When photographer Barbara Mensch was in her 20s, she moved to an old maritime warehouse near New York’s famed Brooklyn Bridge. Over the course of decades of living in the shadow of this legendary structure, Mensch began to photograph it. But after a time, her curiosity blossomed from merely photographing the bridge to a desire to understand the motivations behind the building of the bridge. As she says in the introduction to her just published book, “In The Shadow of Genius” (Fordham University Press, 2018)

“As I was drawn to photograph the bridge during its most dramatic and visually compelling moments, my meditations upon it evolved into a profound curiosity. I wanted to know more about its principal creators: John, Washington and Emily Roebling.…If the Brooklyn Bridge is a work of genius, how do we define this genius? Each of its creators brought to the masterpiece unique experiences and expertise. How does one find or even begin to define this genius when the work required the powers of all three?”

Thus was born a decades-long obsession that would inspire Mensch not only to photograph the structure of the Brooklyn Bridge itself, but to follow in the footsteps of the people who built it. That journey led her out of New York to places as varied as Mulhausen, Germany (where John Roebling was born) to the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg (where Washington Roebling, a military engineer, served).

Mensch told In Sight what motivated this journey:

“The obsession I had with capturing these images was in part my way of summoning up the great minds behind the work: (of those who built the Brooklyn Bridge: John, Washington and Emily Roebling). It was through the process of retracing their steps through history that I sought a greater understanding of the universal truths: the ingredients and characteristics needed to achieve a work of lasting significance.

These were lives led with both endless torment and great personal triumph.”

“In the Shadow of Genius” combines Mensch’s photographs with a first-person narrative. The book also reveals, for the first time, a comprehensive collection of images taken inside the structure of the Brooklyn Bridge in addition to photos inspired by Mensch’s study of the drawings and other documents from the Roebling archive.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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