Category Archives: Photographers/Photography

New York/Two Portraits

 

Lucille Ball, 1944, Harry Warnecke

This photograph of Lucille Ball made in 1944 by Harry Warnecke jumped out at me this morning while thumbing through the New York Times. It’s part of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Like most people, I think of “Lucy” in comedic settings, exaggerated facial expressions, slapstick, wonderful goofball humor. I don’t know the context of this photo shoot, but it’s clearly a carefully set up studio portrait. Makeup is perfect, a magnificently  colorful skirt overflowing in the foreground, she seems to be sitting on a stool with her legs to the side, one over the other, her left elbow resting just above her knee. It’s’ a relaxed pose, but slightly awkward at the same time. Her famous red hair is topped with an even redder headpiece, a flimsy scrim of red fabric framing her face. But there is scarcely a hint of the clownish Lucille Ball of a few years later.

Neil Genzlinger in the Times thinks she looks a little sad, and I agree, possibly. One expects Hollywood stars to project more personality, however forced. But here Lucy appears pensive, perhaps tired. Is she waiting for something? Is it a moment of boredom in the course of series of more typical mugging for the camera? She almost seems to be saying, all right, I’m ready, let’s do the next shot.  Despite all the formal portrait artifice at play, this appears an unguarded moment, a moment expressive of her unadorned self, and more naturally beautiful than ever. Warnecke didn’t do anything at that moment but click.

Of course this is all speculation. We’ll never know what was going on during that shoot, what was in her thoughts. But the enigmatic quality of that image is what brings me back to photography again and again, why I never tire of it, and why I continue to be fascinated  by the world as it presents itself to me.

 

Untitled, 2008, Cindy Sherman

The big show in town right now is Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art. She is, as the website text states, “widely recognized as one of the most important and influential artists in contemporary art.” Note, art, not photography. We are all artists, of course, but some of us, the ones who utilize photography, are more artists than others.  The curators and gallerists will never let go of this.

I don’t quarrel with Sherman’s importance, and I find her late ’70s “Untitled Film Stills” quite arresting. The references to Hollywood and TV imagery were clear, sharply realized, and there was a nifty balance between artifice and spontaneity using minimal means to evoke rather than simply mimic. In her later series, Sherman goes heavy handed, Baroque, Gothic, macabre, clownish (literally), and what have you. A grab bag of identity cliches weighed down with pounds of makeup, costuming, and prosthetics. I lost interest twenty years ago.

The photograph above shows a woman of some means sitting for a portrait, her legs to the side, her arm resting just above her knee, with a frizzy pooch, staring at the camera with a pensive, perhaps tired, look. The woman floats in a seamless environment of  muted colors and surfaces. She represents a type–maybe a Park Avenue socialite. But we are gazing at a wax figure, not a person, even though that is Cindy Sherman in there somewhere. And like visiting a wax museum, we are amazed, but unmoved.

New York/Around Town


Tenth Avenue — © Brian Rose

Odds and ends. Things to recommend. Things to dis.

The New York Times reports this morning that the film On the Bowery will soon be available on DVD. I saw it last year for the first time at Film Forum, and wrote about it extensively in my blog here and here. Alan Rogosin’s film is an astonishing portrayal of lost New York and lost souls, controversial then and now for its hybrid documentary/fictional format. Actual denizens of the Bowery, picked out by Rogosin, played the lead roles filmed in the streets and bars of the Bowery near Houston Street. It’s one of the great realist films ever made, a tour de force of editing and photography. The montage of grizzled faces at the end is unforgettable.


Fifth Avenue — © Brian Rose

The Radical Camera at the Jewish Museum, one of the best museum photography shows in recent years, will be up through March 25th. This show is about the New York Photo League and its community of photographers who explored the streets of the city during the 1930s and 1940s. Their work pushed aesthetic boundaries and embraced political engagement. The show is worth seeing both for its vivid depiction of New York and for illuminating the development of documentary street photography leading up to the modern era. There are a number of familiar names in the exhibition, like Berenice Abbott and Aaron Siskind, but most are lesser knowns, many who have fallen through the cracks, and are typically not included in the dominant narrative of photographic history.

From the blog DLK Collection: For me, I finally started to visually understand the small steps that made up the aesthetic and conceptual changes that took place between the 1930s and the 1950s, those missing evolutionary links between Abbott and Frank; The Americans now seems to me less like a thunder strike of genius out of nowhere and more like an innovative, original extrapolation from visual ideas that were already beginning to percolate around. This excellent show tells a uniquely New York story, and is worth a visit simply for the rich historical details of life in the city that it provides. But the reason I found this to be one of the best photography shows of the year is that it also successfully fills in an important (and largely missing) gap in the recounting of the American photographic narrative. Not only do I now have an increased appreciation for the talents of the many members of the New York Photo League (many of whom have been unjustly overlooked), I now understand much more clearly how the larger artistic puzzle fits together.

Read the whole review here.

We think of serious photography now in the context of museums and galleries, but it wasn’t really until the Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art with its “we are the world” sentimentality that the medium began to find favor in elite institutions. The Photo League embraced work that depicted gritty reality whether on the streets of the Lower East Side or the  beach at Coney Island–it did not celebrate the myth of American ascendency, and as a result, ran afoul of the anti-communist blacklisters of the early ’50s. The fact that many of its members were Jewish was also not coincidental.

Imagine. At the time of the Photo League, there was virtually no museums or art galleries that paid any attention to photography. In retrospect, it appears that the Photo League–its shows and its community of photographers–was central to the development of photography as social instrument and as an art form. And this story has not adequately been told until now. Do not miss this exhibition.


World Press winning photograph — © Samuel Aranda

There has already been lots written about this photograph, and I have no inclination to analyze something that’s not worth the effort. First of all, the premise of a grand prize for a single news photograph is wrong. The most interesting single photographs, in my opinion, are often the most open ended, often the least iconic, images that defy easy reading. That’s the opposite of what the World Press jurors usually come up with. They want a Muslim Mary cradling Jesus, or something.

This is a crappy photograph, maudlin, cliche.

New York/Kodak, R.I.P.

Kodak–I wrote with sadness a few weeks ago about the news that the company had filed for bankruptcy. Recently, the blogs have been featuring old Kodak Coloramas, the giant back-lit transparencies that were used to promote picture taking by the masses. Occasionally the images were impressive, but mostly they were kitschy, saccharine views of American life. We like them now–as parody–but even at the time they were unhip and projected an image of a company hopelessly out of step with a growing younger generation of amateur and erstwhile professional photographers. The writing was on the wall as early as the 1970s.

When I entered art school in 1977, Kodak was relevant to me primarily for their film, paper, and chemistry. By then, the Japanese had already cornered the serious camera market. Nikon, Canon, and a host of others were making beautifully designed SLRs and rangefinder 35mm cameras. My first camera was Nikkormat. Leica was still the premier street photographer’s camera, and although I couldn’t afford one, I did buy German-made lenses (Rodenstock and Schneider) when I got my first view camera. Kodak cameras were dumbed down gadgets for Mom and Dad who somehow always photographed you with a tree sticking out of your head.

Not that it mattered much–film was the core of Kodak’s business.

But even there, the company blew it spectacularly. Here’s how it went for me:

In the ’80s photographers began moving away from slide film, at that time dominated by Kodak, especially with their most famous brand Kodachrome. I began shooting negative film for making prints, and all my art projects were done that way. But my architectural clients wanted 4×5 transparencies, and the magazines, printed primarily in color, wanted the same.

In the mid or late 1980s 4×5 holders gave way to paper packets that did not require hand loading, which vanquished the dust problem that plagued sheet film. Fuji’s product had one sheet per packet and Kodak two. I typically shot six sheets of film for each image–two normals, and two at 1/2 stop under and over. The lab I used hated the 2-sheet Kodak packages because they had difficult time keeping track of the film, and I was strongly urged to use Fujifilm. Not only that, 2-sheet packs were more difficult to handle and more prone to accidents in the field, which would then spoil two images.

At some point I actually decided to track down someone at Kodak and explain to them how quickly they were losing New York professionals–a small number of people compared to the tens of thousands of wedding and portrait photographers around the world–but certainly their most prestigious and important group of customers. After being shunted from one department to another, I finally spoke to someone in Rochester involved in the manufacture of sheet film. He claimed that the 2-sheet packaging was what their customers wanted. He was friendly, but clearly did not understand the alarm I was raising. Way too late, a few years later, Kodak ditched the 2-sheet packaging.

One of the great challenges in shooting architectural interiors in those days was balancing different sources of light, and increasingly, fluorescent lighting was used in offices mixed with incandescents spots. Fluorescents, as you still see in older color pictures, came out an insipid green on film. Elaborate schemes involving multiple exposures, gelled fixtures, and filters, were used to achieve the desired natural look. As a result, architectural photographers comprised an elite priesthood performing small lighting miracles with their bag of tricks.

And then the final straw.  I can’t pinpoint the year, but I believe it was in the early ’90s, Fujifilm introduced a negative film that came embedded with an extra layer designed to neutralize the green cast of fluorescents. This invention altered architectural photography immediately and permanently, and Kodak would have no answer for years. Virtually every interiors photographer abandoned Kodak for good.

From today’s Times:

Through the 1990s, Kodak spent some $4 billion developing the photo technology inside most of today’s cellphones and digital devices. But a reluctance to ease its heavy financial reliance on film allowed rivals like Canon and the Sony Corporation to rush into the fast-emerging digital arena. The immensely lucrative analog business Kodak worried about undermining was virtually erased in a decade by the filmless photography it had invented.

I just cringe reading this. They invented the technology of the future but utterly failed to create products that appealed to a new generation of customers. What an epic failure by one of America’s great companies.

Kodak considers home photo printers, high-speed commercial inkjet presses, workflow software and packaging to be the core of its future business. Since 2005, the company has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into new lines of inkjet printers. Once the digital camera business is phased out, Kodak said its consumer business would focus on printing.

Just in case anyone from Kodak is reading this, you’ve already lost this market to HP, Epson, and Canon. It’s over. The seeds of this failure go all the way back to those now beloved Coloramas. Kodak’s managers and marketers were lost in a rapidly vanishing American landscape–an imagineer’s Disneyland America–not the real world, not the changing world. Not the high tech world that Steve Jobs and other entrepreneurs here and abroad understood and so effectively exploited.

R.I.P. Kodak. (please keep making 4×5 negative film and c-print paper for me just a little longer)

 


New York/The Bowery


Rainy morning, the Bowery and Bleecker Street — © Brian Rose

A few more thoughts about Kickstarter prompted by two recent articles, one in the New York Times by David Pogue, who writes a popular tech column, and the other by Jörg Colberg in his blog Conscientious. Kickstarter, for those of you who haven’t heard, is an internet fundraising platform for creative projects. It’s only been around for two years, but has become–at least in my circle–ubiquitous. Everyone says to everyone, oh you should raise the money on Kickstarter. As if it’s a sure fire way to fund your dreams. It could, indeed, be just the ticket. But based on my successful experience with it, I’d say don’t do it unless you are really serious about your project, your prospects for funding, and your ability to follow through on that dream and the promise that is made implicitly with your backers.

Consider, for instance, that your core backers–at least to get started–are your family, friends and colleagues. In the process of asking them for money you may discover that those with the means to support your project may, in fact, be extremely stingy. Some may strangely disappear into the woodwork, or become suddenly unavailable. Others will surprise. People who you thought were only casually interested in your work, some with very little money, will jump right in with a substantial donation. In running a Kickstarter campaign, you run the risk of damaging relationships with friends, or finding out things about your friends that you, maybe, would rather not know.

In the end, fortunately, I was able to extend my network further and many backers were people unknown to me, some who heard about the project from the publicity I was able to generate, and some who were part of the Kickstarter community–people who get pleasure sifting through the projects offered on Kickstarter’s website, supporting those that interest them. Ultimately, that is what this is about–building and tapping into a community of people who want to share in the creative process, who appreciate the simple notion that dropping a few bucks into the offering basket will sustain something worthwhile. Like church, the  fulfillment is often more spiritual than tangible. In my case, however, my 85 backers were essentially pre-ordering my book, and as it has turned out, getting it for  less than the final retail price.

David Pogue in the Times, seems to regard Kickstarter as another of those Internet  phenomena that makes sense to a younger generation of early adopters while leaving the rest of us baffled. At least that’s the rhetorical device the savvy Mr. Pogue uses to frame the subject, knowing, of course, that most of his readers probably haven’t yet heard of Kickstarter. He focuses on a handful of tech products that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars above their original goals. Product concepts that took off virally, given the fact that backers do not get a financial piece of the action, seem stupefying, even crazy. For my book project, there was no runaway viral infection. It was more of a slow fever that occasionally spiked up. Much of the time I just sat hunched over my computer screen in a sweat, monitoring the trickle of donations, sending out emails, thanking backers, and generally being a nervous wreck.

Reading through the comments about the Times piece I am surprised at the number of negative responses. A lot of people have trouble with the idea that project backers aren’t investors in the traditional sense–and that the money comes with no strings attached. It seems like cheating. It is clear that Kickstarter breaks all the rules and shakes up the establishment. The gatekeepers who control the flow of money, who man the curatorial/institutional ramparts, can finally be circumvented. The democratization of the marketplace has always been the promise of the internet, often unrealized. Kickstarter harnesses that promise, at least on a modest scale.

Talk about modest. Despite Pogue’s touting projects that achieved megabucks on Kickstarter, I managed to scrape together $11,000, enough to partially fund my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side. As a freelance artist severely buffeted by the winds of the “great recession,” I have trouble landing commercial photography assignments, much less acquiring the money to pursue book projects costing tens of thousands of dollars. There are few grants available for artists in this country. We do not, apparently, as a society, believe that government should support individual artists. And most institutional support of the arts goes to other institutions like museums, symphonies, non profits that promote the arts but do little for struggling artists. Every year thousands of artists apply for NYFA (New York State) grants, and the relative handful who get selected receive significantly less than the $11,000 I made on Kickstarter. Every year hundreds of photographers apply for Guggenheim grants, and four or five get selected.  Last year I applied for money from the Graham Foundation, a Chicago based organization that funds architecture related projects, mostly to academics. It was a long shot, but I applied for money to photograph the architecture and landscape of megachurches putting a good deal of effort into the application. Had I been selected–I was not–I would have received much less than $11,000. And what do you do once you’ve applied for one of these grants? You sit on your duff for months while committees of the wise decide how to divvy up a pittance.

I have always avoided saying this, but I will now. Applying for these grants is a waste of time. It’s time to walk away. Kickstarter, and other up and coming models, offer a much better way to raise money for individual artists. It isn’t perfect. Jörg Colberg of Concientious has problems with the all-or-nothing aspect of Kickstarter. He thinks there should be more flexibility in setting goals. His point is well taken, though I understand why Kickstarter does it. Additionally, Kickstarter is a business, and both they and Amazon,  which handles the dolling out of money take significant chunks of the pie. But seriously, I am prouder of my recent Kickstarter achievement than the New York State grant I got way back in 1980 or the NEA photographic survey grant I got in 1982. Except for a few projects I’ve done which were initiated by non profits–projects I did not choose on my own–I have been shut out of by the grant giving institutions since then. With Kickstarter I was able to mobilize my resources, take control of the process, and work with others to realize my goal.

It’s time to make the grant gatekeepers irrelevant, if they aren’t already. It’s time to walk away.

 

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/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.