In the Shadow of Genius
The Brooklyn Bridge and Its Creators
Published by: Fordham University Press
160 pages, 215.90 x 279.40 mm
- ISBN: 9780823289509
- Published: September 2020
Named a Gift Book for the Discerning New Yorker by The New York Times
In the Shadow of Genius is the newest book by photographer and author Barbara Mensch. The author combines her striking photographs with a powerful first-person narrative. She takes the reader on a unique journey by recalling her experiences living alongside the bridge for more than 30 years, and then by tracing her own curious path to understand the brilliant minds and remarkable lives of those who built it: John, Washington, and Emily Roebling.
Many of Mensch’s photographs were inspired by her visits to the Roebling archives housed at Rutgers University, where she pieced together through notebooks, diaries, letters, and drawings the seminal locations and events that affected their lives. Following in their footsteps, Mensch traveled to Mühlhausen, Germany, the birthplace of John Roebling; to Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, where Roebling established a utopian community in 1831; to Roebling aqueducts and bridges in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York; and to the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Washington Roebling, the son of the famous engineer, valiantly served as a Union soldier. The book begins and ends with Mensch’s unique photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge, including never-before-seen images captured deep within the structure. The book creatively fuses contemporary photography with the historical record, giving the reader a new perspective on contemplating the masterwork.
Fernanda Perrone, Curator of Special Collections and the Roebling Family Archive at Rutgers University, has contributed a Foreword.
The charm of this book, its foremost value, is that it proceeds from the viewpoint of a superb visual artist who uses this particular structure and cityscape, the Brooklyn Bridge, as her muse. It is this personal encounter with the physical sites of her protagonists that makes the book so unusual. As well, her exploration of the inner chambers of the bridge is novel and thrilling. ~Phillip Lopate
Mensch’s new book, In the Shadow Of Genius: The Brooklyn Bridge and Its Creators, combines her black and white photographs with first-person narrative to create an encyclopedic record of the Brooklyn Bridge that casts a new light on the concept of genius. ~PDN Photo District News
While Mensch’s account of the bridge’s roots is eminently readable and full of carefully sourced historical nuggets, I found her own relationship with the bridge even more beguiling. Whether by stealth or the city’s permission, she has explored the nether regions of the bridge. Huge spaces exist under the arches on the Manhattan side that were used until the 1970s for a range of businesses including wine storage and a tanning factory. On one occasion, she nearly gets locked into the under shafts for a weekend. Mensch’s photographs of these dark and forgotten spaces are eerie and beautiful. The last section of the book is a series of Mensch's photographs of the bridge from unexpected angles. The shots capture the bridge’s grandeur and mystery—especially in one breathtaking image of the bridge shrouded in fog. Such photos, much like Mensch’s ambitious work as a whole, will lead you to view the magnificent span in a fresh and even more alluring way. ~Juliet Hindell, The Tribeca Trib
In the Shadow of Genius: The Brooklyn Bridge and Its Creators reimagines the story behind the span and its engineers through the lens of Barbara Mensch, a photographer who has lived for decades in a maritime warehouse overlooking her subject. Her images are gripping and unconventional, her discoveries palpable and personal as she writes persuasively in defining the genius of the Roebling family. ~The New York Times