Category Archives: On the Road

New York/Williamsburg, Virginia

My sister, father, and me one week ago in Williamsburg.

It has been a roller coaster of a weekend for me. Saturday, a story and interview about my photos of the World Trade Center ran on the homepage of CNN. Today, I rushed down to Virginia after receiving a phone call informing me that my 90 year old father was rapidly slipping away. I arrived too late. He died this afternoon before I got there.

The photo above was taken a week ago. After an extended stay in the hospital and in rehab, my father had come back home to his assisted living apartment. It was a short-lived, but triumphant return. He was happy to be with friends and in familiar surroundings. My sister and I wheeled him around the building greeting residents along the way, and we  sat with him in the dining room accompanied by his table buddies. It appeared, fleetingly, that he might resume a measure of his former routine. But it was not to be.


New York/Deep River, Connecticut

From E25th Street — © Brian Rose

Finished several photo shoots and then got out of town to join up with former members of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums performing at the annual Deep River muster in Connecticut. Some of us have a hard time keeping up our musical chops and remembering all the tunes, but we have enough who can still play admirably. Our sound remains unmistakable, famous within the fife and drum world.

Here we are on Main Street in Deep River:

We stopped at this spot on Main Street to duplicate a photograph taken of the corps back in the early 1960s, before my time. I joined in 1964. The photographer gestures for the banner holders (one of whom is my son Brendan) to move forward out of the shot.

Although we continue to perform music from the 18th century in an authentic style, that’s as far as it goes. No tri-cornered hats, knee breeches or buckled shoes. In fact, three of us marched sans shoes. I’m the tall one. From there we marched to Devitt Field where we opened the afternoon’s stand performances by playing the National Anthem. The present Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums does perform in full costume.

Back in New York on Sunday I replaced my dead Sigma DP1 camera with the newer DP1x. It’s not a perfect camera, but it produces astounding quality for something that fits in a pocket. Ability to shoot RAW files and a large sensor make the DP1 special. Sometimes sensor size is more important than megapixels. That’s the case with this camera.

Washington, D.C./14th and T

Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, Washington, D.C. — © Brian Rose

I stayed in Washington with my family at a hotel on Dupont Circle. We walked up 18th Street through Adam’s Morgan, an ethnically diverse area I lived in briefly in the ’70s. Afterward, Brendan, my 12 year old son, insisted that we return to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington icon that he and I visited a couple of years ago. This being the 4th of July, a line of tourists formed in the adjacent alley.

14th and T, Washington, D.C. — © Brian Rose

From Ben’s we walked down to the intersection of 14th Street and T, a corner mentioned in my song Open All Night. Today, the area has greatly gentrified–a sidewalk cafe and a high end furniture store occupy two corners. But the other corners remain partially empty and somewhat bedraggled. So, despite the upscale incursions, 14th Street still feels like it’s on the edge between one thing and another–which in D.C. usually means between white and black. The t-shirt above says I Am DC, I Demand the Vote, a reference to the fact that citizens of the District of Columbia are not represented in Congress, an inexcusable disenfranchisement of approximately 602,000 people.

14th and T, Washington, D.C. — © Brian Rose

Open All Night

Smoke blue breath in the window
Harsh lights and watery eyes
Burnt out butt out and out of sight
The deal goes down at moonrise

A newspaper blows through this tunnel of love
A tumbleweed in the city blight
Pissing neon in the pouring rain
Open all night

Skin green splitting in the back room
Still praying to God above
Dim names left back in the diner
All for a thimble full of love

There’s news of a murder up at 14th and T
And the waitress shivers with fright
As two cops tell a fish story
Open all night

She wipes the counter and she sweeps the floor
She makes the coffee and she asks do you want some more
She looks in the eyes of a desperate man
She can’t say much but she can understand
Another aimless loner
Another brittle voice
Another ghostly goner
His head in his hands
Open all night

And outside the street is a minefield
To the ex-soldier with the tattooed arm
A cigarette stuck on his lower lip
He thinks of his mom back on the farm

And thick thighs snicker behind him
She says boy you don’t have to fight
Come on home with me baby
I’m open all night

(© Brian Rose)


Here is my song:

Open All Night


Although I’m proud of my version of the song, go here for Lucy Kaplansky’s stunning performance.

14th and R, Washington, D.C. — © Brian Rose

From 14th and T we walked back to Dupont Circle, and ended the day watching the fireworks on the Mall.

Washington, D.C./Mt. Vernon

Mt. Vernon, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I drove north from Richmond to Washington, D.C. with my family. It’s the 4th of July weekend, so no escaping the crowds in D.C. We rented bikes and cycled down the Potomac to Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s plantation. It’s about 18 miles, the terrain not too difficult, but the temperature was well above 90, and about 3/4 of the way there I started to lose it. I’ve played enough summer basketball in the past to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, and that’s what was happening. I walked up the final hill to Mt. Vernon–that’s why it’s called “mount” said my son Brendan–and got the necessary liquids into me.

We decided to take a tour of the house, but had to wait a couple of hours before a timed ticket was available. So, we found a shady spot under an immense elm tree at a distance from the other tourists and lounged on the grass. I got stung on the foot by a bee–another little setback–but it wasn’t too bad. After resting a while I roamed around the grounds and took a series of pictures.

Mt. Vernon — © Brian Rose

Mt. Vernon — © Brian Rose

At 5pm, our slot, and the last of the day, I asked a ticker taker how many people went through Mt. Vernon that day, and he said about 8,000. The tour is brief and they keep you moving, but the interiors are beautiful–no photos allowed–and worth seeing. Immediately afterward we mounted our bikes and headed off for the 18 miles back to D.C. My legs were tired, but I experienced none of the earlier day’s difficulty. As we approached Alexandria, to the south of D.C., menacing clouds and bolts of lightening moved in. We almost made it to the city, and shelter, but were caught in a crashing deluge and swirling winds. We managed to take partial shelter under an entrance to a parking garage in an apartment complex, but we were soaked through, and pretty much through all together.

More storms were headed our way. So we ditched our bikes at the Alexandria location of our bike rental company, and took the subway back into the city–wet, cold, exhausted, but pretty happy.

Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I went to Williamsburg, Virginia for the third time in the past month and half to see my father who is recovering from surgery. He will be 90 on July 16, and it seems pretty clear that he will make it.

On the way north, traveling with my wife and son, we stopped briefly in Richmond, a city I’ve spent a good deal of time in years ago. Some of my earliest color photographs were taken in the area around Main Street Station, the historic train depot in downtown Richmond. For a long time the area was largely derelict with empty tobacco factories and warehouses, but many of those have now been converted to apartment buildings.

Nevertheless, there is still a richly gritty aspect to the market area near the train station as seen in the photo above. The station is the structure to the left. We stopped here briefly, and I got out to snap a few pictures.

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.


Williamsburg, Virginia

Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I am in Williamsburg, Virginia visiting my father who is in the hospital. He appears to be doing fine after surgery, but is still unsure where he is and what is going on.

Last night I took a walk down the Duke of Gloucester Street, the original main street of the 18th century town. The light was beautiful.

New York/Cairo, Illinois

Commercial Street, Cairo, Illinois, 1989 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

With all the news about Osama bin Laden, less attention is being paid to an ongoing drama in the heartland of the U.S. The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers are running extremely high, threatening multiple locations, but especially the historic town of Cairo, Illinois. Cairo was once a bustling trading center at the confluence of the two rivers with its own custom house and 15,000 people. There were hotels, theaters, and fine mansions. As river transportation fell off, Cairo slipped into decline, which was exacerbated by racial segregation leading to riots in the ’60s, and wholesale white flight. Today, much of Cairo is a ghost town, its main street a ragged line of crumbling buildings interspersed with rubble strewn lots.

In 1989 I traveled with my view camera along the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cairo–another of my unfinished projects–due to lack of money. After two or three weeks of shooting, driving southwest along the river, I finally made it to Cairo having no idea what to expect. It was then, as now, a shocking tableau of abandonment.

Commercial Street in 1989, Cairo, Illinois (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Along with the abandonment there was a palpable whiff of danger in the air, a few pick-up trucks pulled up at bars, solitary individuals drifting about with no apparent destination. Despite the menacing atmosphere I managed to take a few photographs as the sun went down, and then returned in the morning. Things were much less scary in broad daylight, but equally devoid of activity. As I wandered about with my camera I was approached by a middle aged who turned out to be the head of the chamber of commerce. The fact that an out of town photographer was interested in the place was reason enough for him to invite me to lunch at a nearby diner. He wanted to bring Cairo back–a middle-aged white man in a largely black city–but his blue-suited boosterism, seemed out of time and out of step in this scene of desolation.

That was in 1989–and almost nothing has changed in 22 years except that much of  Cairo’s extraordinary architecture has further decayed or has disappeared altogether. In the intervening years some of the historic mansions have been preserved as has the old custom house. But the downtown remains spectral, made all the more so by fancy brick paving stones and retro lampposts on parts of Commercial Street, a superficial attempt at revitalization.

Google Street View of the same stretch of storefronts as above.

Commercial Street in 1989, Cairo, Illinois (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Google Street View of the same building as above.

Commercial Street in 1989, Cairo, Illinois (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Ohio River levee in 1989, Cairo, Illinois (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The reality is that Cairo is a doomed city, a wedge of river sediment between the Ohio and Mississippi walled in by levees. A desperate fight is underway to save the city as the river water threatens to top the flood walls and ground water pressure builds underneath. The city’s 3,000 residents have been evacuated. Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers blasted an opening in a levee to the south flooding miles of fertile farmland to relieve the pressure. As of this morning, the levee breech seemed to be working, the water subsiding, but Cairo remains vulnerable. It may survive this season’s flood, but how long can a sandy spit of land withstand the uncontrollable force of two mighty rivers?

Cairo, Illinois in 1989 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Birdhouses in the form of barge tows, a thematic reminder of why Cairo exists where it is. But the river transit that once made this a thriving small metropolis faded like the car industry faded in Detroit, another symbol of American decline. Or if not decline, then abject neglect, a too easy eagerness to shift attention to the next boom town, to the next  swath of exurban frontier. Detroit may yet rise from the ashes, but Cairo sits betwixt and between, imprisoned by its history of racial strife and its impermanent geography.

In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck and the runaway slave Jim float down the big river on the lookout for Cairo, where the clear Ohio water meets the muddy Mississippi. Cairo is Jim’s gateway to the Ohio River and freedom, but they missed their landmark in the fog and drifted on south into slave territory.

There warn’t nothing to do now but to look out sharp for the town, and not pass it without seeing it. He said he’d be mighty sure to see it, because he’d be a free man the minute he seen it, but if he missed it he’d be in a slave country again and no more show for freedom. Every little while he jumps up and says:

“Dah she is?”

But it warn’t. It was Jack-o’-lanterns, or lightning bugs; so he set down again, and went to watching, same as before. Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom.



New York/Solar Panels

Fair Lawn, New Jersey — Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

I read with some amusement an article in the New York Times on New Jersey residents complaining about solar panels mounted on utility poles in their neighborhoods.

“I hate them,” Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. “It’s just an eyesore.”

Some residents consider the overhanging panels “ugly” and “hideous” and worry aloud about the effect on property values.

Yes, looking at the photograph above there clearly is a problem. The street is cluttered with old wooden poles festooned with transformer boxes and draped with telephone and electrical wires. The solar panels merely add to the visual cacophony. This is how residential streets look all over the country–and I am sorry to say that most people have become blind to it. Moreover, in the current political and economic climate there is little hope that this design cancer will be addressed.

Tassafaronga Village, Oakland, California (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Recently, I photographed Tassafaronga Village in Oakland, California  for architect David Baker. It is comprised of low income and middle income housing. In the shot above I am looking over an undulating green roof toward townhouse apartments with solar panels mounted on stanchions and on the roofs. Utility lines are invisible–only the solar panels remain exposed. Imagine the street in New Jersey with a series of new appropriately designed poles mounted with solar panels. The panels would be plainly visible, of course, but the overall look greatly simplified. It could be done elegantly.

Tassafaronga Village, Oakland, California (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Here is another view of the project looking toward a larger apartment building containing community rooms and support offices. The previous view was shot from one of the narrow vertical windows on the second floor. Solar panels face south along the street.

As a society we are neglecting the public commons. Our communities are visually polluted with all kinds ill-considered utility structures, cheaply built municipal buildings, and unregulated strip developments. Present day political discourse is all about what we can’t do rather than what we can do.

New Jersey: require the utility companies to bury those lines.


New York/Wyoming

Somewhere in Wyoming, 1981 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

First some disappointing news. My application for a grant from the Graham Foundation to photograph the New Religious Landscape, a project focused on Megachurches and their surrounding areas was unsuccessful. At this point, it is just about impossible for me to take on ambitious projects like this without external funding.

I’ve spent the last two days writing an article for a special edition of the Fast Folk magazine dedicated to Jack Hardy, the late songwriter. Scroll down for earlier posts on Hardy. It is basically the story of my relationship with Jack from 1977 to 1984 during which time we hung out in Greenwich Village folk clubs,, traveled across country together and established the Fast Folk, a monthly LP/magazine of the latest songs from our weekly songwriters meetings. I may post the article here later, but I don’t want to preempt the Fast Folk, which will be available online–probably through the Smithsonian Folkways record label. Stay tuned for that.

The photograph above was taken while driving with Hardy through Wyoming in 1981. There are many other pictures from that trip, and none have ever been printed. A slight light leak in my view camera caused streaking on about half of the images making them near impossible to print–the old way in the darkroom. The defect is easily remedied with Photoshop. So, stay tuned for a series of images taken all over the United States in the early ’80s.

New York/Mohonk

The Shawangunk Ridge from Skytop — © Brian Rose

Here are a few more photographs of the Mohonk Preserve just west of New Paltz, New York about two hours north of New York City. It’s amazing that such a landscape exists so close to one of world’s largest cities. Stay at the Mohonk Mountain House if you’ve got a few bucks to spare. It’s expensive, but refreshingly unhip, even a bit frayed at the edges. The hotel architecture is fairytale eclectic–turreted castle here, Swiss chalet there. The grounds are dotted with small pavilions nestled on rocky outcroppings, a throwback to the 19th century concept of the romantic landscape.

Skytop Reservoir — © Brian Rose

Mohonk Preserve — © Brian Rose

New York/Mohonk

Mohonk Preserve, New Paltz, New York — © Brian Rose

I spent the New Year’s weekend Upstate with Renée and Brendan. We hiked and did a little cross country skiing. I began reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This morning the snowy ground and warm temperatures created a swirling fog that plunged us into a colorless world as we walked the trails of the Mohonk Preserve near New Paltz, New York.

New York/Trenton

A photographic impromptu done while documenting the Louis Kahn bath house and day camp pavilions. The series starts with a view of the pavilions and then takes in the grove of trees, sheds, and various objects that dot this nondescript, but oddly compelling landscape.

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose