Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Time And Space On The Lower East Side- Brian Rose

Photos: Brian Rose© -All Rights Reserved

When I lived in NYC, I often knew that I wasn't getting some shots I'd like simply because they required a view camera. Lee Friedlander once said something to the effect that in NYC you basically just throw out all your well worn composition tools and tricks because NY can be so two dimensional... there's no horizon line. You either got a 35mm and became a classic street photographer, or got a view camera and... tried something else. That's an oversimplification, of course- but a lotta truth nonetheless. One's more conducive to the city's everyday pulse, the other to its long term, historical and environmental context.

Back in the day, Ellis Island was the arrival point for incoming turn of the century immigrants, and The Lower East Side was the gateway to the rest of New York. It was the concentrated hub of everything good and bad that would shape and define the future of a city, a country- a century and its people.

Loisaida (the Spanglish pronunciation of Lower East Side) was in a state of flux and change in the early eighties. Much of the traditional immigrant population had long departed uptown, the boroughs- the burbs. And although Italian, Jewish and Polish sections could still be found, it was in large part repopulated by my fellow Nuyoricans- particularly to the East of Tompkins Square Park (aka- Alphabet City) and south of Houston St. At the start of that decade, one could still see three bedroom apartments being advertised for three hundred bucks well within those areas- and if you moved in in the morning, you stood to be removed of all your worldly possessions by dusk. But that Loisaida was to be short lived as Operation Pressure Point and the greed induced, over the roof rents of neighboring SOHO had prospective artists (the "shock troops of gentrification" as one writer called them) as well as musicians migrating over like some great primordial tsunami. In short order, the New Wave music scene peaked and was in turn wiped out as rapidly as it appeared by the powerhouse called Rap, and the artificiality known as Madonna.

Brian Rose started photographing New York round the same time I moved into Manhattan, and Time And Space On The Lower East Side (talk & presentation 4/02) documents a transitioning Lower East Side as the latest flight and influx of people and money transformed the very landscape around them. Before the decade was up, you would see the first inquiries for available rooms for $500. By the late '80s, it seemed as if every other bodega and every empty store front in Loisaida had been converted into art galleries by silver spooned, twenty year old, big time wannabe gallerists! They sprang up seemingly overnight like mushrooms after a forest rain- a year and a half later, over 90% of them closed shop. Gentrification had arrived full force, the push into Brooklyn was but a river and a few hours away. Of course, no one ever bothers to ask where all the low income inhabitants (many with families) were forced to flee...

Time And Space On The Lower East Side forever captures a good part of what will always be my New York- a bit broken, somewhat foreboding, and always promising more (much more) than it can ever possibly deliver.

By the end of the nineties, many of the area's neighborhoods had lost much of their historic flavor as ancient storefronts were modernized into garish fashion boutiques and trendy restaurants. Mr. Rose and his view camera not only preserved much of the architecture, but also helped portray the feel of the street itself and how the personality of those neighborhoods were affected and forever changed. And make no doubt, within this modern day historical document, there is many a finely reproduced* photographic image that photography fans everywhere will well appreciate.

* I do not own this book (yet), but if Mr. Rose assures me the reproductions are even better than those of The Lost Border- that's enough by me...

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