After graduating from The Cooper Union in 1980 Brian Rose began recording the cultural landscape of the Lower East Side along with fellow photographer Ed Fausty. The images were exhibited in a show called “Gargoyles and Cherubs” at the Henry Street Settlement the next year, but were later forgotten—the negatives left in Rose’s archives. Thirty years later, he decided to revisit the theme. Rose brought his 4×5 view camera back to the LES in 2010, intent on rediscovering the neighborhood as it stands today. Time and Space on the Lower East Side is the fruit of this labor, an amalgamation of cityscapes of the neighborhood during two different time periods.
Time and Space breaks from the before-and-after mold by rejecting strict side-by-sides of the changed landscape. Rose wanted to avoid the “rote exercise” of that kind of project by confusing time periods. “There’s rubble from decay and demolition, then there’s rubble from rebuilding,” says Rose. “I like that idea, that we’re coming and going—you don’t know, at first glance, which way we’re going.” Part of Rose’s talent is his ability to look past nostalgia to find character in the neighborhood then and now.
A New York Times article from the original exhibition lauds Rose and Fausty for eschewing “cliche shots of colorful ethnics, old people with picturesquely seamed faces and visual poems about the romance of decay, choosing instead to take the beauty and the dirt as it comes.” This description holds for the images from 2010, which accurately represents the texture and topography of the neighborhood.
When Rose first turned to his archived negatives, he realized that time had damaged them to the point where a traditional darkroom print would be impossible. Instead, the photographer scanned his landscapes and corrected the coloration digitally. Using the same process for the 2010 images, Rose was able to match the aesthetic for both groups, creating greater continuity between the time periods.
The book, which received funding through Kickstarter, has been meticulously laid out and beautifully arranged by Golden Section Publishers. A full preview and copies of “Time and Space on the Lower East Side” are available from Brian Rose’s website for $65. See more images of the book in our slideshow
Images of the book by James Thorne