I only became aware of this exhibition in the last few days and unfortunately it closes at the weekend but Aaron Rose’s lush sun-kissed shot of Coney Island, currently on display at the Museum of the City of New York are, even at this late stage, worth ruminations.

Rose began photographing New York’s seaside resort Coney Island in 1961. Swarms of beach-goers are captured in this tanned, sweating, bikini-clad leisure melting pot but the viewer can pick out subtle interactions and private competitive moments. A man sits on the beach staring out to see as his rotund lady friend stands behind him, hands on hips, her eyes seemingly closed to soak up the rays. A mad-hatted lady seems to have been captured and startled by Rose’s lens. She looks directly at him, her nose protector and straw crown render us a folk mask from an exotic festival or ritual. In a rare posed shot, a young body-builder, hands proudly on hips, is captured in a full-frontal display of muscle and bicep. As he shows off, behind him we see a couple lying on a towel mid-embrace. Their skin is much paler, they have of course perhaps been too busy for sun-bathing but an odd detail is the heavily tanned and bronzed left arm of the male. The colour like a sleeve.

Rose was one of the earliest photographers to use C-print paper and chromogenic processing, the colours he amped up were the skin tones, of the heat and human perspiration. 70 images are on display at the Museum and this is, strangely, the first time they have ever been displayed as a collection. Rose has been a New Yorker is whole life but was largely ignored by the art world until the mid 1990’s by which time he had already produced over 25,000 images, each printed only once. He was asked to exhibit as part of the Whitney Biennial in 1997 which, in a sense, launched his photography career. For Rose, the process of making the image is as important as the finished product and he uses skills learnt during a brief period in commercial photography combining them with the, at the time, emerging new technology of chromogenic colour film. Rose pushes the boundaries of the film, increasing the speed and grain to produce highly textured prints that are baked and glowing, smelling of Soltan and the fried onions of a calorific Coney Dog. 

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AuthorSacha Waldron