A bleak portrait of Trump’s failed Atlantic City kingdom

“These buildings were designed to discourage interaction with the city. You drive in on a freeway that injects you straight into the parking garages attached to the casinos. You never have to step outside.”

[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]
[Photo: Brian Rose]

It has all the trademarks of a Trump tweet: a sleight of hand jab at Hillary Clinton. Blame-shifting to the Democrats. And the insinuation that nefarious forces are responsible, rather than his own actions.

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Delivered in July before the election in 2016, it’s one of many tweets Trump has issued on the decline of Atlantic City over the years, 19 of which photographer Brian Rose tracked down to accompany his new book of photography, Atlantic City, which is being funded by preorders on Kickstarter and will be published Circa Press next year with an introduction by critic Paul Goldberger.

Rose’s tome is a visual meditation on both the demise of Atlantic City and the rise of the president. The Manhattan-based photographer has shot urban transformation for decades, documenting the evolution of cities like Berlin and neighborhoods like the Lower East Side. In the weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Rose drove the two hours down to Atlantic City with a similarly documentarian project in mind.

[Screenshots: Brian Rose]
The idea came to me almost immediately–that Atlantic City could serve as a metaphor for what was happening to the country as a whole,” he explains via email.

As soon as I got there, I knew that I could photograph Atlantic City in the same way as I have other urban landscapes and just let the backstory of Donald Trump and his casino failures serve as the thread connecting the pictures together. I started with Trump’s abandoned casinos and then moved out into the surrounding streets. I have always maintained a relatively dispassionate view of what is front of me, but I have to say that this time, I was on a mission, and I saw Atlantic City as both victim and complicit in Trump’s predatory reign of the city. Complicit in the sense that casino gambling was supposed to be a panacea for all the city’s woes–it was Faustian bargain if ever there was one.”

[Photo: Brian Rose]
It’s not hard to find compelling visual metaphors in Atlantic City. If you pass through the downtown, you’ll likely drive by the former Trump Plaza hotel and casino, closed in 2014, which still has the ghostly outline of its signage on its white facade, bare except for a gaudy gold emblem and a line of CCTV cameras. Trump built a casino empire in Atlantic City in the 1980s on debt–later, as the New York Times reported before the election, he took the business public to saddle shareholders with the debts. “The money I took out of there was incredible,” he told the Times. 

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The fading giants that feature in Rose’s photographs are testaments to that approach, and to the development paradigm of the era. “These buildings were designed to discourage interaction with the city,” Rose explains. “You drive in on a freeway that injects you straight into the parking garages attached to the casinos. You never have to step outside.”

[Photo: courtesy Brian Rose]

He’s not the only notable photographer to turn his eye toward Trump since the election. Former White House photographer Pete Souza, for instance, regularly posts pointed imagery referring to the current administration. The architectural photography of Atlantic City is of a different flavor than Souza’s human-centered photos, but the message is just as clear: You’re looking at the urban impact of a distinctly Trumpian form of business management–and a profiteering ethos that the president has brought with him to the White House. 

“Things are in flux in Washington, and who knows where we’ll be by the time the book hits the street,” Rose adds. “I don’t expect a photo book to bring down the president, but I do hope to ruffle some feathers. I think it’s important for artists to step up. It’s our freedom of expression that is at risk as the country slips toward authoritarianism.”

You can preorder Atlantic City on Kickstarter.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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