“Time And Space At The Lower East Side” by Brian Rose

This entry was posted on 30.03.2011

I wanted to interview Brian Rose for quite a while already. Brian, once Suzanne Vega‘s manager, is also an impressive photographer who has self-published several books – one of them about Berlin before 1989 and while the wall came down, a new one about the World Trade Center.

I find that a very interesting interview topic since both books document a beginning of a new era – 1989 marked the end of so called “socialism” and the chance of a positive new world, 2001 marked the beginning of a much grimmer world full of mistrust, fear and hatred. Since the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the WTC is coming up, I want to hear what Brian thinks about this.

Today, Brian Rose presented another book he self-published at the Midtown Library in Manhattan: “Time And Space At The Lower East Side” presents photos of the Lower East Side (which at some point still included the East Village) – some of them shot in 1980 together with Ed Fausty, some very recent.

Brian was a student back in the late Seventies at Cooper Union, and he moved into an apartment on 4th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue in 1977. The rent was $50 for a walk-up railroad apartment (Michele moved into a 2BR on the Hell’s Angels block on 3rd Street between 1st and 2nd Ave in 1993 and payed almost $1100 – you won’t find that anywhere on the Lower East Side these days). Soon enough he decided to document the neighborhood.

The pictures – shot with a 4 x 5 view camera which Brian and Ed had to make look shabby to avoid any wrong ideas – show an area which is very different from today. Back then you found cheap clothing stores, today overpriced designer stores selling their clothes in buildings which are supposed to look “vintage”. Back in 1980 streets were full of garbage, now they are full of Mercedes. I could not avoid thinking of East Berlin when I first moved there in 1994 – houses were abandoned, and there almost was a “post war feeling” (visible on one photo of Delancey St for example).

There is another similarity to Berlin: Since the Nineties the Lower East Side got very hip. “People pay a lot of money to live in a neighborhood which is pretty bad,” a friend of mine declared a few years ago. It is almost no surprise that today the white population rises only in Manhattan, as the NY Times wrote a few days ago. They are the people who can afford the rent landlords ask for these days. It is not as bad in Berlin yet, but I remember visiting a friend in the supposedly “bad & dangerous” Wrangelkiez and noticing the huge number of mothers with young kids. The rent in Kreuzberg already is way too high for Berlin standards.

Now here is my question: Life definitely has improved on the Lower East Side – is that generally a bad thing? Brian’s and Ed’s old photos show a lot of dirt, Brian’s new photos a lot of green. There was one photo Brian took of Delancey Street with two buildings that collapsed later on. I am not sure if that would happen these days. The Lower East Side is a much more livable place these days (although I must say that the architecture of some of the new places like the Cooper Square Hotel is just screaming loud and annoying). But how do you make an area better and safer and still avoid the gentrification and the skyrocketing prices of the East Village and Lower East Side?

But to return to Brian’s books: The books about the Lower East Side, about the Berlin Wall and the World Trade Center are all self-published. “I still have hope that it will get published,” Brian said about the book about the Lower East Side. “There is a market for this.” Self-publishing might be great, but sadly it makes the book prices go a bit above our price range right now. You can go to Brian’s website and look through the whole books though – and if you can afford it, I can only suggest to buy them!

Brian made me aware that he was not Suzanne Vega’s manager, she has been a friend since the days before she made her first record.

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