All Articles
All Articles

Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013

Photographer Brian Rose's never-before printed images of the ever-evolving NYC neighborhood

by Katie Olsen
on 05 August 2014
BrianRose-Meatpacking-01a.jpg BrianRose-Meatpacking-01b.jpg

A few years after Brian Rose's fascinating photo book "Time and Space on the Lower East Side" (which explored the LES over two very different time periods) comes the photographer's new tome "Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013." Back in the '80s, the Meatpacking District still reflected its name and Rose wandered the streets almost daily—armed with his 4x5 view camera. In the early mornings, the area was alive with all the noise, gore and action of the meat market; at nighttime, it transformed into a subversive playground with prostitutes and sex clubs; while during the day, it was a veritable ghost town.

Rose had never printed these images, until now. "Metamorphosis" depicts an area of NYC that has undergone an entire transformation. Now a shiny, glossy place full of designer stores and huge restaurants, the Meatpacking District seems to have lost any trace of its gritty past. We spoke with Rose about his perceptions of the Manhattan neighborhood—then and now.

Can you tell us a little about the Meatpacking District in the '80s?

I lived across town on the Lower East Side where I had done my first big photography project in 1980. And I was involved in neighborhood politics, working to preserve low income housing. It was being lost by abandonment in some places and gentrification in others. But the Meatpacking District was foreign to me. It was over in the Wild West of Manhattan with its derelict piers, leather clubs and shadowy streets inhabited by transvestite prostitutes.

BrianRose-Meatpacking-03a.jpg BrianRose-Meatpacking-03b.jpg

The Meatpacking District was alive in the predawn hours when the meat market was in full swing, men in white bloodied jackets grappling carcasses of meat hanging from hooks. By day, the area was virtually abandoned. A stage set New York, stinking of decaying flesh, the cobblestones slippery with grease. At night, men huddled around the doors to clubs like the Mineshaft—the red door in one of my photographs—which was closed later in 1985 at the height of the AIDS crisis.

I didn't photograph those nocturnal scenes, but I did wander for several days In January through the frozen streets of the far west side. I was looking for a new project, as I recall. But the film stayed in a box without being printed until a year ago when I rediscovered it, and was stunned with what I had done back then. So, last year, I began to re-photograph the neighborhood, and my new book is the result.

The entire city is ever-evolving, but do you feel like the Meatpacking District had a perfect, prime era?

Back then, the Meatpacking District wasn't yet changing like Soho or Tribeca. There were artists living in lofts there, but as long as the market held sway, it was too gritty for all but the most intrepid. Once the meat market moved to the Bronx in the early 2000s, things happened quickly—certainly one of the most abrupt transformations ever.

But in 1985 you could stand alone in the middle of Washington Street surrounded by this all encompassing decrepitude, almost post-apocalyptic in its emptiness, and you'd find yourself saying, "This is fantastic. This is unreal." There was a kind of perfection in that moment. But at the same time, you knew that it was a lie. That people were dying of AIDS, people were strung out on drugs and buildings were crumbling.

BrianRose-Meatpacking-06b.jpg BrianRose-Meatpacking-06a.jpg
New York is still carried on the backs of hungry immigrants and young believers—artists, musicians, get-rich schemers.
How do you feel about phrases like "You can't stop progress!" when looking back on your photos?

Progress—which is a nebulous concept—was hard to imagine in the early '80s. New York could have ended up as Detroit rather than today's glittering high-tech city pumped up on the steroids of Russian oil fortunes and Latin American drug money. On the other hand, there are a million more people here than there were a couple of decades ago. New York is still carried on the backs of hungry immigrants and young believers—artists, musicians, get-rich schemers. New York was staggered by 9/11 and yet the city has remade itself. Progress has taken over, and if you can't stop it—and don't think you can—then you should probably get out of the way.

BrianRose-Meatpacking-07a.jpg BrianRose-Meatpacking-07b.jpg
What do you think the area has lost and gained through these dramatic changes?

The Meatpacking District of 1985 belonged to a different Manhattan. Manhattan was like a whole city unto itself with poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods, and it still had its blue collar character—the docks, garment factories, the fish market, the Skid Row of the Bowery. And on and on. That diversity has spread out to the boroughs, and the Meatpacking District's new sheen is emblematic of that shift. What happened, however, was inevitable in a city as dynamic as New York. And we are fortunate that much of the architecture of that neighborhood was preserved along with the infrastructure of the High Line threading its way through and between buildings. The arrival of the Whitney Museum next year will bring more change—for better or worse. Think more tourists, if that's possible. But the story of New York goes forward as the sea level rises menacingly, and the city faces a whole new set of challenges.

"Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013" is available online, with hardbound and signed copies available for $60 and limited edition copies (signed, with a slipcover and 8x10 print) for $250.

Images courtesy of Brian Rose

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance
Loading More...