Category Archives: Tribeca

New York/Happy New Year!

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One World Trade Center (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A final punctuation mark for the end of the year, and for my forthcoming book WTC. This was taken with my new Travelwide 4×5 camera. It doesn’t have movements, but it is feather light and can be handheld — though this was made on a tripod.

It’s been a tumultuous year in our household with any number of highs and lows. But the new year is looking bright as it approaches. Bring it on!

New York/1977

A recent comment on my blog led me to do some research on the time when I first put down roots in New York. It was the summer of 1977, and I had just come by train to the city arriving before dawn, and parked myself in an all night coffee shop in the West Village waiting for the Village Voice to be thrown off the truck. It was 60 cents back then, which was kind of expensive when you think about it, but it was the indispensable weekly at that time, and if you were looking for a place to live downtown, you had to get the Voice for the classified ads.

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Village Voice real estate classifieds in 1977

Since I was going to be studying at Cooper Union in the East Village, I was looking for a place on that side of town. And it needed to be a sublet because I was only at Cooper as a one-semester exchange student. I skimmed dozens of ads, most of which were advertising apartments for $200 or $250. You could easily get an apartment on the high end of that range in the West Village. Or you could get a 2,500 square foot loft for $350 a month in Soho or Tribeca. Maybe even get a 5 to 7 year lease. If you played your cards right, you ended up buying one of those lofts for $50,000, which would now be worth millions of dollars. The sticking point for me was that those lofts often came with a “fixture fee” of several thousand dollars to cover the cost of the things – heater, lights, appliances — inside what was basically a raw loft. There was no way I could come up with that kind of money.

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East Village apartment listings 1977

But there were lots of more modest apartments in the East Village, and really, all things considered, I had a lot of choice. In fact, there were dozens of choices, and all in the $200 range. Never mind that many of the buildings were crumbling, and anything east of First Avenue looked like Berlin in 1945. I realized very quickly, however, that I would be making a lot of phone calls and looking at a lot of apartments.

So, there I was, planning on a long day of house hunting, when I saw this:

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Cooper Square Vicinity, near NYU, New School, 2 rooms, $800 for whole year. That couldn’t be right I thought. $800 for a year! Well, it turned out to be legit. A philosophy professor at NYU was taking a temporary job teaching at Tulane down south, and decided to sublet his apartment for a year. It was in a city-owned building, pretty rundown, but on a largely intact block, East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue.

I took it, and by noon I had an apartment in Manhattan, and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the city. In the evening I headed for Penn Station to return to Washington, D.C. (where I was living) with the idea of bringing my stuff up in a week or two. As I got onto my train, the whole station was plunged into absolute darkness. Fortunately, my train had auxiliary power, and we sat in relative comfort — it was still bloody hot — and the police kept coming on board urging us to stay put. The entire city was blacked out. The following morning when power was restored we pulled into Washington and I saw the dramatic headlines about the rioting and looting that had convulsed large parts of the city overnight.

A few weeks later I moved into my tenement on East 4th Street. My professor never came back and the apartment was mine. And after a semester as an exchange student, I applied to Cooper Union and was accepted. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I was one very fortunate guy.

New York/Salt Shed

I can remember back in the 90s when it seemed that New York had become an architectural backwater. I was living in Amsterdam, and a Dutch planner friend, about to leave for a trip to New York, asked what interesting new buildings to look for. I was momentarily silent — nothing immediately came to mind. I ended up recommending a few contextually sensitive projects that were admirable if not exactly innovative.

Innovation is not everything, in architecture or in other fields, but the lack of it in the 90s suggested a city treading water creatively. That sense of stasis is long gone for a variety of complex reasons — the post 9/11 vitality of the city is an area rich for exploration by journalists and social scientists. I am neither of those. But I am a photographer of the urban landscape, and there is much to observe in the swift rapids of the present.

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Travel wide 4×5 camera with film holder — © Brian Rose

Architecture can be dramatic or prosaic, showy or utilitarian, but usually not both simultaneously. Let me tell you about a salt shed in lower Manhattan on Canal Street. I had just gotten a new camera to play with — a hand holdable 4×5 camera designed by a couple of guys in Chicago funded by a Kickstarter campaign. As small as a DSLR and half as light. I decided to take it out for a spin to see how it would work for me photographing a building. My wife works in the Hudson Square area, the old printing district west of Soho, and she suggested I take a look at the new Spring Street salt shed designed by Dattner Architects, a New York based architectural firm.

It is just that. A shed meant for storing the stuff used to melt ice and snow on the streets of the city. But instead of the usual metallic tent-like structure, there is, here, a multi-facetted shard of concrete looking very much like a salt crystal, or at least that’s what two different sanitation workers passing by told me while I was taking pictures. And it has walls three feet thick. They loved it.

Here it is:

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

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© Brian Rose

 

 

New York/Prints

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Comparing two tests before making a 50×62 inch print — © Brian Rose

I have completed printing for my upcoming show at Dillon Gallery in New York City. The opening is March 7, and I’ll be posting a formal invitation soon. Yesterday I spent about eight hours in the lab shepherding my digital files through the process of printing them on paper. Although many photographers now use inkjet printers, I still find the look and feel of c-prints preferable for my work. The beauty of older analog color prints was the naturalistic color and slight softness in rendering light and detail. So much of what you see these days in galleries and museums is over saturated, over contrasty, and over sharpened–brittle. Photoshop is the most wondrous of programs, but it is also a Pandora’s box, and no matter what kind of print you make, digital c or inkjet, the temptation is always there to do too much.

Most of my project work–fine art photography–I continue to use 4×5 film. There may come a day when I switch over to digital, but we’re not quite there yet. In this case, with the Lower East Side work, it is especially nice to place images next to each other taken 30 years apart all made on essentially the same material. The big difference now is that I scan everything, both old and new, and do all the color correcting in Photoshop. Analog projection printing was generally limited to making global corrections, like adding or subtracting yellow from the mix. One worked step by step gradually finding a color balance that felt natural, had a sense of depth, that felt clean, unmasked. Many negatives, however, presented challenges and I was never wholly satisfied with the results. Photoshop provides tremendous control of every aspect of the image, and I’m not talking about the kind of manipulation that everyone is familiar with. I’m talking about the ability to make subtle, carefully modulated changes that enhance the overall quality of the image. Once you’ve become proficient in Photoshop, there’s little nostalgia for the old analog method.

 

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One of the recent images from Times and Space on the Lower East Side coming off the machine — © Brian Rose

In the case of the images I did with Ed Fausty in 1980, it isn’t possible to make decent analog prints, even if I wanted to. The different layers in the film emulsion have faded or shifted, and the color balance has been has been permanently thrown off. I tried making analog prints from the old negatives some years ago, but gave up after a few hours of futility. Digital has essentially saved these images. It can be a lot of work–hours, even days–coaxing the color out of the old negatives. The results, however, are often amazing–prints that are far better than the original prints.

Nowadays you are not really making the image in the darkroom as before. Most of the work is done in Photoshop, and lab is the final step. Typically, I bring my digital files on a flash drive, copy them onto the server at the lab, look at the images on their setup to see if looks much different than my studio computer. Usually, the difference is minimal, and one or two sets of small test prints are all that is needed before going to the full size prints. In this case, I am making 50×62 and 20×25 inch prints.


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Orchard Street in 1980 coming off the machine at Beth Schiffer Labs in lower Manhattan — © Brian Rose

There will be 25 prints in the show at Dillon, about half of them in the size seen above. Not having printed this large before, it was pretty awesome seeing the images roll off of machine. There is a tendency these days to print too large–mostly for market reasons rather than aesthetic–but these images were made in 4×5 for the monumentality that the format brought to the subject. It was one of my goals when undertaking the Lower East Side Project, to describe, amplify, and preserve for all time the streets and architecture of the place. Printing this size achieves that original goal. Ed and I made several large prints–30×40 inches–in 1981 when we exhibited the work at the Henry Street Settlement. It was incredibly impressive then to see color prints of that size. It’s more routine now. But I think these images will impress nevertheless.

 

 

 

New York/Broadway


Broadway — © Brian Rose

The view from the lab window where I was making 40×50 inch prints for a client. This stretch of Broadway just below Canal Street still looks like it did 30 years ago.

New York/Canal Street


Canal Street — © Brian Rose

I was down on Canal the other day taking pictures of what is sometimes called the printing district, now updated to real estate friendly Hudson Square. Canal Street remains a tumultuous strip of cut-rate hardware, electronics, and jewelry shops, but some of its rough edges have been smoothed, as in the park above. It’s a pleasant, if over designed, replacement for a parking lot. Is there some way that New York parks could be designed with less predictable gentility?


Canal Street — © Brian Rose

A couple of blocks west there’s a more typical bit of Canal Street scruffiness. Here’s your inspiration for attempting an answer to the question above.