New York/Photo Books

A couple of book notes. WTC, my latest book, was included in the Athens Photo Festival this summer. The selected books were placed on tables in the gallery so that viewers could pick them up and page through them. It would have been fun to go to Greece, but I’ve had a busy summer.


Athens Photo Festival

WTC is available for sale on my website. PLEASE GET YOUR COPY. 

And one of my photographs has been selected for what promises to be a terrific photo book about Brooklyn. Brooklyn Photographs Now, written and edited by Marla Hamburg Kennedy features the work of well known and emerging photographers. Some of the recognizable names include Joel Sternfeld, Mitch Epstein, and Joel Meyerowitz. Lots of newcomers as well.

From the Rizzoli website:

Brooklyn has seen exponential change over the past fifteen years, and this book presents the best work of the photographers from all over the world who have been capturing those changes and movements in cityscapes, portraits, vignettes, and process-oriented photography.

The book will be out in the Spring of 2018. You can read more about it here.

New York/Coney Island 1977

I’m just going to park these here with only a few specific comments. It’s a very quiet, very spare series of pictures. Rather than the raucous sounds of an amusement park, it feels hushed, somnolent. Rather than throngs of people crowding the rides and games, it is almost empty, desolate.

In the fourth picture, on the wall it says “Film by Ray Wisniewski.” He was an avant grade filmmaker of the ’60s and ’70s. Associated with Andy Warhol. Was I was aware of who he was? Possibly. I can’t recall.

Below, Uncle Sam says he wants you to win. See Dracula’s head chopped off. Bar & Grill. Screechy Nell and Shaggy Sam. Clams on the half shell. Corn on the cob. Spook-A-Rama menu.


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

New York/Coney Island 1977


The Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

The last black and white photographs I took were in 1977 when I first came to New York. After that it has all been color — 35mm in the beginning, and 4×5 negative up until the present. I was in a hurry in those days, and just did not get around to printing the black and white I was shooting. I took a class taught by Larry Fink, who constantly told me to move in closer, and I insisted on staying back. (I love Larry Fink.)

All I remember is that I made lots of walks with my camera in downtown Manhattan, and I took the subway to far flung parts of the city. Inevitably, I ended up in Coney Island, which was a gloriously decrepit wreck of a place in the late 70s. Much of it was abandoned, though there were still rides, funhouses, cotton candy and Nathan’s hotdogs. The Cyclone and the Thunderbolt roller coasters were still running, clattering wooden structures that did not inspire confidence in their safety.


The Parachute Jump, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I’m not exactly sure when these pictures were made. It was obviously still warm, but the summer crowds are not present in the pictures. So, I’m guessing it was September or early October. As run down as Coney Island was, I wasn’t necessarily documenting social conditions. I had just arrived in New York, and I accepted the shabby state of things as normal. I was interested in the texture of the cityscape as raw visual material, and I carefully, albeit quickly, made rigorously formal compositions.


The Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

One of the great things about Coney Island — then and now — is the dense urban structure of it. The city streets run right to the boardwalk and beach, and there are narrow alleys and passageways. Most present day amusement parks are, not coincidentally, parks. They are built adjacent to freeways, are surrounded by huge parking lots, and feature pastoral landscapes. Coney Island is an urban playground, like Times Square, and in 1977 it had some of that same allure of sex and danger. The increasing prosperity of the city has drained some of that “authenticity” out of Coney Island, but it remains a crazy quilt of planned and spontaneous urban profusion.


From the Steeplechase Pier, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Coney Island boardwalk, 1977 — © Brian Rose


From the Steeplechase Pier, Coney Island, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I kind of want a larger format negative — or high resolution digital — with more detail for these images, especially the one above. But they are beautiful, nevertheless. Atmospheric tokens of another time, a young photographer finding his way in a city teetering on the edge, a wondrous rediscovery for me all these years later.

More Coney Island pictures to come.

New York/Black and White 1977


New York, unknown location, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Although my early black and whites are without question documents of time and place, I did not, as a student, consider myself a documentary photographer. There was never any question about the goal, which was to make photographs as art. Not some hybrid mixed media animal — though I did make a painting in school where I stuck a photograph onto the canvas — but photographs pure and simple — crystallized reality, but not reality at the same time. To me, there was power in that. I still think there is power in that.


East 41st Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

One of the basic, and profound, truths of photography is that the moment preserved, is fleeting. It seems “decisive,” to quote Cartier Bresson, but it remains fugitive, unknowable, When I look at the man above crossing the street in the fedora (they were not so common even in 1977) I cannot know what he is thinking, or where her is going, or just came from. But he strides, nevertheless, through the frame as if there is meaning. It is an awkward meaning in a slightly awkward composition, but somehow compelling, cinematic. To me. Maybe not for you. I’m keeping this one in the mix for now.


Tudor City Place, 1977 — © Brian Rose

New York was a mess in 1977, and you can see it in many of these pictures — in the scraggly vegetation in the parks, the trash on the streets and sidewalks, the frayed edges of the landscape. But the photograph above was not a critique on the condition of the city. I was aware, of course, that a small tree lay uprooted in the left foreground of my picture. It’s a notation, not central to the motive for the photograph. There are two verticals — the trees — and a tangle of limbs, benches, and shadows in between. There is a perfect sunlit square hovering left of center. Several people bask in the winter light, talking, dozing.


East 41st Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose


East 68th Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Tudor City Place, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I wanted the camera frame to take in everything evenly — non hierarchical. This was learned from Friedlander especially, and my teacher at Cooper, Meyerowitz. Composition was not just side to side, but front to back as well. Each shot was an experiment in seeing and describing the fabric of things not necessarily the things themselves.


East 40th Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I look at many of the pictures I made in 1977 and wonder what the hell I was thinking. Pointing the camera at what seems like nothing. Baffling to me now.

But then — there’s the image above…

 

New York/Fordham Road 1977


Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

As I was scanning my 35mm black and white negatives from 1977 I came across a series of images that I could not locate in the city, at least at first. I remember roaming the five boroughs with my camera, sometimes taking the subway to the end of the line, with no particular goal in mind other than satisfying my curiosity.

Looking at the image above, I was not sure where it was — and I could not remember ever taking it. I knew it was not Manhattan because of the relatively low buildings and the fact that the street was passing underneath my position behind a balustrade and a row of telephone booths. That doesn’t happen often in Manhattan. But having spent a lot of time in the Bronx the past few years going to my son’s basketball and baseball games, I knew it had to somewhere along the Grand Concourse, the broad boulevard that runs through the center of the borough.


Fordham Road, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Bisecting the Concourse is Fordham Road, a busy shopping street that for a half mile or so defines the southern edge of the Fordham University campus. In 1977 it was a visually cacophonous place, and it still is today. The creeping blight, the fires and abandonment, of the South Bronx never made it up to Fordham Road though it threatened.

The RKO Fordham Theatre was showing Star Wars, the cultural touchstone that premiered in 1977. The theater was demolished years ago and replaced by a nondescript retail building. And back then, there were still stores that specialized in “hosiery.”


Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Alexander’s was a big discount department store that dominated the corner of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse. The building is still there, but divided up into smaller retail outlets. That’s a Checker Cab to the left and Ford Mustang to the right.


Fordham Road, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Hair on Face Removed Forever. We Dissolve the Roots. These buildings are still there, but the Dollar Savings Bank is now an Apple Bank, and the parapet decorations to the right have either been stripped off or are obscured by new cladding.


Fordham Road/Grand Concourse area, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose


The Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

I was able to locate this photograph by reversing it in Photoshop and identifying the Ascot Theater across the street. It was demolished in 2016.


The Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 1977 — © Brian Rose

This one was hard to find, but I eventually located a small triangular park on Google street view at 181 Street and the Grand Concourse. It’s still scruffy looking, but there are now a half dozen trees behind the benches.

New York/1977


Madison Avenue and 41st Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

A story I’ve told many times — 40 years ago, today, i arrived in New York and found an apartment on East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue. At 9:34PM the lights went out, and I spent the night in Penn Station unable to get my train back down to Washington, D.C. where I  was living at the time. It was eerie in the station, but there were cops around, and I was unaware of the riots and fires raging elsewhere. A few days later I was back to this scarred and battered city with my stuff, mostly clothes, a guitar, and photography materials.

I set up a darkroom in the bedroom of my tiny apartment, and that summer began roaming the street with a 35mm Nikkormat, mostly shooting Tri-X film.I didn’t print much of it, however, because I had already begun working in color, and I soon left black and white photography behind for good. This is the second installment of scans made from that work — most of it from 1977 and 1978. As I said in an earlier blog post, I do not remember taking any of these pictures. It’s like discovering an unknown self intently searching for a style, for a formal approach, for a subject, which to a great extent turned out to be New York City.


Lexington Avenue Line, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Unknown location, 1977 — ©˙Brian Rose


East 43rd Street across from the United Nations, 1977 — © Brian Rose


158th Street, The Bronx, Yankee Stadium, 1977 — © Brian Rose

1977 — it was the summer of Son of Sam the serial killer, the Bronx was burning, and the Yankees won the World Series. It was my entree to a city that would become central to my life and career. In that first year or two I attended Cooper Union, wrote songs and hung out in clubs with my friends, met my musical comrades in arms, Jack Hardy and Suzanne Vega, and took a lot of photographs. In 1980 I teamed up with Ed Fausty to photograph the Lower East Side in color using a 4×5 view camera. It was an exciting time — though wistful nostalgia is tempered by the fact — which I have not forgotten — that it was also a difficult time, financially and emotionally.

Stay tuned for more pictures.

New York/Adrian Jovanovic


Adrian Jovanovic and NYS Senator Brad Hoylman — © Brian Rose

Adrian Jovanovic was a hero to me. He is, tragically, gone — and the Cooper community is reeling from the loss.

From the Committee to Save Cooper Union’s statement:

But it was Adrian’s creation of CSCU that channeled that broad community passion into a cogent legal argument and lawsuit that would succeed in validating the core intent of Cooper Union’s Trust, driving out managers and trustees who would not (or believed we should not) continue the fight for a free Cooper, and instituting critical board reforms and oversight. Without Adrian’s leadership, unstoppable optimism, and conviction, none of that would have been achieved.

During the heat of the battle to save Cooper Union, I frequently posted on Facebook, despairing that important information was not getting out because of ongoing litigation, gag orders, and even self-censorship. Although we were all on the same side, there were disagreements, even rancor within the ranks.

Several times, Adrian called me at night, patiently telling me what he could from his perspective on the inside as one of the petitioners in the lawsuit against the school. He was always optimistic, confident, and believed fervently that we would prevail. We did prevail — although the ultimate goal of returning to free remains elusive.

The photograph above was made during one of the high points of the past few years — we had just returned from the courthouse downtown where the Cooper Union and CSCU lawyers informed the judge of their agreement to the consent decree brokered by State Attorney General Schneiderman. It was a shining moment of triumph, and an ecstatic Adrian led the brief victory ceremony in front of 41 Cooper Square.

That unnamed building, and the onerous mortgage attached to it, has been a symbol of everything that went wrong with Cooper Union. Let’s do what my friend M’Liz Keefe suggests, and forever wipe it clean of the taint of bad history. Let’s make it the Adrian Burton Jovanovic Building.

New York/Atlantic City


Trump Plaza (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Most of the pictures of Atlantic City and Trump’s abandoned casinos I’ve posted so far were made with a digital camera. But I am actually shooting 4×5 film with the digital camera primarily for backup and preview purposes. It’s hard to appreciate at 72 pixels per inch, but these are scanned at very high resolution and worked up meticulously in Photoshop. Trump’s buildings have never looked so good — in a manner of speaking.


Trump Plaza (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

It is not merely the materialism of the 1980’s that Donald Trump embodies, it is the impatience, the insistence on having everything right now, all of it, the willingness to settle for appearance over substance. This is why it is hard not to sense, for all Mr. Trump has been identified with New York, that he is more at home in Atlantic City, where surface glitter is really all there is.

— Paul Goldberger, New York Times

My Atlantic City mini-website here.

New York/Black and White


East 14th Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Going through some boxes yesterday, I began looking at my early black and white negatives.

During the 1970s I shot dozens of rolls of film, Kodak Trii-x and Plus-x, along with dozens of rolls of Kodachrome and Ektachrome color slide film. Most of the black and white has never been printed, or even contacted. I didn’t have the time, and I was moving quickly from one thing to the next.

So, I scanned eight strips of black and white film — a small sample of negatives — and well, I’m kind of stunned. I literally can’t remember taking any of these pictures. It’s like discovering my alter-ego out on the street in New York, a young photographer fully engaged in making images, densely composed fragments of a now distant past.

Unknown location in New York, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Unknown location in New York, 1977 — © Brian Rose


Unknown location in New York, 1977 — © Brian Rose

A photograph of nothing and/or everything. A nondescript location in some far flung part of the city, a precise balance of interlocking elements welded together at the center of the image, a face staring out from a cigarette ad, two cobra style lampposts acting as quotation marks.


Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, 1977 — © Brian Rose

Similar vertical elements dividing the frame, foreground and background brought together in an overall, highly activated composition. I remember now, the way I thought about things back then. I wasn’t interested in one area of focus, or one subject of interest. I wanted everything treated equally across the field of view.

I’ll scan more images as time permits going forward.

New York/Around Town


Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

After the storm.


Long Beach, New York — © Brian Rose

Children at Play.


Rockaway Beach, New York — © Brian Rose

Slices ‘n’ Ices.


Kingsbridge Road, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

Elevated subway platform.

New York/Julius Caesar


Caesars Casino, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

In all the brouhaha about Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar I’d like to point out that I made the connection to Shakespeare in a blog post on the day Trump’s inauguration. I used the quote below:

Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Cassius is trying to persuade Brutus to join the insurrection against Caesar, which in the case of the play leads to the assassination of the leader returning from war. In a literary sense it is about taking action as opposed to being a passive observer — that history is not determined by fate, but belongs to those who seize the moment.

The assassination of Caesar, however, does not lead to the triumph of Cassius and Brutus, but to their own deaths and the ascendence of Mark Antony. The empire is preserved, but at great cost.

As in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, there are battles, literal and psychological, over honor and moral rectitude. Blood is inevitably spilled, and the heroes are often victims of their own flaws. Shakespeare’s plays are both highly dramatic entertainment and complex interrogations of human character.


Caesars Casino and the abandoned Trump Plaza in rear, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

I wasn’t able to see the Public’s interpretation of Julius Caesar in Central Park (closing tomorrow) with Caesar portrayed as Donald Trump. One assumes, based on the plot of the play, that the murder of “Trump” should be seen as a cautionary tale. Violence leads to more violence, and to tyranny. We are left understanding that change must come through our democratic institutions, and when necessary, in the streets — peacefully.

That Trump supporters do not see this — or willfully refuse to see it — is, of course, to be expected.

New York/Rockaway Beach


Beach 116th Street, Rockaway Beach — © Brian Rose

Despite becoming a cool beach destination in recent years, Rockaway Beach still has its scruffy aspects. There are SROs, nursing homes, and low income projects. There was a time when the beach was a convenient place to dump things — and people. There are also blocks and blocks of neatly kept houses.


Beach 116th Street, Rockaway Beach — © Brian Rose

Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It’s not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach
Up on the roof, out on the street
Down in the playground, the hot concrete
Bus ride is too slow, they blast out the disco on the radio

Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach

— The Ramones


Rockaway Beach boardwalk — © Brian Rose

Rockaway Beach was badly hit by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 — hard to believe it was almost five years ago. The damage is still evident, though much has been rebuilt along the beach in the Rockaways. Elevated modular structures house a lifeguard station and restrooms. The wooden boardwalk has been replaced with a sturdier concrete surface that is less comfortable to walk on barefoot. We didn’t hitch a ride like the Ramones, but took the NYC Ferry back to Manhattan, which is a great ride, and only $2.75.

New York/Chain-link Baseball


Long Beach, New York — © Brian Rose

Despite the it’s bucolic “field of dreams” image, baseball has urban roots. Before the development of suburbs after World War II, baseball was a city game played in vacant lots, and even in the street. The development of the suburbs changed the geographic and socio-economic basis of the game, and the rising popularity of football and basketball displaced the primacy of baseball as the great American pastime.

But baseball is still played in the city on scruffy fields caged behind yards of chain-link fencing. My son, Brendan, is one of a relatively small number of New York City kids who made it all the way through Little League to college ball. I’ve journeyed to dozens of games in the Bronx and all over the five boroughs. These fields are not glamorous places — unlike nearby Yankee Stadium. They don’t engender much nostalgia, though I still feel somewhat attached to Pier 40 on the Hudson River in lower Manhattan, a disused passenger ship terminal converted into a recreational facility.


Monroe High School, The Bronx, New York — © Brian Rose

Baseball is played on fan-shaped fields, while New York is a city of rectilinear blocks. It’s not a natural fit. Nevertheless, baseball remains deeply associated with the city historically and in the present. In Greenwich Village Little Leaguers play on J.J. Walker field hemmed in by a high outfield fence to prevent well-struck balls from breaking windows across the street. And in the Bronx, housing projects overlook Monroe High School where many of the best Latino players in the city learn the game.

New York/Atlantic City


Atlantic City — © Brian Rose (4×5 negative)

President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor . . . and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.

— Hope Hicks, White House spokeswoman

New York/Xanadu


Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City —  © Brian Rose (see more Atlantic City photos)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.


Donald Trump and King Salman of Saudi Arabia

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

(from Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge)

New York/Trilogy


Broadway, one week after 9/11 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The three books I have published in the past seven years comprise a New York trilogy — the city seen and explored over an extended period of time. Taken together they form a portrait of New York, especially lower Manhattan, during a period of extreme transformation. I hesitate to say “unprecedented” because change is integral to the nature of New York going all the way back to the first Dutch settlers.

The story told in these books relates to past photographic projects even to the way in which Marville and Atget documented Paris during the remaking of the city under Haussmann. I was familiar with all of that history when I began photographing the Lower East Side in 1980. At the same time, I was influenced by contemporary strains of street, architectural, and landscape photography. Color was an exceptionally new thing when I started this work in the 1970s, Today, it is the default photographic medium. As I was exploring New York with my camera, I was also discovering color’s descriptive nature, and its capacity to reveal as well as obscure.

These books also form a personal narrative, and I have kept my voice present throughout the text accompanying the photographs. I was 23 when the first images were made, and 62 when the most recent were done. At the center of this trilogy — though not seen directly — the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001. That wrenching event propelled the city forward, inexplicably, as a complex barely understood motive — and simultaneously, propelled the nation backward, convulsively, to the present moment of political crisis.

Time and Space on the Lower East Side is a portrait of place, one of America’s most vibrant and historic neighborhoods seen over a span of 30 years.

The trade edition of this book is, unfortunately, sold out, though used copies can be found on the internet.

The limited edition is still available — signed books in a slipcover with an 8×10 inch print inside.

Purchase the limited edition or browse images and reviews here.

Metamorphosis. Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013 is before/after view showing rthe dramatic transformation of the former meat market of New York City. Rose spent several days in 1985 photographing the neighborhood with a 4×5 view camera. The negatives remained in a box unseen for over three decades. Rediscovered a few years ago, the images portray the streets and architecture of New York, stunningly empty, but vividly real.

There are only 150 copies of this book still available.
Purchase the trade or limited edition of the book here.

WTC is a visual history of the Twin Towers and the rebuilding of the city after 9/11. It serves as both historical record and personal story going all the way back to 1977 when the Trade Center was only a few years old and Rose was a newcomer to the city.

WTC pivots off of 9/11 with a series of images made directly after the destruction of the Towers, and moves forward to the ascendance of One World Trade Center on the skyline.

Purchase the trade or limited edition of the book here.