New York/Borders

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The former Iron Curtain border, Germany, 1985 — © Brian Rose

It was fearsome thing up close, the walls and fences that divided Europe during the Cold War years. From a distance it sometimes appeared more benign — silvery ribbons of steel following the contours of the landscape. But the reality was plain — it was an apparatus created by autocratic governments for repression — and its dual purpose was to keep its own citizens imprisoned, and to limit the influence of western culture. Hundreds died trying to escape.

It was also a dangerous line in the sand between nuclear powers, and any incident along that line had the potential for triggering global catastrophe. I photographed the border in the 1980s, and I documented the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

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Mexican/American border 2016 — Photograph by Kirsten Luce  (New York Times article)

The border between the United States and Mexico can appear similar to the old Iron Curtain with miles of steel fencing snaking through the undulating desert Southwest. It is not the Iron Curtain — it serves a very different purpose — but it, too, is a deadly and dehumanizing scar on the land.

The leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party proposes to extend the fencing across the entire border with Mexico and make it taller, more impenetrable. A beautiful wall, as Donald Trump says.

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There Berlin Wall, 1985 — © Brian Rose

The problems of illegal immigration and the desperate flight of refugees seeking freedom will not be solved by a higher, stronger, more efficient — and deadly — wall. It’s a fool’s errand. And the antithesis of American values.

The East Germans euphemistically called their border fortifications the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall, or anti-fascist protective rampart. Trump’s beautiful wall is fascism — nakedly expressed, for all to see.

New York/The Magic Shop

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Brian Rose and Suzanne Vega, backstage at the Bottom Line — 1990

Sadly, The Magic Shop, one of New York’s great recording studios is closing. It’s for the usual reasons. As owner Steve Rosenthal said in the Times: “As the city becomes more of a corporate and condo island, some of us wish for a better balance between money and art, between progress and preservation, and we hope that one day we will see a reversal of the destruction of conscience and community we are witnessing.”

Musicians like Lou Reed and David Bowie recorded albums there. And a much less known project. An unfinished album of my songs produced by Suzanne Vega. Here is my tribute to to Steve and the Magic Shop — recorded there in 1990 — with Greg Anderson on bass, Frank Vilardi on drums, Jon Gordon on guitar, Lisa Gutkin on violin, and Suzanne Vega background vocals.

The Magic Kingdom:

 

New York/Death of Photography (greatly exaggerated)

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S1st Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Every few years someone or other, usually an art/photo critic, declares photography dead. Or if not dead, then relegated to a quaint sideshow off the midway of progress. I’ve written about it before, way back in 2007, in response to Peter Plagens’ Newsweek article “Is Photography Dead?” An article that ends with the line: “The next great photographers—if there are to be any—will have to find a way to reclaim photography’s special link to reality. And they’ll have to do it in a brand-new way.”

Last August, Stephen Mayes repeated many of Plagens’ assertions in a Time article that keeps popping up in my Facebook newsfeed, no doubt because hundreds of my “friends” are photographers. His article ends by conjuring up the old Elvis meme: “It’s very far from dead but it’s definitely left the building.” Which means, all you losers waiting for an encore should go home because the show is over. It has moved on to a new venue.

The argument for the death of photography generally revolves around how technology has stripped the medium of its claim to veracity. Never mind that photographic reality has since its inception held a tenuous grip on reality — despite the faith placed in it. Mayes believes that the nature of digital capture is fundamentally different from lens based imagery, and touts the infinite arrangeability of pixels as a transformative phenomenon.

No doubt, of course, technology has changed the medium, but Mayes flails about trying to describe what that change might look like. Having just drowned in MoMA’s inchoate “Ocean of Images,” the latest installment of the museum’s New Photography series, I can only conclude that no one seems to know where things are, much less where things are going.

Arrangements of digital data in the post internet image vortex. That’s where we are, apparently.

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“THE VIOLIN (MOZART/KUBELICK)”
Georges Braque, 1912

There is one paragraph of Mayes’s article in particular that illustrates where his argument about photography goes wrong. He compares the present image revolution as comparable to the period when Picasso, and the other Cubists, deconstructed the traditional way of seeing, which forever transformed the nature of representation. Cubism was definitely a transformative movement in the history of art, but it did not kill off painting.

True, critics have called painting dead, too. And for quite a while, it appeared that the march of art history was essentially reductive — from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism to the grave. But lo and behold, painters have continued to paint, and the medium remains alive and well within the multiplicity of ways that artists approach the task of making art — of expressing the nature of human existence — in the age of image capture.

Photography, and its tenuous tether to reality, will continue to be important to culture, as is music, film, and literature. The digital revolution will not render these things irrelevant. The act of observation, of bearing witness, will not become less important — it may in fact become more important as we increasingly live in a world alternating between the real and the virtually real. Sometimes, going to contemporary photo exhibitions is like experiencing one bad Holodeck adventure after another. I’m mean come on, let’s get real.

Here is a comprehensive list of articles on “painting is dead” vs. “painting is back.” One could easily do a similar list about photography. Actually, I think it’s the “such and such is dead” paradigm that is dead.

New York/Street Views

In the previous post I compared two images taken on the corner of the Bowery and East 4th Street made in 1977 and 1980. Now, 35 years later, I am still hanging around the neighborhood. I’ve lived overseas, of course, and have hardly been sitting on a stoop passively watching the world go by, but this part of New York remains my base of operations.

It is a dramatically changed place to be sure — for better or worse. I said to someone yesterday, that the impetus for everything I’ve done as a photographer springs from that moment I arrived in New York on a train in 1977, the day of the blackout, the summer of the serial killer Son of Sam, the year the Yankees won the World Series and the Bronx was burning. I ended up here in this neighborhood.

A few contemporary street views:

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Cooper Square at East 7th Street — © Brian Rose

Cooper Square in flux. A picture taken just after the wreath laying in honor of Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union.

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The New Museum on the Bowery — © Brian Rose

A mashup of buildings, boxes, snow, and trash — a midwinter medley.

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Chrystie Street between Houston and Stanton — © Brian Rose

More architectural wonders arrive in the neighborhood. Ian Schrager’s hotel, 215 Chrystie — forcibly wedged into the urban fabric — designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron under construction around the corner from my studio.

New York/On the Bowery

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East 4th Street and the Bowery, 1977 — © Brian Rose

In 1977 I was fully engaged in shooting color, and although I still had a black and white lab set up in my tiny East 4th Street apartment, once I began making color prints, I took down my lab and never looked back. My early color work tended toward spontaneous quick grabs of things seen while going about my business. The picture above was taken while making the three block walk to school just up the Bowery to Cooper Square.

There was a Shell station on the corner of East 4th and the Bowery, and I used to walk cater-corner across it. I came upon a family dressed in colorful plaids and stripes moving in a little group, and photographed them compressed against several other people passing by, or filling up at the gas pump. The low winter sun cast a shadow of the gas station sign against the moving mingling of coats, and that was enough to make a photograph. It was about a moment more than about place — about phenomena more than information — although one may take note of the Mercedes filling up at the pump, or the fact that gas was 75 cents a gallon. You can tell it’s New York only because of the tenements glimpsed in the rear. It’s a cool picture — a keeper.

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East 4th Street and the Bowery, 1980– © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

Three years later, standing in almost the same spot, I was onto something else all together. I had assimilated my instincts for formal elements into a carefully considered investigation of place, a documentation of the Lower East Side made in collaboration with Edward Fausty. In this picture, visual anecdotes are still present — the little knot of kids in the background, the reflection in the pool of water — but instead of chasing after them, I am allowing these moments to play out within a broader scene.

In the first image I am following my instincts and showing off (a little bit) my visual chops with the camera. In the seond image I am trusting my instincts to show rather than tell — and I am relying on the viewer to bring something to the process. In a sense, asking the viewer to look with me at this place and to discover its multi-layered details.

Interestingly, you might notice that the gas station has closed. The pavement has been torn up, and dirt and rubble have accumulated. There are abandoned cars strewn about, and the kids are hanging out in the middle of the street oblivious to traffic.The door to the apartment building at right stands open to anyone off the street to enter. In 1980, when this picture was taken, New York was still in economic free fall. Eventually, a subsidized housing project for seniors rose on this lot. A drably monolithic box of good intentions, it’s still there today.

New York/On the Bowery

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The Bowery near East 4th Street, 1980 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

When I moved to New York in 1977, I lived on East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue. It was a relatively stable block compared to East 3rd, which was the location of a large homeless shelter with dozens of derelict men milling about in the street much of the day. The picture above was taken between 3rd and 4th Streets on he Bowery. Why it didn’t make it in my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side I can’t explain. Things fall through the cracks.

The buildings in the photograph are still there, relatively unchanged, but the facades have been cleaned up, and just to the right, there is a shiny new apartment tower with a 7-Eleven in the storefront. Why anyone goes there I can’t imagine since there are any number of better stocked bodegas and delis nearby. I guess the Bowery is 7-Eleven’s idea of a flagship location. It was a pretty rough scene in those days, and I have no intention of romanticizing its gritty authenticity. It certainly was authentic — and they were not serving Slurpees.

It was also a time of great creativity. CBGB was in the next block with the usual gaggle of black jacketed musicians out front, and lots of artists occupied lofts in or near the Bowery, the legendary end-of-the world skid row of New York. The apocalyptic nature of the neighborhood was both a scourge and an inspiration — at least it was for me. I wrote songs about the place, and of course, I photographed it.

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Brian Rose in 1980 — © Alex Harsley
Masking tape on camera to make it look less attractive to potential muggers.

The reality, however, looking at the photograph of myself above, is that we artists and musicians were to a great extent middle and upper middle class expats from the suburbs, products of America’s finest schools — and white. I was going to Cooper Union. Free tuition notwithstanding, it was an elite place, and you didn’t stumble in by accident. A recent article in Artnet News postulates that most successful artists come from relatively privileged backgrounds, and certainly, from my perspective, that is absolutely true. The starving artist is largely a myth, though no doubt there are easier and more reliable ways to make a living. And the other reality is that most artists are not doing fine art, either by necessity or by choice. They are in media, design, illustration, branding, advertising, commercial photography and film, etc. New York is full of these jobs — more now than ever.

Going back to the Bowery and the Lower East Side of the 70s and 80s — art was not so much born out of the decay and poverty of the neighborhood, as it was the place we chose to make art, to reinvent ourselves, to run away from mom and dad, and for many, to waste time. It was cool, and a little dangerous. It helped that it was cheap — my parents had basically cut me off financially — and I often got by on pizza slices and falafel. When I graduated from Cooper, debt free, I began photographing the Lower East Side. But 4×5 film was bloody expensive, and I struggled to complete the project. One day, however, a check arrived in the mail — for $9,000 — which (looking it up) would be worth over $27,000 in today’s dollars. A relative had died and left me the money. It saved the day, and made the LES project a success. There was also a grant from New York State, and the Seagram Corporation bought a dozen prints for what would eventually become the collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The print sale happened because of a connection made at Cooper Union.

There’s nothing wrong with sudden windfalls or connections made in school, but let’s put aside the idea that artists are impoverished denizens of rotting neighborhoods. That’s not to say that gentrification has no impact on artists who need workspace to paint or create installations. It does. The truth is, however, that artists are entrepreneurs who calculate profits and expenses like everyone else — who network and negotiate — who create works that are often very expensive to produce. It helps to start with some money, and success breeds more success, fairly or not.

Do I still believe that art can express the highest aspirations of humanity? The deepest emotions? Can it still address the social and political issues of the day? Yes. That’s why I started, and why I’m still doing it.

But now, on to my next Kickstarter campaign.

New York/Ocean of Images

I visited Ocean of Images at the Museum of Modern Art with some trepidation – for me, any foray into the museum is a challenge given the mobs of tourists and the pervasive sense that we are all there on a sort of obligatory pilgrimage. It’s been that way for a long time, so nothing new about that.

As a working artist myself, I am of two minds about going to museum survey shows that present contemporary work. On the one hand, I want to know what is going on, or what is perceived as representing the zeitgeist. On the other hand, I want to protect and cultivate my own process of working and seeing, which sometimes requires keeping blinders in place, staying focused on one’s own path. Knowing the risks, I usually go.

DIS. A Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence). 2015

Ocean of Images is the latest installment of the photography department’s New Photography series, which attempts to target the most interesting or innovative work of the present. Although the curators assert that their selection for the current show was driven by the work of the artists rather than fitting into some preconceived idea – “post-internet,” e.g. – let me just say, it has been observed by others, that very little in the show consists of what might be called recognizable photography. Actually, there are plenty of pieces that utilize photography in a fairly direct way, but when they do, they are displayed as components of installations. The whole exhibition is itself a kind of installation of installations. A simulacrum of an exhibition, if you will.

I lasted about five minutes in there. My ability to think was overwhelmed by a loud humming. Like a lizard’s brain. Or the sound of an ocean of images roaring from a conch shell. For a brief moment I entertained the notion that I was hopelessly out of step, and that I hated installations, even though, truth be told, I am presently working on a large installation piece making use of photographs from my World Trade Center project.

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Splitting by Gordon Matta-Clark

Anyway, I wandered into another gallery, this one an exhibition called Endless House about the concept of “house” using drawings, photographs, models, and films, and I was enthralled by all of it. I watched, mesmerized for ten minutes, Gordon Matta-Clark’s grainy super-8 film documentation of his piece Splitting, in which he physically cuts a house in two with power tools and his own sweaty brawn.

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Vacation House for Terrorists by Thomas Schotte

And I was momentarily thrown for a loop by a drawing by Thomas Schütte of a glassy modernist house entitled Vacation House for Terrorists, which sent a shiver through me as I contemplated the dissonance between the bourgeois comforts of modernism and the destructive violence of terrorism, and the idea that terrorists might want or desire a vacation house. There was also an immersive and disorienting photo environment by Annett Zinsmeister, a repeating window pattern of a highrise housing project that could be walked in, and on.

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Virtual Interior by Annett Zinsmeister

And then I saw the Jackson Pollock exhibition, which is spectacular, and I felt all right again. Art can be exciting, groundbreaking, thought provoking, moving, even beautiful.

Back to work.

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/Metamorphosis

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Framed prints from Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

I heard a few days ago from someone in Italy who bought a set of my prints — a selection of images from Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013. I don’t normally sell small prints, although there is an 8×10 included with the limited edition of the book. After all, my last show had 4×5 foot prints, which were pretty impressive. But I went along with the request and sold 18 small prints figuring they’d end up in a portfolio box.

Well, they’ve ended up on the wall, each separately framed, to form a grid of about 3×4 feet. I think it looks spectacular! Anyone else want something like this? Get in touch.

And just a reminder. Metamorphosis remains on sale for $50 on my website.

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Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

New York/Reality on Steroids

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TWA Terminal, photograph by Ezra Stoller

A lot has been written in recent years about the pernicious effect of Photoshop on fashion photography and photojournalism. In fashion the discussion has focused on body types and the digital air brushing of unwanted (presumably unsightly) details. In photojournalism, controversy abounds, and the contest held by World Press Photo has instituted a code of ethics with specific restrictions on manipulation and captioning. Reuters recently announced that it was requiring all its photographers to submit jpegs instead of RAW image files because the latter, essentially digital negatives, offer greater opportunity to manipulate the images.

“As eyewitness accounts of events covered by dedicated and responsible journalists, Reuters Pictures must reflect reality. While we aim for photography of the highest aesthetic quality, our goal is not to artistically interpret the news.”

Mmm. Kind of calls into question the entire profession, if you ask me. I’m not sure what the difference is between highest aesthetic quality and artistically interpreting the news. Whatever the case, it is clear that we have a drastically changed photographic landscape where fine art photographers are encouraged to construct and manipulate images, while photojournalists are reprimanded for touching even a single pixel. Meanwhile, documentarists operate in a hybrid zone, often placing themselves squarely in the middle of the visual exploration of place or situation, sometimes manipulating reality to better express “truth.”

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Stahl House, photograph by Julius Shulman

Which brings me to architectural photography, a small niche in the professional photography world, but overlapping with those who generally photograph the built environment — certainly my area of concern. Architectural photography has almost always been about idealization, certainly going back to Ezra Stoller and Julius Shulman whose black and white distillations of modern architecture defined the aesthetic. There was lots of staging of people and objects, and time of day and weather were not left to chance.

Staging, however, has been joined by digital manipulation, which is not just common, it has become de rigueur. Clients routinely instruct photographers to remove undesired objects, wires, appendages, background distractions, you name it. I had a client a few years ago who was unhappy with the quality of the stucco work on his building and he told me to “Photoshop the hell out of it” to make it look more like the rendering. The image became reality on steroids.

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El Centro building, Chicago, Illinois
Air conditioning units edited out above, an undoctored photo below.

Blair Kamin, the esteemed architectural critic for the Chicago Tribune recently called into question the awarding of an architectural prize given to a building based, primarily, on the submission of photographs seen by the jury. It seems that large, visually distracting, air handling units on the roof had been removed from the pictures. The result was the depiction of a building that expressed the architects intentions, but not exactly the reality on the ground.

The fact is, when it comes to images, there is almost no architectural equivalent to photojournalism. Architects hire photographers, the images are manipulated as desired, and then the architects submit the pictures to magazines and contests, and show them to prospective clients. No one in this sequence of events ever suggests that there is a context to be considered outside this closed loop.

eloftsElofts, David Baker Architects, Emeryville, California — © Brian Rose
Gritty industrial neighborhood.

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Crescent Cove, David Baker Architects, San Francisco, California — © Brian Rose
Elevated highway adjacent to the project.

Different architects have different perspectives, of course, and different aesthetic intentions. One client who I have worked for many times, David Baker, based in San Francisco, designs his buildings to integrate, or create a dialogue with, the urban fabric. Even if the architectural vocabulary takes on modernist forms that contrast with the surroundings, the tension thus produced is actively addressed. He has given me a free hand to find images of his projects that show that relationship, even when it is jarring or uncomfortable. Many architects, however, prefer to see their buildings purely as abstract art objects, and choose images that tend to edit out the real world. The architectural press generally goes along regardless of the degree of fiction put forward.

That’s not to say there isn’t a legitimate place for photographs that express the pure design elements of architecture. We’ve all seen — or even made ourselves — beautiful images that are reductive compositions, that express the geometry and formal elements of architecture, intentionally leaving out the extraneous details of the prosaic world beyond. That is a kind of reality, as well.

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Salt Shed, New York, NY — © Brian Rose
Photoshop out the wires and foreground signs? Or not?

But I think things have gone too far, and for too long. Aside from a handful of newspaper critics, and a few independent writers, most of the architectural press is about commercial promotion. Digitally enhanced photographs and hyper-real computer renderings are an intrinsic part of that food chain. We all have to pay the bills. But as a photographer — and an artist concerned with the landscape as I find it — God (or is it the devil?) is in the details of a messy world.

New York/Metamorphosis

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Holiday Price Cut! 

Metamorphosis is available for $50 through the holidays. The quintessential gift book about New York City — a stunning, and perhaps, sobering look at the change that has swept over Manhattan in recent years. Desolate streets of the former meat market that now bustle with shoppers and tourists.

Jeremiah Moss writes in his vivid and classic introduction:

Those of us who remember, who dream that gorgeously decaying world as it existed right up to the end of the last century, might sometimes wonder if we were imagining it. The shells remain, but the guts have all gone. Meat on hooks, libertines in leather, sex-shifters, artists, poets, the indescribable stink of it all, that mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful (to crib e.e. cummings) underbelly of the old New York—was it all a collective hallucination? Was it ever real? The bewildering change happened in a blink. Thankfully, Brian Rose was there, in reality, with his camera. In Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District he gives us the stunning evidence to prove that the old world wasn’t just a dream.

New York/Open All Night

A reminder to myself — and others — that I am a songwriter as well as a photographer. The wonderful Lucy Kaplansky sings my song Open All Night on an early recording of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine. This is from August 1982, a few years after I’d written the song. It’s as much a visual image as a song — atmosphere more than story.

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A blurry snapshot of me on stage in the early ’80s with Angela Page to the left, and Suzanne Vega and Jack Hardy on the right.

New York/Queens

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Borden Avenue under the Long Island Expressway (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A ghostly image of the Twin Towers in Queens. I did this picture a number of weeks ago, and posted a similar digital image from my point and shoot. This is the 4×5 film version, reduced from a hi res scan of about 700 MBs. The context is hard to grasp from this frame, but the elevated Long Island Expressway was directly above my camera position, and a steady flow of heavy trucks rumbled in front of me. I knew what time to be there for the raking early morning sunlight — there was only an hour of sun each day on the slightly northeast facing facade earlier in the fall. And I didn’t try to do anything fancy.

I’m working on my book, WTC, which will tell the story of the World Trade Center from about 1977 to the present. One section will be comprised of vernacular images of the Twin Towers like the one above. The recent events in Paris (and elsewhere) gives this book project a certain urgency, not that I have any solutions to offer for religious violence or the hyper anxiety currently on display by politicians. This book is offered as an antidote to some of that toxcitity. Stay tuned for further updates.

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Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus

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/Paris

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Paris 1981 `– © Brian Rose

My first trip to Europe was in 1981 to France where I was exhibiting my photographs of the Lower East Side in the city of Nancy as part of a theater festival. The focus of the festival that year was the Downtown New York scene, and my photographs provided a visual context for the performances being presented at various venues in the city. Each day the festival participants lunched outdoors in a city park sitting at long tables laid out with cold cuts, bread, and carafes of red wine. I was there for a week, hanging out with the students who helped me install my exhibition — they were only a couple of years younger than I was — and one day my friend, Jack Hardy, the folk songwriter, showed up in my hotel lobby, fresh from a tour of clubs in Germany.

After a friendly dinner together in a cous cous restaurant, he suddenly lashed out at me accusing me of standing in his way with regards to a certain woman who shall go unnamed, and I did my best to defend my rights and my honor against his torrent of righteous indignation. It was an impressive display of romantic nonsense, and hardly justified given that I was actually quite conflicted about my feelings, and was at that very moment rather smitten with one of the aforementioned French students. Jack left town after a couple of days, and I followed a few days later, ending up sitting on the floor in a packed train stalled for hours somewhere between Nancy and Paris.

I stumbled off the train in the morning in a stupor and found a most wretched buggy hotel near the Gare de l’Est. After a brief walk around the city, I returned to my hotel for a fitful night, the halls echoing with shouted French epithets and slamming doors. I believe I went to the Louvre on that trip, though my memory is clouded, and has blurred together with subsequent visits. I had no idea where I was going most of the time, and somehow, managed to find only horrible food. But I was in Paris, broke, alone, and never happier in my life.

Jack wrote a song after he — and I — got back from Paris.

take the night train to paris
hoping to escape all the rules
take the night train to paris
you hopelessly romantic fool

I regretted leaving France without getting the address of my French student, but such was life, pre-internet, and I moved on. Weeks went by, when one day while having breakfast in my favorite spot on Second Avenue in the East Village, I looked across the restaurant, and to my astonishment, like an apparition, she was there — the French student — alone, her leg in a cast propped up on a chair. I got up, walked over, and said, “Do you need some help?” She did. And so began a short romantic episode that turned into an unsustainable trans Atlantic relationship. Alas.

I only took a few pictures while aimlessly wandering around Paris. 35mm Kodachromes. One of them is above. As foggy headed, and unsteady on my feet as I was, I was still capable of finding moments of visual equipoise. It was 1981 and U2 was playing Paris according to the poster. They just cancelled their most recent Paris engagement, 34 years gone by. The most tragic circumstances imaginable. I won’t even try to comment…