’s facilities, two architecturally outstanding buildings notwithstanding, are meagre compared to other art schools. Cooper, being a small school, has fewer course offerings than others, and its faculty, while outstanding, is equal to those who teach elsewhere, but not necessarily better.
Charging tuition will end the uniqueness of Cooper Union and place the school at a competitive disadvantage. It will no longer be the most sought after art school in the city. The best students will choose schools with more to offer for their money. The money raised from tuition on a mere 1,000 students will not ultimately solve other structural financial problems. A death spiral is possible, if not likely.
A way has to be found forward that will retain Cooper’s unique tuition free status. The principles espoused by Peter Cooper must be reestablished, and the school should embark on new fund raising efforts. Those of us who do not have much money to give, do have our work, which could be leveraged to raise money. The art alumni need to be engaged, not simply asked for pledges. While doing my Kickstarter campaign last year to fund my book, I thought about how Cooper might undertake a similar campaign, except on a much larger scale, using the work of alumni as rewards for donations. Forget phonathons and other outmoded fundraising models.
It’s not just about money–it’s about engagement. A sense of belonging and responsibility. Should the board choose for tuition, many alumni will walk away, and that will be the beginning of the end.
West Street (West Side Highway) and West 10th Street, Greenwich Village — © Brian Rose
Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose
Two random photographs walking around town. A few thoughts about movies and photographs.
There are three movies up for Best Picture in the Academy Awards this weekend that have created a swirl of controversy about truth and the telling of stories based on real events. Lincoln by Steven Spielberg will likely walk away with a ton of awards, especially for the masterful performances of Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones. For me, I was most impressed with the staging, the pre-electric gloom of the interiors, and the overall fidelity to detail in costuming and decor. The movie felt authentic.
Throughout the first 2/3 of the movie I was enthralled and believed that Spielberg had finally reined in the populist pandering that infects pretty much everything he touches. But the final scenes leading to the passing of the 13th amendment featuring buffoonish characters cajoling votes out of fencing sitting congressmen, the comically raucous debate in the House of Representatives, and the overtly telegraphed dramatization of the final vote left me deflated, though I still clung to the earlier positive glow. Since seeing the movie, I found out why these last scenes, the voting segment in particular, rang false. The depiction of this well-documented event was manipulated for dramatic purposes.
And then there’s the kerfuffle over “Lincoln,” which had three historical advisers but still managed to make some historical bloopers. Joe Courtney, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut, recently wrote to Steven Spielberg to complain that “Lincoln” falsely showed two of Connecticut’s House members voting “Nay” against the 13th Amendment for the abolition of slavery.
“They were trying to be meticulously accurate even down to recording the ticking of Abraham Lincoln’s actual pocket watch,” Courtney told me. “So why get a climactic scene so off base?”
The screenwriter Tony Kushner defends the changes this way:
…it is completely acceptable to “manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth. History doesn’t always organize itself according to the rules of drama. It’s ridiculous. It’s like saying that Lincoln didn’t have green socks, he had blue socks.”
The problem is, this easy willingness to distort the facts betrays the thinking that went into the whole enterprise. Small details matter. Maybe not the socks, but the actual votes of congressmen, yes. As Mies van der Rohe, the creator of sublime modernist buildings once noted, “The devil is in the details.”
The other two movies in the discussion are Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the story of the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound, and Argo, the story of the escape of six American diplomats from revolutionary Iran in 1980. Both movies make the pretense of portraying actual events exactly as shown on the screen. In Zero Dark Thirty CIA agents use torture to obtain critical information–it did not happen–and the diplomats in Argo make a wild skin-of-the-teeth getaway in the Tehran airport–it did not happen.
The argument in all three cases is that artistic license allows for embellishment, dramatic manipulation, and even making things out of whole cloth. As Manholo Dargis and A. O. Scott write at the conclusion of their tortured article in the Times:
Given some of the stories that politicians themselves have peddled to the public, including the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, such concern is understandable. It can often seem as if everyone is making stuff up all the time and in such a climate of suspicion and well-earned skepticism — punctuated by “gotcha” moments of scandal and embarrassment — movies are hardly immune.
But invention remains one of the prerogatives of art and it is, after all, the job of writers, directors and actors to invent counterfeit realities. It is unfair to blame filmmakers if we sometimes confuse the real world with its representations. The truth is that we love movies partly because of their lies, beautiful and not. It’s journalists and politicians who owe us the truth.
Sorry guys, but this is not how everyone operates as an artist. What I do as a photographer, for instance, is not a “counterfeit reality.” It may not be reality itself–certainly not–but it is a reflection of reality, one that I take great care in preserving even as I make the critical decisions about where to stand, what to show or not, or how to sequence images. The fact that politicians are routinely lying about things like WMD, that teachers are claiming that creationism shares the same legitimacy as science, that right wingers pretend that President Obama is a Kenyan, that paranoid leftists blame the World Trade Center destruction on a U.S. government conspiracy, is exactly the point. We are a society playing fast and loose with the facts, and artists are as culpable as anyone else.
There are lines that need to be drawn and redrawn, despite constantly shifting ground. It is one thing to interpret historic events, to fill in the blanks between things that are known, to speculate on what might have happened when the facts are sketchy. It is another to willfully ignore the tangible, the provable, to fail to see the infrastructure of history and respect the body of knowledge that supports society. It was said that the Bush administration “fixed the facts around the policy” with regard to the war in Iraq. Artists do the same all the time without, of course, the life or death ramifications. Spielberg and Kushner had a climactic scene to their movie, the vote on the 13th amendment. They determined what dramatic sequence of events worked best “artistically,” and then fixed the facts around the policy.
I know it’s just movies, but I take this stuff seriously.
Comparing two tests before making a 50×62 inch print — © Brian Rose
I have completed printing for my upcoming show at Dillon Gallery in New York City. The opening is March 7, and I’ll be posting a formal invitation soon. Yesterday I spent about eight hours in the lab shepherding my digital files through the process of printing them on paper. Although many photographers now use inkjet printers, I still find the look and feel of c-prints preferable for my work. The beauty of older analog color prints was the naturalistic color and slight softness in rendering light and detail. So much of what you see these days in galleries and museums is over saturated, over contrasty, and over sharpened–brittle. Photoshop is the most wondrous of programs, but it is also a Pandora’s box, and no matter what kind of print you make, digital c or inkjet, the temptation is always there to do too much.
Most of my project work–fine art photography–I continue to use 4×5 film. There may come a day when I switch over to digital, but we’re not quite there yet. In this case, with the Lower East Side work, it is especially nice to place images next to each other taken 30 years apart all made on essentially the same material. The big difference now is that I scan everything, both old and new, and do all the color correcting in Photoshop. Analog projection printing was generally limited to making global corrections, like adding or subtracting yellow from the mix. One worked step by step gradually finding a color balance that felt natural, had a sense of depth, that felt clean, unmasked. Many negatives, however, presented challenges and I was never wholly satisfied with the results. Photoshop provides tremendous control of every aspect of the image, and I’m not talking about the kind of manipulation that everyone is familiar with. I’m talking about the ability to make subtle, carefully modulated changes that enhance the overall quality of the image. Once you’ve become proficient in Photoshop, there’s little nostalgia for the old analog method.
One of the recent images from Times and Space on the Lower East Side coming off the machine — © Brian Rose
In the case of the images I did with Ed Fausty in 1980, it isn’t possible to make decent analog prints, even if I wanted to. The different layers in the film emulsion have faded or shifted, and the color balance has been has been permanently thrown off. I tried making analog prints from the old negatives some years ago, but gave up after a few hours of futility. Digital has essentially saved these images. It can be a lot of work–hours, even days–coaxing the color out of the old negatives. The results, however, are often amazing–prints that are far better than the original prints.
Nowadays you are not really making the image in the darkroom as before. Most of the work is done in Photoshop, and lab is the final step. Typically, I bring my digital files on a flash drive, copy them onto the server at the lab, look at the images on their setup to see if looks much different than my studio computer. Usually, the difference is minimal, and one or two sets of small test prints are all that is needed before going to the full size prints. In this case, I am making 50×62 and 20×25 inch prints.
Orchard Street in 1980 coming off the machine at Beth Schiffer Labs in lower Manhattan — © Brian Rose
There will be 25 prints in the show at Dillon, about half of them in the size seen above. Not having printed this large before, it was pretty awesome seeing the images roll off of machine. There is a tendency these days to print too large–mostly for market reasons rather than aesthetic–but these images were made in 4×5 for the monumentality that the format brought to the subject. It was one of my goals when undertaking the Lower East Side Project, to describe, amplify, and preserve for all time the streets and architecture of the place. Printing this size achieves that original goal. Ed and I made several large prints–30×40 inches–in 1981 when we exhibited the work at the Henry Street Settlement. It was incredibly impressive then to see color prints of that size. It’s more routine now. But I think these images will impress nevertheless.
A very nice piece written by Eric Walstedt about my upcoming show at the Dillon Gallery. Eric, the director of the gallery, lived on the Lower East Side in 1980 when I began photographing the neighborhood with Ed Fausty.
The exhibition will feature about 25 images from Time and Space on the Lower East Side with half of them printed five feet across. The images, which were made with a 4×5 view camera, are stunning at that size. The show will open on March 7, so save the date. More details soon.
Brooklyn Bridge 1980 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty
Time and Space on the Lower East Side came out near the end of May 2012. Deciding to do the book with a small independent publisher–after several rejections by established companies–was a big step. Raising money via Kickstarter was also a major undertaking, but in the end it not only helped financially, but created a core constituency for the book. Above all, I am thankful to Bill Diodato, who created Golden Section Publishers to do books like mine that, otherwise, might not find a way out into the world. Let’s face it, getting one’s work before the public is an essential part of being an artist. And in that regard I have not always been successful.
My songwriter friend Jack Hardy, used to criticize, if not belittle, those who strove for a larger audience or worked to build commercial standing–he would say that the work was all that mattered, and everything else would take care of itself. Or not, as I have discovered after years of doing what amounts to a lot of work. Part of the problem was that I never had enough money to shift the starting line forward, which is how many people seemingly got off the blocks early. I’ve had to work slowly, deliberately, sometimes in smaller bites, building projects that by accretion became almost epic in scale like the Lower East Side project or my photographs of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. Ultimately, maybe Jack was right. The work is the thing. I just had to get out and get the ball rolling.
So, I’m not here to complain as we enter 2013. Time and Space has been a success. There are now fewer than 500 books left of the 1,100 printed. I’m already beginning to plan a follow-up, a book about the World Trade Center with pictures from 1978 to the present. And I’m pleased to announce that Time and Space on the Lower East Side will be given a major exhibition at the Dillon Gallery located in the Chelsea art district of New York. The opening is set for March 7, more details to follow soon.
Happy New Year!
Art Miami installation, the Dillon Gallery
Three of my Lower East Side photographs from 1980 (made with Ed Fausty) are being exhibited at Art Miami, one of the big art fairs presently going on in the Miami area. I am being represented by the Dillon Gallery, a New York, Chelsea gallery. I just heard that we sold a print of East 4th Street, the image on the left, above. It’s hard to tell from the snapshot, but the prints are approximately 50×62 inches, and look really terrific at that size. Very pleased, and hoping this leads to more good things.
Continuing my series of pictures taken under and nearby the Manhattan Bridge. Made in conjunction with my ICP class, Photographing New York: the Lower East Side.
Cherry Street, under the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose
Monroe Street — © Brian Rose
Monroe Street — © Brian Rose
Forsyth Street – © Brian Rose
Forsyth Street — © Brian Rose
Canal Street, approach to the Manhattan Bridge — © Brian Rose
Excerpts of my slide talk and discussion at Van Alen Books with Sean Corcoran, photo curator of the Museum of the City of New York.
On the bus, the Lower East Side — © Brian Rose
The event at Van Alen Books went well on Friday evening. A small crowd, but a very cool place, where the tiered levels normally used to display books, turns into seating space. I did a slide presentation of Time and Space on the Lower East Side and then engaged in conversation with Sean Corcoran, photography curator of the Museum of the City of New York. I’d like to thank the folks at Van Alen for having me, and Sean for his participation.
Guggenheim Museum lounge — © Brian Rose
A few thoughts on the Rineke Dijkstra retrospective that closes today at the Guggenheim. I’ve seen enough, or rather, I’ve seen too much. I’m not sure whose fault this is: the art market, the art media, or our cultural obsession with celebrity. At some point the person and their work becomes objectified to such an extent that whatever originality there was, whatever spark of discovery was once seized upon, now seems static and neutered.
Part of the problem for me may be the inherently totemic nature of Dijktra’s portraits along with the serial nature of much of her work. They are a bit like the Bechers’ images of building types in their frontal, decontextualized isolation of the subject. Like the Bechers work, however brilliant, I yearn to be set free. To return to the world with all its messiness, it’s complexity, it’s overlapping chaotic craziness, a world to be navigated through, a world comprised of multiple view-points.
I was happy to see Dijkstra’s video piece made in two techno clubs in the 1990s. I hadn’t seen it before, which helped, and I like the slightly less hermetic representation of the infinitely awkward young people thrust before the camera. They are human specimens, momentarily plucked from their environment, still squirming, alive. Am I comfortable with this kind of biology experiment? No. But comfort is, perhaps, beside the point, whether we’re talking about Arbus, Mapplethorpe, Ruff, Dijkstra, or a host of other photographers.
But I can’t look at Dijkstra any more. Maybe it’s my fault, and I will get over it. There was a time I couldn’t listen to Bob Dylan any more, but that passed. Do I care any longer that her portraits look like Botticelli or Dutch masters? No. Everyone from Sherman to Goldin to Wall seem to be obsessed with making photography look more like art–real art–than the recalcitrant stepchild photography has always been. There’s something tiresome going on here, no matter how talented these artist/photographers are.
So, I’ve seen the Dijkstra (mid-career) retrospective–she’s only 53 with lots more to do I’m sure–and have the book. But I’ll be taking a break from this work for a while.
Delancey and Clinton Street — © Brian Rose
On Saturday I went to the NY Art Book Fair at PS 1 in Queens. All kinds of art publishers from big to small, serious to silly, or both simultaneously. The museum was jammed with people, the galleries uncomfortably hot–how can this many people be interested in arcane and esoteric artists’ books? And where does all the money come from, since obviously, very few can actually make money on books of this sort. I don’t know whether to be encouraged or depressed about the whole thing.
I introduced myself at a number of photography publisher’s tables, showed my book around, felt like an outsider more than a participant in this book publishing mania. Watched people’s jaws drop when I told them I had sold more than 500 books since releasing Time and Space on the Lower East Side at the end of May. With no distribution. Nevertheless, few people I talked to were familiar with my book despite its getting a fair amount of publicity. The photography crowd is still not clued in, and I obviously have a lot of work to do.
I’m not sure what the meaning of it is, but Blake Andrews in his blog B has created a compass graphic locating a bunch of books that have geographical titles. I am pleased to find Time and Space on the Lower East Side over on the right. Lower east, of course.
It strikes me, as I go about marketing my book, that there are actually very few current art photography books that deal with New York City. A couple of book buyers have mentioned it. Another buyer rejected my book saying it was too New York specific. An attitude that somehow assumes New York to be a narrow subject not relevant to his region–Texas. The reality is that Time and Space is doing well with non-New Yorkers and foreigners. Moreover, the Lower East Side is the great immigrant neighborhood of American history, and today, it continues to be a bellwether of where we are going in New York and beyond.
There are undoubtedly many photographers doing interesting book-worthy work here in New York. The fact that this work is not finding its way into finished books available to the general public speaks to the present lack of options for photographers. There are only a handful of publishers located here in the city that could bring out this kind of content, and none are stepping up to the plate. On the one hand, there are more photographs being made than ever–frighteningly more than ever–and more photo books are being made as well. There’s a lot of action on Blurb and other self-publishing platforms, and there are lots of art books being made, few of which involve the kind of budgets that highly polished photo books require. Meanwhile, a relatively small number of well-known photographers continue to publish regularly. I don’t know whether to be encouraged or discouraged.
The above paragraph is from the ICP school catalog for this fall. Anyone interested in taking the class, Photographing New York: The Lower East Side, please follow this link. The last time I taught this class, we made a terrific book , which is viewable on the Blurb website here.
We begin the class by walking through the Lower East Side together, talking about its history, geography, and we discuss the changes that have overtaken the neighborhood in recent years. Throughout the semester I show the work of prominent photographers who have made images of the LES. From there, each student picks a theme or subject to photograph, and the next 4 or 5 weeks are spent making pictures. After that, the process of creating a book begins. We arrive at a conceptual framework, develop a layout, and work up the images in Photoshop or Lightroom. The final session is a book presentation and party. The whole class is only ten weeks, so a lot has to get done in a very compressed time period. Last year, it was a nail biting experience for me–would we get it all done in time? But the final product was completed on schedule, and I have to say, it was all quite exhilarating.
If you want to learn a lot about photography, the Lower East Side, bookmaking, and, perhaps, something about yourself, join in the fun and sign up.
9/11 Memorial on Staten Island — © Brian Rose
My wife and headed down to Staten Island Saturday afternoon to take part in the latest installment of stillspotting nyc, a series of art projects dealing with the urban environment sponsored by the Guggenheim Museum. This one, called Telettrofono, was an audio walking tour of the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island. It told the story of Antonio Meucci and his wife Esterre who came to Staten Island from Italy. Meucci, an inventor, who also worked in the theater, developed a precursor to the telephone, a telettrofono, some years before Alexander Graham Bell patented his ultimately successful invention.
I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived on the Staten Island Ferry. The weather was threatening as a storm cell slid by to the northwest. We were given iPod Nano’s and a map and sent out along the harbor promenade to begin our walk. The audio accompaniment was created by sound artist Justin Bennett and poet Mathea Harvey and blended the factual and imaginative into a mesmerizing aural experience. It has been described by others as like being in a movie.
Along the waterfront of Staten Island — © Brian Rose
I hadn’t planned to take photographs of the walk in a comprehensive way–I figured I’d snap a few pictures here and there. But as we stepped out onto the promenade and walked by the 9/11 memorial nearby, I was struck by the strange, preternatural light and warm breeze caused by the passing storm. The atmosphere felt almost tropical and the comical potted palms near the memorial added to the effect. I began taking photographs, the soundscape and voices of Telettrofono in my ear.
Staten Island waterfront — © Brian Rose
There were others participating in the walk as well, though not so many as to be distracting. We passed through an industrial area, now used for salt storage, directly by the main shipping channel leading to the port of Elizabeth. We then headed uphill past a farmer’s market, some rundown apartment buildings and housing projects, and then into a neighborhood of large early 20th century houses, many of significant architectural character.
Richmond Terrace, Staten Island — © Brian Rose
St. Mark’s Place, Staten Island — © Brian Rose
The St. George Theatre, Staten Island — © Brian Rose
We then descended the hill toward the ferry terminal and entered the St. George Theatre, an elaborately baroque, shabby interior, and sat in the balcony as the story of the Meucci’s came to a close and the voice in our ear said “curtain.” From there we walked back to the ferry terminal, returned out iPods and headed back to Manhattan on the ferry. In the end I took over 30 photographs during the walk.
St. George ferry terminal, Staten Island — © BrianRose
Many of the photographs in this blog have been made during walks, sometimes of short duration, other times over several hours. It has become part of my modus operandi as a photographer. Sometimes I regret not having a higher resolution camera, or my view camera, with me. But the reality is that many of these short bursts of photography are only possible because I can carry a digital camera in the pocket of my cargo pants.
After looking through the photographs I took in Staten Island I decided to make the whole walk available on my website. It was inspired by what I was experiencing aurally, but it’s also a perfect example of the kind of thing I do as a photographer, a visual reconnaissance –to borrow from my Lower East Side book title–of time and space.
The full walk can be seen here.
On my last day in Amsterdam the weather improved and I was able to get out with the view camera. I picked up where I left off five years ago in Ijburg on the edge of the city. The view then was of mostly empty landfill–it is now densely built. But it still feels detached to me from the rest of the city, and during the day, somnolent, empty. I took one photograph of a residential street that leads to a row of commercial office buildings, and then crossed over a bridge to the Diemerzeedijk, a historic dike that once protected Amsterdam from the vicissitudes of the Zuider Zee. The area has been used as an industrial dumping ground and remains polluted, though now contained. It is being developed as parkland.
© Brian Rose
© Brian Rose
© Brian Rose
© Brian Rose
In the distance one sees the Enneüs Heerma Bridge designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, and following a bicycle path one crosses a busy shipping canal on a spectacular bridge, the Nesciobrug, designed by Jim Eyre. A long looping causeway leads to the bridge allowing for a gradual incline. The Amsterdam Ring highway stands a short distance away with its billboards.
© Brian Rose
© Brian Rose
All of these photographs were made with the 4×5 view camera as well as my pocket digital. The sun shone in and out through a broken deck of clouds, a striking phenomenon all afternoon. I feel both alienated and at home in these transitional areas of the city–places that are neither here nor there. It’s how I felt in general during the 15 years I lived in the Netherlands traveling back and forth to New York. I was an untethered agent caught between continents and cultures. Although I am now ensconced in New York City, I easily slide back to that state of uncertainty, in which the world appears new and strange. Even in my hometown.