More than 300 teams (with parents) have descended upon the Atlanta area for one of the major baseball travel team events of the year. The Gothams, my son’s team, alas, will not advance to the playoffs, but has performed well at times against some of the best teams in the country.
I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, the one time colonial capital, and now restored town. It’s a place steeped in history, a place that played an important role in the founding of the United States, and I lived just a few miles away from Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. My ancestors can be traced back to the south side of the James River, and at least one Rose came aboard one of the first ships to Jamestown. Not far away is Yorktown, where the last major battle of the Revolutionary War took place, and it appears that my great, great, great — I’m not sure how many great — grandfather fought and died in that war.
On my mother’s side of the family, I have equally deep American roots. The Berryhills emigrated from Scotland to North Carolina, and some of them headed south to Georgia, marrying into the Creek Indian tribe, which was driven west in the “Trail of Tears.” Despite this Native American heritage, my Berryhill line was clearly white, though my sister and I used to joke when we were kids, that we had slightly asiatic features. That was long before we had any idea that there might be a reason.
Some time before the Trail of Tears, my family traveled from Georgia to Mississippi and settled in the area around Jackson, named for President Andrew Jackson, who, ironically, is responsible for vanquishing the Creek Indians from their homeland. My ancestor Alexander Berryhill was a corporal in the Confederate Army and died in the battle of Vicksburg. His grandson eventually made his way to Richmond, Virginia, and finally to Portsmouth, Virginia, where I was born.
Growing up in Virginia the symbols of the old South were ubiquitous, and I was accustomed to seeing the Confederate flag displayed, sometimes in official settings, but more often in an ad hoc fashion, as a statement I usually associated with red neck no-nothingism, or a solidarity with suspect southern values, one of which was racism. On the other hand, I knew a number of people who participated in Civil War battle reenactments in which the flag was integral, and although it isn’t my kind of thing, I’ve always understood the way in which both sides in the “War Between the States” were given equal respect. That was what I grew up with correct or not — that Robert E. Lee surrendered with honor at Appomattox — that the South may have been wrong, but it is our heritage, and is part of the history of who we are as a nation today.
So, I am a descendant of families that came to Jamestown, fought and died in the Revolution, married into the Creek Indians, and fought and died in the Civil War. My father once told me that my grandfather was a Republican, which was the party of Lincoln in the old South, and he said that he woke one night to the spectacle of a cross being burned in the front yard. I left the South to make my home in the Yankee city of New York, and lived for 15 years in Amsterdam, among the people who founded that city, New Amsterdam..
Recently, I returned to Richmond for a funeral in Hollywood Cemetery, the gravesite of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy, and the burial ground for 18,000 Confederate soldiers. There were visitors to Davis’s monument, tourists, or perhaps, those who venerated what he represented — I don’t know. And there were Confederate flags. Seeing the flags sent a chill through me on that already cold November day. The Stars and Bars as historical object is one thing, but when flown, (with a calculated impunity) is something else.
Let us remember those who died, right or wrong, in the Civil War. Let us show respect for that history as we seek to learn from it. But it is long past time for the Confederate Flag to fly over any capital in any state, and it is time to acknowledge, finally, that what is a symbol of heritage to some, is clearly a symbol of hatred to others. And as such, should be relegated to museums and text books once and for all.
I recently traveled to Virginia for a family visit, and I brought along some of my work to show a former high school classmate, who is an avid photo collector. But it seems that he was not the only one eager to check out my portfolio. At least the TSA was kind enough to retape the box of prints. I hope they enjoyed the photographs.
Back from a week from the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We stayed in a so-called eco-tent overlooking Salt Pond Bay in the southeastern tip of the island. It was a reasonably comfortable structure, but we shared it at various times with a mouse, a lizard, a spider, a walking stick, biting bugs, and marauding birds. Under the hut, which sat on wooden stilts, hundreds of hermit crabs scrabbled about, their shells a constant crackling sound. Nature can be loud.
We were staying at the Concordia Eco-Resort, and traveled around the island to different beaches and snorkeling spots. I didn’t take many photographs, but snapped a few when we made pitstops between locations. As beautiful as St. John and nearby St. Thomas are — and there are many resorts and large houses — the majority of the population appears quite poor and lives in rather chaotic little compounds of makeshift buildings with chickens and, sometimes, goats running freely.
Paradise it is, but rough around the edges.
A few weeks ago, an exhibition opened at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Photographing Places: The Photographs of Places Journal, 1997-2009. Places Journal was originally a print magazine dealing with issues relating to architecture and urbanism. Each issue featured an extended photo essay centered on a particular location. In 2004, just after I had begun re-photographing the Lower East Side I was asked to contribute to the magazine. I was approached by Cervin Robinson, the architectural photographer, who was a contributing editor to the magazine. Cervin is also the author of a Architecture Transformed: A History of the Photography of Buildings from 1839 to the Present. I knew Cervin from all the way back in 1980 when I first exhibited by photographs of the Lower East Side. Cervin was for me, and many other photographers, a mentor and great friend. I’ve written about Cervin here and here.
Blow up of a Places Journal cover by Joel Sternfeld — © Brian Rose
I traveled up to Cambridge with my wife to attend a reception for the exhibition, which included four of my photographs, one of which was printed wall-size at the entryway to the show. The exhibition, curated by Gary Van Zante of the MIT Museum, features the work of about a 20 photographers whose images ran in the print version of Places. Places still exists, by the way, as a multi-dimensional website, and still presents photo essays focused on the built environment.
Almost a third of the photographers in the show were present at the reception, which was great. A couple of us had barely made it on time because of snow-delayed trains coming up from New York. I had very nice chats with Kate Milford, who was showing her photographs of downtown Brooklyn, and Lyle Gomes, who had photographed the landscape of the Presidio (former military base, now park) in San Francisco. I also spoke with Lisa Silvestri who has photographed post Katrina New Orleans. And best of all, the ageless Cervin Robinson was present.
Inside the door of the exhibition there is a blow-up of a cover of the former magazine with an image of the High Line by Joel Sternfeld in its former wild state. And two more images from that series are in the show.
Above are my prints in the show — two from 1980 done by me and Edward Fausty working together, and two from 2004 when I had just begun re-photographing the Lower East Side. This is the work that eventually comprised Time and Space on the Lower East Side, my now sold-out book. It was in Places Journal before anywhere else.
Here I am standing in front of Delancey Street 1980 at the entrance to the exhibition. I knew that my image was going to be used big, but I didn’t realize it would be this big. Pretty cool! The next day my wife and I walked all the way from MIT to the Back Bay station in Boston through the frozen snow clogged streets. Spring is just around the corner.
It has taken a while to scan my Berlin negatives from last November. I was there on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the wall, November 9, 1989, to be exact. The first couple of days were dark and grey, typical for the season in that part of the world. And then I had two days of sun. The image above shows the installation of inflated balloons that formed the LIchtgrenze (border of light) that marked the trace of the former wall through the city. At night, LED lights mounted in the balloon bases, made them glow. During the day, they appeared like a string of pearls stretching across the cityscape.
I shot about 70 sheets of film in the four days leading up to the 25th anniversary, and scanned about 2/3 of them. I think there are about 15 images that are keepers. Working up the scans in Photoshop is time consuming. They are large files — about 500 MBs each — and the level of detail that I bring to coaxing the right look and feel out of the negatives is substantial. It’s relatively easy to color correct globally, but to get everything singing in an image can take hours. And something that looks great one day, can look drastically different the next. Such is the subjective nature of color.
These are the first of the 4×5 scans completed. You’ve seen some of these images before, but those were actually taken with my point and shoot, usually held on top of my view camera.
This was a carefully set up shot on a promenade along the Spree, the river that wanders through the center of Berlin. The domed building in the rear is the Reichstag. I felt that I needed something like this — a visual coda, a bit of photographic bravura, for my project that began almost 30 years ago.
The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall was, of course, a moment both celebratory and reflective. Much damage was done by the division of the city and the Cold War division of Europe in general. People were killed attempting to escape the communist east. Life ambitions were curbed by repression. On the one hand, the reunification of the country meant that the democratic west with all its creative opportunities prevailed, but on the other hand, its crass excesses overwhelmed the more sober lifestyle of the east. And so here we are presented with the perfect dialectical complexity of contemporary Germany. An exhibition about the wall with fake artifacts, a kitschy reconstruction of a guard tower (a real one can be found 500 meters away), juxtaposed with riveting footage of the wall being built in 1961 and people making desperate dashes for freedom. All of it packaged and on display in the Arkade shopping mall in Potsdamer Platz.
A few blocks away from the commercialism of Potsdamer Platz one finds the Topography of Terror — the exposed foundations of the Nazi Gestapo/SS headquarters, a preserved strip of the Berlin wall, and the former headquarters of the Nazi air force. The visual compression of history here is profound.
There are only a few stretches of the inner wall that still exist — the easily recognized graffitied concrete slabs with the pipe along the top. People were eager to see it all hauled away after its opening in 1989. People now wish they had kept more of it. But there are many lengths of outer wall that can be found around the city especially along rail yards and abandoned industrial areas. Most people don’t even realize that these are remnants of the double walls that surrounded West Berlin.
Stay tuned for more photographs.
Professional photographer hard at work. Leaving this evening for Berlin to photograph the wall that no longer exists — that came down 25 years ago on November 9th. Will be using view camera and film rather than iPhone.
In the middle of doing an exhibition at Dillon Gallery, and releasing my book about the Meatpacking District, I got a very special architectural photography assignment. The newly renovated Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. It’s one of the most awe inspiring buildings in the Collegiate Gothic style. Designed by James Gamble Rogers, it was completed in 1930. It follows the basic form of a cathedral with central nave, side aisles, transept, and sanctuary.
From Wikipedia: A mural in Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library depicts the Alma Mater as a bearer of light and truth standing in the midst of the personified arts and sciences, painted in 1932 by Eugene Savage. Throughout the building the various crafts of the period are celebrated — stained glass, stone carving, decorative painting, and cabinetry. Those elements, combined with the lightness and airiness of the architecture, make it a 1930s building. There are even hints of Art Deco in the tower housing the book stacks rising behind the nave.
The building was restored mostly to its original appearance. The card files, which are no longer used, hide heating, air conditioning, and electronic systems. It’s essentially a modern building underneath. It was a two day shoot and a ton of post production Photoshop work. But what a privilege to get this kind of a job. The preservation architecture was done by Helpern Architects.
I am in the Netherlands with my family on vacation. Yesterday evening I went out with my view camera and did a series of photographs of a small grove trees in the dunes along the coast of Texel, an island on the North Sea. Picture above made with my digital camera sitting on top of the view camera.
San Francisco courtyard — © Brian Rose
A brief trip to San Francisco for my sister’s wedding. Her new husband is Andrew Barnett, the noted coffee expert who, soon, is opening a cafe in the Mission. Cathy and Andrew were married in City Hall just as the first same-sex weddings began after last weeks’s historic Supreme Court decision. There was a buzz of anticipation in City Hall as new officiating trainees were brought in to handle the coming overflow.
We stayed in architect David Baker’s place, also in the Mission. The weather was incredible. Sunlight flames in the courtyard.
OMA’s (Rem Koolhaas) public library in Seattle, a fixture of downtown, now almost ten years old. I had seen photographs, which were impressive, but having been disappointed by some of Koolhaas’s buildings in the past, I wanted to see this one in person. The exterior is a bit jarring–wedged tightly into a difficult sloping site–like the nearby city hall. But its origami-esque planes make it a strong, if impersonal, sculptural form, next to the comparatively fussy civic building by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Inside, there are familiar Koolhaas concepts like the continuous ramp linking the different levels of book stacks, and the industrial metal egg crate railings and cheesy padded acoustic panels are materials he’s used elsewhere. What’s different, however, is the drama of the interior spaces–at times vertigo inducing–but tightly controlled and organized conceptually. What was great was to see this most challenging architectural environment full of people, using it comfortably, reading, lounging, working on computers. But Koolhaas’s buildings never sit cozily, nor play by the rules. Certainly not this one.
Here are some snapshots taken with my point-and-shoot.