Review: Time and Space on the Lower East Side by Brian Rose


Book Reviews, Photobooks




When I come to New York City, I stay in the area that is being portrayed in Brian Rose’s Time and Space on the Lower East Side. As a matter of fact, I realized a little while ago that when I say “New York” I really only mean Manhattan. I noticed this when I talked to someone, and they told me they lived in Brooklyn. Of course, people will never tell you they live in Brooklyn, instead they live in Greenpoint or wherever else. I have no idea where any of those areas are. People usually are nice enough to then add “Brooklyn” when they realize they’ve run into someone not in the know (which, needless to say, is the mortal sin in NY). When I come to New York I pretty much never go to Brooklyn unless I have to. I also leave the Lower East Side/East Village only when I have to (for example to go to Chelsea). (more)

I first came to New York in 1998, right after finishing my Ph.D. A friend of mine lived in midtown, somewhere near the Empire State Building, and of course visiting was very exciting. For quite a while, I wanted to be able to live in New York. I came close a couple of times, but each time, something got in the way (the first internet bubble crashed etc.). I don’t think I would want to live in New York any longer, but this is mostly a moot point given the cost of living there.

I haven’t know Manhattan long enough to have seen the state it was in in many of the older photographs in Time and Space on the Lower East Side (the book comprises photographs taken in 1980 and 2010). So I don’t share the nostalgia that seems to have crept into some New Yorkers, who talk fondly of the days before a string of Republican mayors transformed the city into what in some places looks like a Disneyesque theme park for the rich (“Of 32,810 New York tax filers who earned more than $1 million a year in the latest public records, 13,818 live in Manhattan - or 42% of all the state’s millionaires.” - source). I know you could have had a apartment for next to nothing on Ave B - as long as you didn’t leave said apartment at night (at least that’s what I seem to remember reading in a Sonic Youth biography). I might have too much of a German biography to be comfortable with the dichotomy theme park for the rich versus cheap urban squalor.

Anyway, what you can take away from Time and Space on the Lower East Side is that its maker really loves the city and, of course, that he is a very good photographer. The images all were done with a large-format camera, so they offer a carefully constructed frame that might or might not be filled with a lot of life and details. It’s not necessarily a New York I’ve seen too often in photographs, and I really enjoy looking at the combination of cityscapes, street scenes, and details. Various of the spreads pair the same or very similar setting thirty years apart - things have changed, and they haven’t.

Maybe all that talk about money really is just surface, and underneath, New York - or at least Manhattan’s Lower East Side - simply is what it has always been: A pretty great, unique place.

Time and Space on the Lower East Side, photography and text by Brian Rose, essay by Suzanne Vega, 126 pages, Golden Section Publishers, 2012