Category Archives: Photographers/Photography

New York/Kodak

Kodak Gallery at 43rd Street and the Avenue of the Americas, 1978, (current location of ICP) — © Brian Rose

When I first began shooting color in the mid-70s, making prints was difficult. You couldn’t easily set up a home darkroom–color enlargers were expensive, and the chemicals were finicky compared to black and white. So, for several years I just shot slide film, mostly Kodachrome, which could be projected on a screen or looked at through a hand-held viewer. In my first color classes at Cooper Union taught by Joel Meyerowitz, all our discussions and critiques involved images that were projected. Meyerowitz, at that time, was exhibiting his work as dye transfer prints made directly from Kodachromes. They were beautiful, archival, required a custom lab, and were very expensive.

At some point I began teaching myself how to print color using an enlarger newly installed at school. There was no printing class. The chemicals were poured into a drum, which rotated on a mechanical base, and I could do prints up to 11×14 inches. To make prints from Kodachromes, I first had 4×5 internegatives made, with the end product being a so-called C print. The printing process was slow and labor intensive, and the results were sometimes less than perfect. But I made 25 prints one semester, and had an exhibition in the hall of the photo department. I also began shooting  and printing from 35mm negative film, though I still liked working with the generous size of 4×5 internegatives. Looking back, that probably influenced my decision to shoot with the 4×5 view camera in doing the Lower East Side project with Ed Fausty. I liked printing from big sheets of film.

The one constant in all of this–film, paper, and chemistry–was Kodak. I had yellow boxes everywhere in my apartment until a few years later when green Fuji boxes began to infiltrate. I still have yellow Kodak boxes of film in my refrigerator and dozens of print boxes on the shelves in my studio. Although 90% of what I do now is digital, I will never entirely escape the yellow boxes.

Yesterday, not unexpectedly, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Fujifilm continues on, a nimbler, smarter company, making some of the coolest digital cameras around. However, Kodak remains the only producer of negative sheet film, and although Chapter 11 does not mean it’s over for the company, my guess is that it will rapidly shrink, and eventually spin off  different operations as separate companies. Where that leaves those of us still shooting film is anybody’s guess.

The photograph above was made in 1978 with my first camera, a 35mm Nikkormat, on Kodachrome. The Empire State Building was seen from below street level in the former Kodak gallery at 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue. The International Center of Photography now occupies that space. Kodak may soon exit the scene for good, but photography lives on, with or without yellow boxes.

New York/The Bowery

The Bowery and Great Jones Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

While reading the New Yorker I came across a quote attributed to late choreographer Merce Cunningham.  From Joan Acocela’s article:

…stories or even themes put the spectator in the position of someone standing on a street corner waiting for a friend who is late: you can’t see the cars or the buildings or the sky , he said, because “everything and everyone is not the person you await.”

Likewise with photographs. If you latch too much onto familiar visual narratives, other meanings, other connections, will not be made. This is true both for the image maker and the viewer.

The Bowery and Rivington Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

With that caution in mind, here are six recent images of the Bowery made with the 4×5 view camera. I did them in conjunction with a class I was teaching at ICP, and as part of  my ongoing project to photograph the Bowery. The block above includes the New Museum on the left, the Bowery Mission and the Salvation Army building, the tall one in the middle. The latter are vestiges of the Bowery’s skid row past, though they and a couple other organizations still provide services for a more scattered homeless/street population. The gentrification of the Bowery, however, is proceeding rapidly.

The Bowery and Delancey Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Some of the roll-down window gates were recently decorated by artists. This one is by the notable graffiti artist Kenny Scharf.

The Bowery and Grand Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The townhouse at left is from 1817 and is one of the few protected landmark buildings in New York to have its status rescinded. The owner wants to demolish and construct an office building. From the Villager:

(City Councilwoman) Chin noted that she has supported many landmark designations on the Bowery. “But in this instance, I have to look at the bigger picture and find a balance. There is an opportunity to help the community recover from [the World Trade Center attack], which it hasn’t done. I just hope that the advocates will see my point of view on this and that we will have the opportunity to continue to work to preserve the historic character of the Bowery. But on this building we will have to differ.” Chin said.

The reality, of course, is that the Bowery and lower Manhattan is a boomtown.

The Bowery and Grand Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

It is true that the Bowery exhibits a ragtag collection of buildings from many different time periods. It does not present a unified urban landscape in the way that historic rows of townhouses dominate parts of Greenwich Village, or blocks of cast iron loft buildings define the streets of Soho. Nevertheless, there is much architecture worth saving, though sometimes one might have to peel away some of the layers to get to it.

The Bowery and Pell Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Another similar sized townhouse from 1785–the Edward Mooney house–a well-maintained landmark containing a Chinatown bank.





New York/Lower East Side

Time and Space is now largely done–I am still tweaking the images–and we are working on the last details of the layout. The book is based on the Blurb prototype that is still available, but with a more refined design and a tighter edit of the photographs. The new Time and Space will be larger (about 9×12 inches) and and will sell for a lower price. There will be a limited edition slipcover version of the book with an original print inside, which will be really beautiful and well worth collecting.

This is the final week of my Kickstarter campaign, and I am just over 50% of the way to my goal. This is your last chance to participate in this project by making a donation–at whatever level you are comfortable with. A donation of $50 gets you a copy of the book as soon as it is available, and $250 gets you the limited edition book. I have received several donations of $10, which makes me very happy. Some people have very tight budgets, but enjoy going on Kickstarter and sprinkling money around to projects they find worth supporting. I have donated to another project myself and plan to do more.

Please join in–your help is appreciated and needed. Thanks!

New York/The Bowery

The Bowery and Delancey Street — © Brian Rose (graffiti by Kenny Scharf)

The process of making photographs varies with different photographers. There are some who work within conceptual frameworks that require a great deal of calculation ahead of time. Others, like me, tend to think in projects that take in long time lines, or that slowly, image by image, explore the relationship between self and the outside world. However, in any case, there is usually an element of discovery–a path found–a thread identified and then pulled–a momentary recognition of something essential. Often, these discoveries are fleeting, provisional, trivial. Not exactly mind bending paradigm shifting stuff.

So, I pick up the paper this morning, as usual, and flip through the arts section, and land upon a review of a photography show–a rarity these days in the New York Times. It’s about the latest New Photography exhibit at MoMA. I was already aware of it mostly because I knew that Doug Rickard’s Google Streetview images are in the show. Rickard’s work is fascinating in that the images made are essentially available to all. He simply reframes the 360 degree  anonymous pans of the world glimpsed from Google’s ceaselessly cruising eye.

New York City, photo by Doug Rickard (via Google Streetview)

On the one hand, Rickard uses the images as social commentary, focusing primarily on the most neglected and down and out areas of the United States. There’s nothing new about photographing such areas. But on the other hand there is something different about seeing these places through a robotic lens–literally drive-by photography–seen voyeuristically as if through a roving security camera. Rickard has us gaze at the underbelly of society, at poor people, scary looking people, caught unaware by the camera, captured in the barrel distorted, light flared reality of Google–and we all become Big Brother in the process. Guiltily, I cannot stop looking at these disturbing images.

This is work that deserves a good deal of critical thought, and even soul searching. But as I begin to read Ken Johnson’s review of New Photography 2011 I am slammed dead in my tracks by this:

In the 1980s photography mutated into a monster that threatened to swallow fine art altogether. In the hands of artists like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Andreas Gursky and legions of copycats, photography parsed the day’s most urgent questions about representation, propaganda, truth and reality. But in the ensuing decades, the answers became increasingly routine, and today the beast that art photography was finds itself tired and toothless.

If you are searching for signs of rejuvenation in “New Photography 2011,” an exhibition of six artists at the Museum of Modern Art, you will look in vain. 

With that dispiriting introduction, Johnson then goes on to dutifully praise the work in the show including Doug Rickard’s “species of meta photography.” But why bother make the effort if none of the work offers signs of rejuvenation? Why saddle these photographers with this unfair and miserable burden? What a drag for Johnson to have to write this article. What a drag for us to have to read it. And now, excuse me while I resume my pointless search for relevance outside–or inside–I don’t know which–the tired and toothless art photography monster.


New York/Stepping Up

Brendan, my son, at bat under the Manhattan Bridge on the Lower East Side
© Brian Rose

It’s time to step up to the plate and take charge. Several years have gone by since I introduced my book proposal, Time and Space on the Lower East Side. At this point it is clear that nothing is going to happen with this book unless I take the initiative. In recent months I have been talking with Bill Diodato, a photographer and book publisher. He has produced his own extraordinary book, Care of Ward 81 (slide video here), and is now taking on new projects as Golden Section Publishing. My book will be the first.

We do not have a lot of money to work with, so I am hoping to raise a part of it via kickstarter, the internet fundraising platform–which, by the way, has its offices on the Lower East Side. I will be launching the campaign this weekend and it will run 45 days. My goal is $8,500, or more.

Under the Manhattan Bridge, 1980 (4×5 film) – © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

Once the campaign is launched I will be sending out personal email requests for support, and I will provide a link here to my kickstarter project page. There will be many different levels of support available to fit all budgets.

Time and Space on the Lower East Side is a portrait of one of America’s most important neighborhoods spanning three tumultuous decades. The project was initiated in the early days of color art photography, and includes view camera scenes of the Lower East Side in 1980, when the neighborhood was burning and crumbling, when artists and musicians celebrated the edgy, if not dangerous, nature of the place. I have since rephotographed the Lower East Side, post-911, a much gentrified, but still fascinating part of New York.

It has never been easy getting photography books published. It took years for me to get the Lost Border published, which by the way, has sold over 2,500 copies. That may not sound like much, but it is in fact a very respectable showing for a serious fine art photo book. Not that it mattered when I sought a publisher for Time and Space.

I have worked too hard and too long to be defeated by a publishing industry increasingly incapable of discerning important work and marketing it. With your support, I will get this book out, online and in stores, by the beginning of 2012.

New York/Mitch Epstein

Berlin by Mitch Epstein

I picked up Mitch Epstein’s Berlin recently. Published by Steidl, it is the product of a six month residency at the American Academy in Berlin. Epstein writes in the introduction about  his Jewish family’s refusal to visit Germany, and how he first went there  at the age of 49 to work with Steidl and to mount several exhibitions. Surprisingly, Germans had become some of his staunchest allies. He describes Berlin as ” more complicated and poignant” than any city he had known save Hanoi.

Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauerstrasse – © Mitch Epstein

As you can imagine, given my decades long commitment to photographing Berlin and its Wall–the real concrete one that came down in 1989, and the ongoing Wall of the imagination and historical presence–I was interested in what Epstein would bring to the subject. I have never met Mitch, though we both went to Cooper Union in the 1970s–he a couple of years before me. And I have always had the highest regard for his work, especially his recent book American Power, an extraordinary journey across the United States focused on the use and abuse of energy.

Checkpoint Charlie – © Mitch Epstein

I love Epstein’s photograph of Checkpoint Charlie, one of the most historically charged places in Berlin , the former Allied border crossing and scene of Cold War standoffs with the Soviets. It’s a perfect depiction of one of the the things I find fascinating about Berlin–deep and sobering history juxtaposed with crass commercialism and touristy kitsch. Berlin, the book, is a compilation of historical sites, many famous or infamous, others only known to those who have done the kind of research Epstein did.

The Dalai Lama at the Brandenburg Gate – © Mitch Epstein

Only a few of the photographs show the urban vibrancy of Berlin, a missing element, perhaps, but it is absolutely true that one can find oneself utterly alone at times in this vast and dispersed metropolis. There are abundant open spaces–former industrial wastelands and abandoned railroad yards–and the grassy ribbons of land where the Wall  and death strip once ran. Berlin is still a semi-cultivated city, a wild tangle of layered past and present, resistant somehow to the homogenizing power of money, which has sanitized so many other cities, especially in western Germany.

Stasi offices and interrogation rooms – © Mitch Epstein

As much as I like the photographs in Berlin, and I applaud its overall intent, I find this an oddly incomplete book–and not just because it offers only 37 images. The historical importance of each site photographed is clearly noted and visually explicated, but sometimes I sense that Epstein could not quite find a way to express the complex nature of the Berlin he alludes to in his introduction. Epstein does provide occasional glimpses of the new Berlin, a city in the midst of civic and cultural reinvention, however obliquely. But the limited  scope of the pictures gives the book the feel of an exhibition catalogue.

Lichtenberg – © Mitch Epstein

Epstein stumbled upon the scene above. There is no specific historic site here. But we are in the heart of the city in a large open plain with communist era housing blocks in the distance. Circus elephants caper about the field as if they have been transplanted from the African Savannah. Berlin, the city, is full of these moments of lyrical strangeness–I wish there was a little more of it in Berlin, the book.

Nevertheless, there are few photographers of Mitch Epstein’s creative  intelligence and visual acuity, and those attributes are amply evident throughout Berlin.

New York/WTC

This morning, an article and podcast interview about my photographs of the World Trade Center is featured on the front page of  Be sure to listen to the podcast, which is down on the left side of the page.

Article, photos, and interview can be found here.


New York/Midtown

West 36th Street — © Brian Rose

Stan Banos at Reciprocity Failure asks “Are you a street photographer?” and points to my recent photograph of balloons as evidence that it is still possible to find moments of wonder ” in the street.” People suggest that street photography is making a comeback.

Maybe I’m out of touch with the current chatter, but it’s not something I’ve thought about lately. I guess there was a time as a student when I thought of myself as a street photographer. And it’s true that I still make a lot of photographs while perambulating about the city. But it seems to me that street photography refers more to a style of picture taking than to the simple act of making photographs in public places.

Sometimes I work with a 4×5 view camera, especially engaged in long term projects, and sometimes a pocket size digital camera. The photograph above was made with a Canon 5D with a tilt/shift lens employed while doing an architectural shoot. I find images where I am–the street or otherwise.


New York/ICP Class

I will be teaching a class this fall at ICP focused on photographing the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Each student will pick a subject, theme, or geographical area–I plan to shoot the Bowery with a 4×5 camera–and then we will design and print a book of the images using Blurb. This will be the coolest class ever. Go here for a pdf of the entire brochure. Below is a clipping:



New York/Lower East Side

Sarah D. Roosevelt Park — © Brian Rose

We visited the New Museum block party in Sarah Roosevelt park yesterday–despite the continuing heat. While I talked to David Mulkins, the director of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, an organization trying to save the historical character of the Bowery, Brendan, my son, busied himself creating a model tenement out of colored paper. His design is probably not what the preservationists had in mind–but I like it a lot.

BMW Guggenheim Lab — © Brian Rose

A few blocks north I snapped a few pictures of another example of cutting edge Lower East Side architecture, the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a temporary structure to serve as a sort of interactive urban think tank. Exactly how it will function–besides being a cool object–I am not sure. Designed by Atelier Bow-Wow of Tokyo, the structure is described as a tool box from which things can be raised or lowered to the ground level.

I like the way the structure is inserted into a gap between a row of  tenements creating a passage linking E1st and Houston Street. I’ve photographed this gap and adjacent open space before–one image is in my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side.

Which brings me to my book. I have decided to work with a small New York publisher with the intention of bringing out Time and Space on the Lower East Side by the end of the year. I will provide more details later, once the deal is finalized, but I am confident that this will be a beautiful and successful book. It will require money, however, and I am planning to make use of Kickstarter, a web based fund raising platform for creative projects. I will, of course, let everyone know when the campaign is launched.

In the meantime, the current Blurb version of Time and Space remains available–but not for long. Once the new book is set into motion, the Blurb book will be withdrawn, never to appear again. Book collectors take note. The St. Mark’s Bookshop has a few signed copies.

New York/WTC

Steve Katzenbaum of CNN radio and Brian Rose

Yesterday I was interviewed by CNN radio for a piece they are doing about the loss of the Twin Towers on the city’s skyline and about the rapidly rising 1 WTC tower, which is intended to replace, visually and symbolically, the iconic presence of the former skyscrapers. I brought my WTC book with me, and talked about some of the pictures and answered questions from CNN correspondent Steve Katzenbaum.

We met in the small triangular park at Greenwich Street and Vesey Street just below 1 WTC. The tower appears about 2/3 of the way up. It’s a busy spot with commuters coming to and from the PATH station while gawking tourists and hard hatted construction workers commingle.

I don’t yet have a time and date for the broadcast, which I believe will be available as a podcast on the CNN website.

New York/East New York

East New York — © Brian Rose

I spent the day in East New York photographing a new low income apartment building. It’s in a neighborhood of single family homes and other new apartment buildings. The big housing blocks that East New York is known for are some distance away. Not that many years ago, this area would have had a blown apart look with lots of vacant lots and abandonment. Things have changed substantially, but it is still a rough edged place. A glimpse of my project can be seen at far right above.

East New York — © Brian Rose

Across the street there was a large truck and bus repair shop and a woodworking shop. On the adjacent  corner a used car dealer and seller of gravestones.  Nearby, is a large “transit technology” school.

East New York — © Brian Rose

During the day, the area exhibits a fairly relaxed atmosphere, but the conspicuous use of window gates, fences, and other security measures, suggests a different aspect. And indeed, after dark the area showed a more menacing face. My assistant and I arrived by subway, carrying a camera case and small lighting kit, but chose to take a car service back. Nevertheless, with every new project of the kind I was photographing, the neighborhood becomes more stable and livable.

New York/Williamsburg, Virginia

Vegetable garden, Williamsburg, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I am back in Williamsburg, Virginia tending to my father who is now in a rehab facility recovering from surgery. He is almost 90, but hanging in there.

The weather has been impeccable, and I’ve made a couple of walks down the Duke of Gloucester Street, the former main street of town. It is now closed to traffic and part of the historic restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. The street remains open to the general public, however, and one sees lots of joggers, some from the nearby College of William and Mary.

I took a  number of photographs of a vegetable garden across from the Bruton Parish Church. It is actually a serious demonstration of agriculture as practiced in the 18th century, though I tend to look at it more for its formal visual elements. One might think it out of character for me to photograph this idealized historical setting, given my images of urban grandeur and desolation on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But remember, I grew up here in Williamsburg, performed in the fife and drum corps for nine years, and took many of my first photographs here in the restored area. I doubt that I would be a photographer were it not for the influence of this place.