Photographer Brian Rose Takes us to New York City Through the Lens of the Twin Towers [INTERVIEW]

Posted on: December 8th, 2016 at 5:00 am by
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    Photo: Brian Rose

Two years ago we connected with photographer Brian Rose about his latest publication, Metamorphosis, which depicted a 30 year then-and-now of the Meatpacking District. His latest endeavor, and third in this photobook trilogy, touches upon New York City through the eyes of the Twin Towers. The imagery is compelling and tells the story of preserved moments in time, and a persevering city shaped anew. As the photos unfold in the book, they speak to both personal afflictions of the day-to-day, as well as a representation of a nation before and after 9/11. We reached out to Brian to learn more about this project, and his eloquent perspective didn’t dissapoint.

Bowery Boogie: Where were you when the September 11 attacks happened?

Brian Rose: I was in Amsterdam where I was living at the time. I still had my workspace on the Lower East Side, and I traveled back and forth every few months, but I was there in Amsterdam with my wife and 3-year-old son. A call came from an American friend in Berlin who said urgently to turn on the TV. I saw the second plane hit, and then watched the whole progression of horrors unfold on CNN. I already had a plane ticket for a trip back to New York, but didn’t know until the last minute whether my flight would be let in. It was about a week after 9/11 when I flew back to a nearly deserted JFK airport.

BB: How did this project differ from Time and Space on the Lower East Side and Metamorphosis for you?

BR: All three books share the idea of looking at the city over an extended period of time, but each came about in different ways. Time and Space was a re-photographing of the Lower East Side, seen after 30 years had gone by. Although there are a couple of before/after views in the book, I wanted to rediscover the neighborhood anew, and re-engage with my own early work as a photographer.

Metamorphosis was more of a conventional before/after book – the scenes from 1985 were so radically different from the present – that I felt compelled to do side by side images. But I added a number of new images in and around the High Line as a way of making the book as much about the present as the past.

WTC is a much more complex body of work — completely different groups of images taken at different times for different reasons. I didn’t even comprehend that I had a book until a few years ago when I was sitting on a train going out to the suburbs for a Thanksgiving dinner. It was like a light flashed in my brain. I realized that I could pull all these images together – the earliest made as an art student and newcomer to the city – and by adding new images, tell the epic story of the Twin Towers and the rebuilding of the city after 9/11.

BB: What sort of research goes into a project of this stature?

BR: There are some photographers who work in a primarily intuitive way – without necessarily digging deeper into the historical context surrounding their subjects. But for me, once I start a project, I want to know as much as possible. Nevertheless, I keep the research in the background because I think that staying open to the pure visual nature of the world is critical to making good photographs.

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Photo: Brian Rose

BB: What challenges did you run into in developing WTC?

BR: The hardest part about WTC was maintaining the narrative flow, while at the same time, introducing discursive elements – such as references to the Berlin Wall, which I photographed in the ‘80s and then documented as it was removed. And there is a section in the middle of the book of found images of the Twin Towers – murals, graffiti, posters and the like. It’s a sort of mini-project that could almost function independently of the other images in the book. I even bring Hurricane Sandy into the story, suggesting that New York has never in its history been so vulnerable to forces both man-made and natural.

BB: Do you have a favorite aspect of WTC?

BR: I am particularly pleased with the integration of text with the photographs. In various ways I’ve extended the conventional photo book format – and I know it’s asking a lot for people to read alongside of images – but I hope that they will.

BB: Any interesting bits about this project that you’d like to share?

BR: The last image in the book is actually not a photograph. On Father’s Day the year after 9/11, my son Brendan presented me with a drawing of the Twin Towers with a very tall thin photographer standing next to them. He wrote Twin Towers and Brian on the drawing. I was stunned. I wasn’t even involved in photographing the World Trade Center at the time. But he made the association, and I’ve always considered that drawing the inspiration for the whole project.

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Photo: Brian Rose

BB: How do you feel about 1 WTC as a replacement for the Twin Towers?

BR: Like a lot of people, I never had warm fuzzy feelings about the Twin Towers. They were out of scale on the street level, and the plaza, in particular, was a cold forbidding place. From afar, however, they were iconic, minimalist pylons, signifying nothing and everything at the same time. The new tower, 1 WTC, does not seem to have the same presence, and I’m not enamored of the obelisk-like form. I have a good deal of respect for David Childs of SOM, who also designed 7 WTC next door, which I think is one of the most elegant glass buildings in lower Manhattan. 1 WTC fills the hole in the sky left by the destroyed Twin Towers, but it does not fill the hole in my heart. Perhaps, it is too much to expect any building to do that.

BB: Now that the third book of your trilogy is complete, what direction will you be heading in, artistically?

BR: I’ve had various ideas kicking around in my head for years, but the recent election of Donald Trump has derailed my thinking. A few days ago I went down to Atlantic City and began photographing the Trump Taj Mahal, one of a number of failed casinos that now loom like gaudy tombstones over the landscape of the city. Atlantic City has always been a great subject to photograph, but now, it has political meaning as well. It is the perfect metaphor for what is going on nationally. I can’t think of anything else at the moment, and I’m very excited about the first round of photographs.

BB: Where can people get a copy of WTC and your others?

BR: WTC can be purchased on my website, and at selected bookstores in New York – the Strand, the Tenement Museum, and the shop at the Museum of the City of New York. I’m working on adding other locations.

Metamorphosis is also available on my website, and there are copies floating around in various stores. Time and Space on the Lower East Side is, unfortunately, sold out. There are some used copies sold online.  All three books are available in the limited edition (100 books) with slipcover and an 8×10 print inside. Anyone who owns all three books – the complete trilogy — in either the trade or limited editions, has something special.

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1 WTC – Photo: Brian Rose

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