Category Archives: Photographers/Photography

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 CNN.com.  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.

 

New York/Chelsea


Chelsea rooftop and Empire State Building — © Brian Rose

The picture above was taken while doing a walk-through of a building I will be shooting in the next couple of weeks. Having recently photographed several projects in California with green roofs–both low income and market rate–I was bit taken aback by the black rubberized roof on this building. The extreme heat from the surface immediately seeped through my FiveFingers shoes, which I wear most of the time, and I doubt I could have remained standing up there more than a few minutes. Not only does this increase the energy required to cool the building, it also adds to the heat island of the city, which has all kinds of negative impacts on the environment. I was told that the budget for this non-profit project was not sufficient for a more environmentally friendly solution.

There is no excuse for this. I am not necessarily blaming the developer and architect who are struggling to deliver a product on a shoe string budget. It is clear that without government mandates, tax incentives, and if necessary, subsidies for non profits, we are going to continue in the wrong direction.

Here’s a start.


Chelsea water towers — © Brian Rose

News report from here in the trenches:

Good news. I will be teaching a class at the International Center of Photography this fall inspired by my book, Time and Space on the Lower East Side. The class will photograph various aspects of the neighborhood, and then put together a book using Blurb, the online printing/publishing service. I am excited about the opportunity–it has been a while since I last taught–and I hope this leads to other teaching assignments.

Bad news. Princeton Architectural Press, which published my book The Lost Border, turned down Time and Space on the Lower East Side on the basis that it would have too limited an audience. I am not an expert in marketing, to say the least, but as someone with a nose to the ground, I know they are wrong about the audience. There has already been substantial interest in the book–I’ve sold at least 30 on my own–doing almost nothing. But aside from that, it seems that publishers–not just PAP–have forgotten the concept of taking compelling photography and selling it.

Good new and bad news. When I did the Lower East Side project in 1980 with Ed Fausty, the Bowery served as the western boundary of the neighborhood. It had its own character, of course, infamous as the skid row of New York. But we didn’t focus on the Bowery much, perhaps because it seemed like a separate enclave at the time. Since recommencing the project I’ve done many photographs along the Bowery, enough that they almost constitute a separate series.

With all the interest in the Bowery of late–museums and galleries, hotels and apartments, restaurants and boutiques–and the efforts to preserve some of the character of this previously maligned, but historic, place, I’ve decided to begin photographing the street in a more comprehensive way. The only problem at the moment is that there is no 4×5 negative film available. Fujifilm has stopped making the stuff, leaving Kodak the only supplier, and all the New York shops have it backordered. Uh oh.

When the film comes in I’m going to have to buy as much as I can afford and refrigerate.

New York/MoMA

 


MoMA photography gallery — © Brian Rose

I am happy to announce that one of my photographs is on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The permanent collection galleries have recently been reinstalled including new acquisitions–like mine–and historic photographs. My print can be seen at right in the picture above. It is one of my recent Berlin images acquired by the museum last fall.


William Christenberry photo above, Brian Rose below — © Brian Rose


Kudzu Devouring Building, near Greensboro, Alabama, photography by William Christenberry


Mauerstrasse, Berlin, 2006 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

My photograph is paired with one by William Christenberry, one of the pioneers of color photography, who is known, particularly, for his images of vernacular architecture, signs, and the rural landscape. A few years ago Christenberry did a series of images of structures enveloped by kudzu, the non-native vine that has become ubiquitous in the south.

There is an interesting symbiosis between the two images–a building being devoured by natural forces, and my multi-layered deconstruction of architecture in the heart of Berlin. The one concealing, the other revealing. It is also an honor to be shown with an artist of Christenberry’s stature, and in the same room with Tina Barney, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Leandro Katz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jan Groover, and other noteworthy photographers.


Framework Houses by Bernd and Hilla Becher — © Brian Rose

I’ve written in the past that it sometimes seems that the Bechers are overexposed. You can’t go anywhere without seeing their images, often in large grids, like the Fachwerk facades above. But let’s face it, this is brilliant work, especially this grouping. Their approach transcends genres. It is rigorous and seemingly impersonal, but in the end, suffused with pathos for human endeavor.

New York/The Bowery

 


The Bowery at Stanton Street — © Brian Rose

Once again I found myself at the corner of Bowery and Stanton waiting for a taxi. I had a guitar slung over my shoulder and two bags, one full of groceries. I noticed that a group of people had gathered in front of the gallery video screen in the storefront of the old flophouse, the Sunshine Hotel. Gold painted figures dancing. During the day, the video screen is hard to see in the glare, but in the fading light of evening, it becomes relatively brighter. A last glint of sunlight touched the metallic skin of the New Museum just down the block.

A couple of months ago I did a similar photograph standing in the same spot–also waiting for a taxi–and my first thought was that there was no reason to repeat myself. But no cabs were coming, and I continued to watch the scene unfold. I put my bags down on the pavement and fumbled for my pocket camera. I could not move more than a step or two in any direction because my stuff was lying in the street. But I began to consider a shot that included the motorcycle parked to the right. People stopped briefly to watch the video, then scattered this way and that. A man and woman in helmets arrived and mounted the motorcycle. A man veered toward me and the composition coalesced around him.


From On the Bowery, a film by Lionel Rogosin

I realized as I took the photograph that I was standing just a few feet to the right of the spot where Lionel Rogosin’s cameraman filmed the scene in On the Bowery where the drunken protagonist Ray Salyer slaps a woman and then stumbles up the stairs into the Sunshine Hotel, a Bowery survivor now surrounded by the most conspicuous of art consumption. On the Bowery is a remarkable film, half staged, half documentary, suggestive of much contemporary photography.

I wrote about the film  here.