This blog chronicles my ongoing fascination with the edges of New York City. I moved here over thirty years ago, and while I am not a native, I've lived here longer than anyplace else and consider it my home. I love the pulse of the city and the culture and diversity. I thrive on the arts. But my never ending exploration continues to be in those unexpected places beyond our everyday notions of the city. This city is suffused with nature - beaches, woodlands, fields, gardens - both wild and tamed. Since I moved to the Bronx in 1984 I have been intrigued with exploring these places with the camera. I understand that many have gone before me and many share my interest in "forgotten NYC" or "Abandoned NY". This is my journey and I'm sharing it with you.
Back to the Lower East Side, this time to tour a very few of the scores of community gardens in the neighborhood. The flourish of greenspace cultivation started in 1973 with the Green Guerillas, a movement that began with a single seed bomb tossed into a vacant lot. A reaction to the territorial divides brought about by the financial turmoil of the decade between the foreclosed, the city and urban pioneer developers, the movement quickly gained momentum. Gardeners educated themselves and began to organize; these urban oases sprang up all over the city, but are most concentrated in the East Village and the Lower East Side. This map lists 85 current and former gardens below 14th Street:
This is a series of weavings I have been working on in the studio for the last six months or so. I cut maps from old atlases and then weave them together to create new, mystical countries. After weaving the maps together I treat them with wax and then sometimes add other materials: string, photographs…
I’ve always had a fascination with “place”. And I enjoy working with encaustic to create weird collages. The process represented here combines these interests.
These are all from a trip to New Orleans a friend and I took this past week. The vibrant color is real and aptly represents the positive energy of the neighborhoods we visited. Most of these were taken in the Bywater, some in the Warehouse District.
Last week I wrapped up another road trip. We drove form NYC to Florida to visit friends and relatives, and to get some relief from the cold. On the way we stopped for lunch at South of the Border. It wasn’t how I remembered it – but my first visit was on one of those a dark, rainy nights where the world is all but invisible..
I was here only once before, years ago. My parents were stationed in Orlando, Florida and I was going to school in upstate New York. After freshman year I accepted a ride from an acquaintance who lived in Miami. He had a van, long hair, and he drank a lot of coffee and smoked a lot of cigarettes between Annandale and Orlando. I was feeling crummy the whole trip – the last night at school had been celebratory and I probably smoked two packs of cigarettes along with whatever we all drank at the final party of the year. So I quit. I’d been smoking since I was eleven, I was addicted, but that was it – I just didn’t want to ever smoke another cigarette – so I didn’t. Still haven’t.
My driver wanted to go straight, without stopping, all the way to Florida. He mentioned dinner at South of the Border – something to look forward to. Other than that he didn’t say one word to me the whole ride, and, since he was a graduating senior on his way to law school that fall I was too intimidated to start up a conversation. I remember it was raining – dreary. Finally we pulled into the small metropolis that was SOTB and walked into a shabby little building where you had to order at the counter then take your food to a table nearby or out to the car. It was crowded.
After several minutes on line my companion stepped up to the counter and ordered for both of us. A woman at his elbow received her order but told the counter attendant to take it back. “He breathed over my food” she said. Loudly and glaring in our direction. I steeled a sideways glance at my companion. He was looking down at the counter, his cheeks reddened. After some back and forth the lady was brought a new dinner – the styrofoam container sealed shut. We stepped aside to let her pass.
We took our food to the car. We ate in silence. My friend drove. I slept a bit after that, and when we arrived in Orlando he helped me to the door with my bags, said hello to my parents and went on his way.
Frederick Johnson had a good deal to do with the development of this neighborhood in the late nineteenth century. Before it’s transition to a suburban development Dyker Heights was designated as farm land; crops included grains, fruits and vegetables. What began as a largely Anglican enclave evolved into an Italian neighborhood as those immigrants began pouring in during the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the homes were converted to Mediterranean style with notable statuary and topiary adorning their well-manicured yards. Sometime in the 1980’s the residents began outdoing each other with fabulous displays of light and color during the Christmas season. Now Dyker Heights is known as the number one destination for fans of Christmas light displays. I visited at dusk and was enthralled by the transformation as the sun set and the lights clicked on.
I’m looking forward to revisiting the area in the spring. The…
The ICP Bookstore hosted a signing of my new, limited edition book, Outside the Lines, featuring work from my abandoned series on Friday, December 12. The book is nearly sold out but I have a few copies left. Look for the announcement of the second printing later this winter. Thank you for visiting the site!
Mia and I returned to Dead Horse Bay. She got busy working on a mandala – gathering beach glass, shells, metal objects and sorting them by color. She then used an old piling to create
a compass, and drew a large circle, then a spiral, in the sand. The collected objects went into the piece and it was a pleasure to watch her creative process unfold. I constructed some small weavings in the woods near the site, but I was mostly captivated by the place that day. The tide was going out quickly and, with each passing few minutes, more discards were revealed at the tide line. I walked south to discover some metal structures and other ruins along the beach. I photographed everything, and still can’t get enough of the tarnished magic of this place.
I took another trip to the Pennhurst School – a residential facility for children with disabilities that closed in 1987. The media had reported repeated instances of abuse and neglect, and the school did not keep up with advances in the treatment of mental disorders and differences. Most of the buildings and grounds of this immense facility are off limits. Here are a few images captured in the two buildings that are still open on occasion:
Sometimes it’s a good idea to stop the car and explore that abandoned building you’ve been passing on the way to Yonkers for the past 25 years. I actually got out of the car to check out what’s what with that. Next, I travelled 1/2 mile down the street and turned into the drive to the Lenoir Preserve. The last time I was here was the only time – with my young daughters to visit the nature center about ten years ago. This time I walked to the edge of the property and found an abandoned mansion with an insanely antebellum theme going on in the garden. I didn’t hop the wall today, but stole some images from a safe distance. Finally, on to Untermeyer Park, less then a mile from Lenoir, to move beyond the boundaries and photograph the edges of that site.
This is not my last visit to any of these places; just a start. Here’s a sample of what I found exploring closer to home.
I visited the game farm again this fall and found a deeper connection with the place. The longer I spent walking the grounds the more my perceptions of the site changed. I had about an hour at the beginning to be completely alone in the park – my mind went to bears in the Catskills – and why wouldn’t they be attracted to a former zoo where goats and rabbits roam freely and abundantly? I shook that off and continued to the far side of the park – the area I had to rush through the first time, and then made my way back toward the entrance. It was a beautiful fall day and a good one to be exploring outside; many of these are landscapes around the farm that I missed my first visit