Fresh out of Cooper Union in 1979 and armed with a degree in fine arts and a major in photography, Brian Rose set out to photograph New York.
He shot the Lower East Side, landed a grant to shoot the Financial District, then took on Central Park for the Conservancy when it was in its infancy.
By 1985, he was looking for a challenge. He picked up his camera, made his way to Manhattan’s West Side, and began wandering the Meatpacking District. For a few days, he focused on what he saw, opening up the lens of his 4 x5 view camera to a slaughterhouse environment.
“The weather was not good, and it wasn’t inspiring for me,” he says today. “But I took 50 to 60 pictures, put them in a box and never developed them.”
Then he took off for Eastern Europe to shoot the Iron Curtain border during the tail end of the Cold War.
He’d eventually return to Manhattan, revisit the Lower East Side and publish a book of photography about it.
A few years back, he opened up that box of images from the Meatpacking District. And then he re-evaluated the nature of the work.
“I scanned them and looked at them and couldn’t believe how stark and mysterious they were,” he says. “People said that I needed to turn them into a book – so last year, I re-photographed it.”
The result is twofold: first, a book: Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013; and also a gallery exhibition that opens tonight at Dillon Gallery, 555 West 25th Street.
In both, Rose has paired images from 1985 with updates from the same spaces, re-shot in 2013. “It’s about the dramatic change that occurred there,” he says. “It’s been as rapid as I’ve ever seen – from abattoir to the center of art and fashion in a very few years.”
Once the meatpacking firms moved out to more modern facilities in the Bronx, their spaces were quickly updated with a new kind of vitality from bars, clubs, offices, techies, and fashion outlets.
Predictably, there are those who see the changes as the best thing ever for the area, and those who bemoan its loss of authenticity. Rose may have an opinion on that, but his photography stands squarely on the sidelines.
“It’s important for people to find their own way and develop their own perspective,” he says. “I don’t point my finger, but I don’t have a firm ideological perspective when I take pictures.”
One of the single, illuminating threads in his book is the presence of the High Line – before it was known as such, and now that it’s made its mark.
It’s the kind of urban progress that’s so very hard to argue with.
For more on the exhibition, go to http://www.dillongallery.com/
For more on Metamorphosis, go to http://www.brianrose.com/metamorphosis.htm