Brian Rose’s ‘Metamorphosis’ of the Meatpacking District [INTERVIEW]
Posted on: March 24th, 2014 at 6:07 am by Holly
Last modified on: March 24, 2014 at 9:02 am
Who doesn’t love a then and now comparison, especially when it’s from the days of yore in this beloved metropolis? Following up the colorful city scenes from his photo book project, Time and Space on the Lower East Side, photog Brian Rose stumbled upon a bunch of forgotten negatives in his archives, from shots of the Meatpacking District back in the mid-eighties. He went back to the same spots in those images to capture the present. And thus Metamorphosis was born.
He’s crowdsourcing the project to keep his vision in its truest form, and with a week to go, he’s slightly exceeded the $10,000 goal. Reading about the endeavor raised thoughts about preserving an ever-changing neighborhood landscape amid a sea of gentrification; an always-topical phenomenon. We asked Rose if he’d weigh in; he kindly shared insight into Metamorphosis, and spoke of the city in a way that undoubtedly inspires.
BOWERY BOOGIE: What are some of the challenges in putting together a photo book?
BRIAN ROSE: I think the best photo books have clearly compelling reasons for being made. They should be coherent, have a story to tell, or a place to describe. You then have to sell that to publishers who often have different ideas about how to present your work. And nowadays, you even have to bring your own money to the table. So, I decided that if I’m paying, I’m taking charge.
BB: How has your experience been with promoting a Kickstarter campaign?
BR: This is my second crowdfunding campaign, and I thought it would be easier than the first. It’s been just as hard, just as nerve wracking. But in the end, it’s an incredibly empowering experience. Instead of trying to shoehorn your project into the agendas of grant-giving institutions, or waiting hopelessly for them to give you “not enough money,” you can take charge of the process and take charge of your career.
BB: What’s your take on gentrification?
BR: It is a complex process – rarely as simplistic as popularly portrayed. It can be a slow organic process, or a rapid transformation spurred by political policy or even global issues. I would not call it evil by definition, though it can be highly destructive. Those who suffer from it the most are the people with the fewest economic options. The rest of us, to one degree or another, are part of the problem. Artists are as much a part of the problem as they are victims of gentrification. Gentrification may not be stoppable once it gains momentum, but it can be mitigated to some degree by preserving low income housing, or by promoting the interests of small businesses and neighborhood services.
BB: What has been the most heartbreaking result of gentrification, for you personally?
BR: I came to the Lower East Side in 1977 when it was a wide-open zone of creative experimentation. Those of us who were musicians and artists believed we could do great things, and change the world, at least to some degree. And we did. I miss that time and that place, both real and metaphorical. It exists elsewhere now.
BB: The most rewarding aspect of this particular project?
BR: The whole process has been pretty exhilarating. Usually these things are very slow to develop, and if you’re working with a publisher, you’re on their schedule, and you’re collaborating with them, whether you like it or not.
With Metamorphosis, the whole thing happened in a year. I rediscovered the negatives sitting in a box in my archive, scanned them, made the new photographs, sequenced and designed the book, and sent it to the printer. Boom.
BB: Have there been noticeable differences between working on this project and your Lower East Side one?
BR: The original Lower East Side project took place in 1980 and extended over a year. It was a unique collaboration with photographer Edward Fausty. I then spent several years rephotographing the neighborhood. It’s a complex, deep, investigation of place and time. Metamorphosis deals with a relatively small area that experienced explosive change almost overnight. The LES book is a layering of themes and threads. This one is conceptually tight and clear – what happened in the Meatpacking District is emblematic of the transformation of post-9/11 New York.
BB: Do you have an interesting story related to creating Metamorphosis?
BR: It can be frustrating doing before/after photographs because the impulse that triggered the first photograph is gone when you return to the scene. Even if the buildings have changed very little, that ineffable 1/30th of a second of the first photograph remains a fleeting moment.
So, I struggled doing some of the remakes. In one instance I stood for a half hour on the corner of Washington and West 13th waiting for lightning to strike – and then, on cue, a vintage red convertible, top down, full of t-shirted sun-glassy youth, careened around the corner into my scene. Click.
BB: Any favorite spots on the Lower East Side?
BR: My first apartment was on East 4th Street between Second Avenue and the Bowery. It was there that I got involved in Lower East Side activism, and where I met my wife Renée. It’s the cover photo of Time and Space on the Lower East Side with the kids playing stickball and fluttering rags flying in the sky. It’s a fascinating block full of crazy and wonderful people. After a while I had to leave it behind, but it’s still my favorite spot in New York.
BB: What else about the city inspires you?
BR: New York is life played on a big stage. It is Broadway. But it is also a city of neighborhoods, of amazing diversity, an endless array of urban drama, prosaic and poetic, played out on each block, each stoop.
BB: What do you hope people will take away from Metamorphosis?
BR: More than anything I hope that people will learn to see what is around them and in front of them everyday – the city hidden in plain sight.
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