6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Will Ellis takes us through the relics and ruins of Staten Island’s Arthur Kill Road. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
Step into the New York section of any bookstore these days and you’ll likely see front and center “Abandoned NYC” by Will Ellis, which puts together three years of his photography and research on 16 of the city’s “most beautiful and mysterious abandoned spaces.” Will’s latest photographic essay is titled “Arthur Kill Road,” an eerily handsome exploration of the “quiet corners” and “remote edges” of Staten Island. He decided to focus on this thoroughfare as it winds through some of the NYC’s most sparsely populated areas, including the defunct waterfront, remnants of historic architecture, and desolate industrial complexes. Here, as Ellis describes it, “the fabric of the city dissolves, and the past is laid bare through the natural process of decay.”
View of the island from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
How long have you lived in NYC?
I’m a native of San Antonio, Texas, but I’m coming up on my tenth year in New York and have been living in Sunset Park for the past five.
Your book “Abandoned NYC” has become a huge hit. When and how did you start photographing New York’s abandoned places?
I was out for a walk with my camera one day in Red Hook and came across an abandoned warehouse with an open door. I’d never done anything like that before, but I made it inside and was hooked. I started going to more and more locations, getting more serious about photography, and digging deeper into the research.
What are your thoughts on the popular term “ruin porn?”
Well, it’s usually meant as a pejorative term, chastising the idea of going in and exploiting impoverished areas, celebrating what’s cool or creepy about ruins without engaging with the community. But I do my best with the writing to honor the history of the building and get into the socioeconomic factors that led to its decline. In New York, these places are the exception to the rule, and they’re disappearing fast.
Tell us about your latest series. What drew you to Arthur Kill Road?
I’d been to Staten Island to see places like the Farm Colony and the Ship Graveyard, and I was always fascinated by it, partly because it’s completely unknown to most New Yorkers. It has a very suburban character since it’s mostly been developed in the past 50 years, but then you get these pockets of a much older Staten Island, and further out, these wild, open spaces you’d never expect to encounter in New York City. I started focusing less on the interiors of decaying buildings and incorporating more of the landscape, seeking out places that felt wholly removed from the city.
How does this area compare with the others you’ve photographed around the city?
Staten Island in general is like no other part of the city. But when you get out to the remote edges of the borough, the landscape has an atmosphere all its own. I like to think of it as “Staten Island Gothic.” There’s a depth of history on the island that expresses itself as decay in some areas, and wherever you wander off the beaten track a bit, the scenery has this haunted quality. I was definitely seeking out subjects that had some mystery to them, and would only go out to shoot on foggy, overcast days.
What are some of the other subjects you like to photograph?
I make a living as an architectural photographer, so these days I spend most of my time shooting non-abandoned interiors for architects and designers. There are a lot of similarities to the work, except I don’t have to bother with the respirator or worry about falling through the floor.
What else are you working on right now?
I’ve got a growing collection of found objects I’m hoping to get organized and photograph at some point. I’ve covered so much ground over the years and have picked up a lot of strange items along the way. I like to think they’d make an interesting portrait of the city.
Chemical Lane, Rossville
Industrial Ruins, Bloomfield
- The Urban Lens: Harlan Erskine explores an eerie Midtown after midnight in 2008
- The Urban Lens: Photographer Bob Estremera captures vestiges of the Lower East Side’s early days
- The Urban Lens: Documenting New York City’s Vanishing Privilege Signs
- More from our Urban Lens series
All photographs © Will Ellis
Tags : Will Ellis
Neighborhoods : Staten Island