Image © Brian Rosa.
Brian Rosa is fascinated by architecture, by the nuances of its layers and by its organic and often uncontrolled growth. He’s also keen not merely to observe but also to record.
“This project, Palimpsesto Urbano, was shot in Mexico City because I was living there on a research fellowship focusing on the large scale planning there leading up to the national Centennial Celebration of 1910,” says Rosa, an American now resident in the UK as a doctoral student in human geography at The University of Manchester. “Seeing a discrepancy between the rigid central planning of that era and the current chaos of informal settlements and economies, this project was, in part, an attempt to reconcile these two conflicting histories, which have both manifested themselves heavily on the built environment. I think that photography is among the most appropriate ways to capture this unfolding narrative of the city, as a photographer makes an image that is instantly historical and inherently spatial. Also, the term architectonics takes on a more literal signification, since the rebuilding of much of the city in 1985 was spurred by an earthquake that destroyed many of the older buildings near the historic city centre.”
The pictures from Mexico City are largely unpeopled. “I see this body of work as an urban interpretation of the landscape tradition of photography, especially following the paradigm shift ushered in by the New Topographics exhibition in 1975,” explains Rosa, who describes himself as a photographer, curator and urban researcher. “Landscape photographs are still about people, though not necessarily of them. They’re a reflection of how people have shaped the world.”
Signage in the urban environment also intrigues Rosa, and is all of a part of his focus on layering, the palimpsest of our surroundings. “I have a longstanding fascination with the role of advertisement in the built environment. In some ways, this was spurred by the decision of the Sao Paolo city government in Brazil to remove all public advertising from the city. It is almost as if, by removing all of the images and leaving just the skeleton of the billboard, that one realises how much space the infrastructure of advertising occupies the city. The images dealing specifically with advertising are an attempt to clarify the role of these images in the urban fabric. In some of them, it’s a take on the irony of real estate advertising. A wall is constructed to conceal the worksite itself: the workers, the machinery, the debris. This wall also provides free advertising for the real estate developer to construct an image of what that site will be, or, more realistically, how it should be imagined: aspirational slogans, modern interiors with sleek architecture, monumental architecture of the past. In others, it’s more of an observation of the interaction between billboard advertising and the surrounding built environment.”
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