Saturday, December 13, 2008

not quite abandoned

Driven by Boredom had a nice post this week about the closed New York Public Library location of the Donnell Library Center. (In full disclosure, I am on maternity leave from my job in the PR dept. of The New York Public Library.) Yes, it's true; this branch library will soon be renovated and much smaller, located in the basement of a luxury hotel.

The post, which is accompanied by photos, is located here.

The entire group of photos is here.

I know that at least one other photographer took photos of the site as well, since she took photos a few months before it closed and then very close to its closing date. I accompanied her on the first shoot, as part of my job. I hope to see the results sometime.

It is sad when libraries close. In Donnell's case, the building aged really badly. But the books and media within, of course, are timeless (for the most part).

Months before the hotel acquisition was announced, I think I remember am New York listing Donnell as a New York City building that should be destroyed.

Two other thoughts: In May of this year, I posted about my dislike of office urban exploration photography. The Donnell photos fit into this genre aesthetically, for the most part. Context is everything, right?

Looking at these photos, taken of a building right at its closing, reminds me of an instance several years ago when I had the pleasure of being present the day that the old Jersey City Medical Center closed. Ars Subterranea photographers were present, so I hope to also see those photos in a future work.

Friday, August 1, 2008

waterfront Brooklyn, Treasure Island, and an update on the Lams of Ludlow Street

Nathan Kensinger's Twilight on the Waterfront: Brooklyn's Vanishing Industrial Heritage

Urban explorer and blogger Nathan Kensinger has an exhibition titled Twilight on the Waterfront: Brooklyn's Vanishing Industrial Heritage up at the Brooklyn Public Library (the main branch at Grand Army Plaza) through this month. I haven't had the chance to see the show, but The New York Times' City Room blog ran a story about Kensinger yesterday, along with a slide show of a few of the images, and it looks beautiful. In my opinion, writer Sewell Chan focused a little bit too much on the illegal aspect of Kensinger's exploration, but in his defense, it is eye-opening to come across the concept of urban exploration for the first time. (This is not meant as a slight to Chan; I love his work on the City Room, and in full disclosure, as a publicist, I've worked with him several times on stories.)

"His [Kensinger's] subjects range from the Domino sugar refinery in Williamsburg, part of which was declared a landmark in 2007; the ruins of the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, which were ravaged by arson in 2006; and the haunting remains of Dead Horse Bay, where a 17th-century Dutch mill once stood," writes Chan.

The article doesn't say how many images are in the exhibit; if you know, please tell me, as I'm curious.

Here is my favorite image from the slideshow --

Photo of The Batcave by Nathan Kensinger.

Mehdi Saghafi's Treasure Island

Ah, if only I had unlimited funds, the photo book collection I would have! Mehdi Saghafi's new book Treasure Island is now available, at the price of $100, from Photo-Eye. Saghafi works with panoramic images, and his use of various shades of gray is stunning. I'm looking forward to seeing his Delta Project, but in the meantime, Treasure Island should keep people sated.

As Photo-Eye's book copy states, Treasure Island is "a 403 acre island in the San Francisco Bay made in 1935 and used by the military until the mid 1990s."

News about the Lams (from NYPL's Eminent Domain exhibition)
A little over a month ago, the Lam family -- known as the subject of Thomas Holton's photographs in the Eminent Domain exhibit -- lost their home in a Lower East Side fire. They've temporarily relocated to Harlem and are still holding out hope that they'll be able to return to Ludlow Street in the future. Holton has since raised approximately $8K to help the Lams; he's already delivered the check, so to speak. (And I am looking forward to receiving my print!)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

abandoned gas stations, Detroit's Tiger Stadium, and more

I plan on posting more to this blog, really, I do. I've thought of dozens and dozens of posts and not had the time. This is going to change. Here are a few small tidbits in the meantime:

Detroit's Tiger Stadium

The Packard Plant might be the biggest abandoned site in Detroit, but Tiger Stadium is/was the most public, as it's located on a main road and...a stadium. It doesn't cease to amaze me that every major city needs new stadiums built, at the expense of the taxpayers, every few years. Here in NYC, both the Yankees and the Mets are getting new stadiums. Anyways...after approximately eight years of non-use, the powers that be are currently in the process of deconstructing Tiger Stadium.

There was/is an unsuccessful conservation effort of the stadium.
Last September, several photographers were allowed to enter the stadium and document its disrepair.
Faded Detroit has blogged numerous times about Tiger Stadium.

Photo by Derek Farr (DetroitDerek), from Flickr. (He has great photos of the demolition-in-progress as well.)

Call for Volunteers for Open House New York

Open House New York's annual weekend is scheduled this year for Saturday and Sunday, October 4 & 5. I've enjoyed visiting many of the architectural sites open during the event, and I've volunteered a couple of times over the years. Volunteering for a four-hour shift at one of the sites is a pretty stress-free way to contribute to this amazing New York event, and volunteers also get a free tee-shirt and a button that allows them to cut lines (at some locations) during their off-time.

Open House New York's website has more information.
Last year, I blogged about my experience as a volunteer and also about my visits to other sites.

Camilo Jose Vergara's Out of Gas
As the price of gas continues to increase, spending time at the pump grows increasingly painful and more unpopular. Somewhat outside of this context (but can it really be context-free?), The New York Times recently published a brief slideshow of abandoned gas station photos taken by Camilo Jose Vergara. Oddly enough, it was filed in the "Opinion" section.

Here's my favorite photo from the slideshow:

Sykes & Son Tire Repair, Grand River Avenue at Mendota Street, Detroit, 2002. Photo by Camilo Jose Vergara.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

'Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City' exhibition at The New York Public Library

One of the many hats I wear at my day job: I'm the publicist for an exhibition that opened on May 2 at The New York Public Library. If you're in the New York City area, Eminent Domain is definitely a worthwhile exhibition to check out. Here's the press release:

Disappearing Storefronts of the Lower East Side, Life with a Chinatown Family, and Views from the Unseen Edges of New York City Featured in Major Photography Exhibition at The New York Public Library

Five Contemporary Photographers Observe New York City’s Ongoing Evolution of Private and Public Urban Space in Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City – May 2 to August 29, 2008

Shifting views of public and private space through the cameras of five contemporary photographers reveal the constantly changing and often unfamiliar urban landscapes of New York City in Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City, an exhibition of more than 200 photographs at The New York Public Library.

Eminent Domain features the recent photographic projects of five New York-based artists that deal with the life of the city in terms of passage (of seasons and time, people and place) and exchange (between individual and collective, interior and exterior). The works, by Thomas Holton, Bettina Johae, Reiner Leist, Zoe Leonard, and Ethan Levitas, will be on view at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street from May 2 to August 29, 2008. Admission is free.

“Turning on the nature of photography itself – which always complicates the relationship between public and private – all five projects resonate with current debates about the reorganized urban landscape, whether through the effects of gentrification, globalization, or municipal redevelopment,” said Stephen C. Pinson. exhibition curator and the Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs of The New York Public Library. “While none of the photographers’ works specifically address the legal concept of eminent domain – or the taking of private property for public use – all of the projects deal with the timely topic of the changing nature of space in New York City today. A photograph, after all, is a transaction between the private and the public that is negotiated through the taking of an image – a kind of eminent domain of the visual realm.”

Thomas Holton became very close with the Lam family in Chinatown, photographing the family of five living its everyday family life, at their apartment, school, and grocery market and even attending weddings and traveling to China and Hong Kong to visit relatives. Holton’s color photos of The Lams of Ludlow Street (2003-2005) are accompanied by Polaroid photos taken by the three Lam children, including their viewpoint as well as Holton’s empathetic perspective on being a Chinese family in New York City’s Chinatown. (image: Thomas Holton. Untitled from the series The Lams of Ludlow Street.)

Bettina Johae’s borough edges, nyc (2004-2007) includes color photographs, digital slideshows, and a new remapping of New York City’s five boroughs. While undertaking a total of 27 bike rides in all five boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island), Johae photographed the perimeter of each borough along its farthermost accessible path, displaying areas seldomly seen or included in representations of New York City. A beautiful, abandoned shipyard is located among the green fields of Rossville, Staten Island; traditional houses perched upon garages are spotted in Manhattan’s Marble Hill; and an airplane is shown flying a little too close for comfort above a two-story house in Queens’ Warnerville/Rosedale neighborhood. (image: Bettina Johae. si_4888 rossville, staten island from the borough edges, nyc series.)

Reiner Leist offers a more intimate view of the city in his Window series (1995-present), using a nineteenth-century view camera to photograph the scene from his studio on the 26th floor of an office building on Eighth Avenue. Leist has taken a photograph daily since March of 1995 at varying times of the day. (If he was unable to take a photograph, the day is represented by a black print.) The series becomes an ongoing portrait of the subtle and radical changes in the New York City skyline that includes One Penn Plaza, Madison Square Garden, and until September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center. On display are the images taken on September 11-15 from 1995-2007, including September 12, 2001, which documented the day following the World Trade Center attack. (image: Reiner Leist. September 12, 2001 from the Window series.)

Zoe Leonard’s Analogue (1998-2007) is a lyrical documentation of the City’s slowly disappearing local character in the wake of a global economy. Although centered on the storefronts of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, the project also touches upon the route and destination of New York’s castoff clothing in the contemporary rag trade. As its name suggests, the series is also an elegy of sorts for a long-standing tradition of documentary photography, which Leonard sees passing with the onset of digital photography. The images on display comprise a portfolio of forty dye transfer prints, an increasingly rare process of color printing that is itself in jeopardy of obsolescence. (image: Zoe Leonard. Drop Off A.M., Pick Up P.M. from the Analogue series.)

Elevated subway cars from the J, M, and Z lines seem to be the subject in Ethan Levitas’s Untitled/This is just to say (2004-2007), but these color photographs also show passengers in various forms of private and public life: A man standing in between cars during a snowstorm smokes a cigarette; Hassidic Jews are engrossed in conversation; a woman staring directly at the camera seems to be the only passenger in an otherwise empty car. The trains become microcosms of the City as the project functions to collapse the distinction between our private and public selves. (image: Ethan Levitas. "#75" from the Untitled/This is just to say series.)

In addition to the five photographers’ works, artist Glenn Ligon contributes a personal written narrative about all of his New York City residences in Housing in New York: A Brief History (2007) which was commissioned for this exhibition. Ligon’s writings are interspersed throughout the exhibition space, reminding viewers that behind the (now) public images lie myriad personal and private stories.

The exhibition is presented in The New York Public Library’s largest exhibition space at the landmark building on 42nd Street, and its design complements the photographers’ themes in creative ways: Ethan Levitas’s large images of subway cars are displayed on the space’s longest wall, side-by-side, replicating a subway train. Thomas Holton’s photographs of the Lam family are shown in a semi-enclosed space reminiscent in size of a small apartment. Reiner Leist’s images of the cityscape outside his window are shown as a selection of framed prints and as a larger group in a digital slideshow so that viewers can appreciate both the intimacy and the seriality of the project. Ten images from each borough of Bettina Johae’s landscapes are available for viewing through flipbooks attached to the wall, and five slideshows of images (one for each borough) are displayed next to Johae’s hand-drawn remapping of the city. Finally, works by each of the photographers are installed outside the exhibition space, in the more “public” spaces of the Library.

Stephen C. Pinson, exhibition curator and the Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs of The New York Public Library, acquired the materials on view after receiving funds from a benefactor specifically designated to purchase photographs that enhance the Library’s collection of New York City views from 1950 to the present day. Bettina Johae’s series borough edges, nyc (2004-2007) was the Photography Collection’s first digital acquisition. An online version of borough edges, nyc, also commissioned by The New York Public Library, will be available on the exhibition website at

Companion Volume

Edited by and including an introduction by curator Stephen C. Pinson, Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City features highlights from the five photographic projects presented in the exhibition. The book includes statements about their work from each of the photographers: Thomas Holton, Bettina Johae, Reiner Leist, Zoe Leonard, and Ethan Levitas. All of their projects intersect and resonate with current concerns about the reorganization of urban space, and its public use, in New York City. Also included as a counterpoint is artist Glenn Ligon’s literal narrative of his own housing in the city as a reminder that behind these (now) public images lie myriad personal and private stories. Published by The New York Public Library. 80 pages, 7 x 8 in., 70 images in color and b/w, eminent domain court case time line, suggested readings. $22.50. Softcover. ISBN 978-0-87104-460-0.

Books are available from The Library Shop at Fifth Avenue and 42 nd Street. Mail, phone, and Internet orders are accepted. For more information, call 212.930.0641 or visit

Curatorial Tours

Curatorial tours with exhibition curator Stephen Pinson are scheduled for Wednesday, May 14 at 11:15 a.m. and Friday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m. Tours are limited to 20 people. Register in advance via e-mail at or call 212.930.9284.

Docent Tours
Free public tours of Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City are conducted Monday through Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.; and Sunday (through May 18) at 3:30 p.m. All group tours, including school groups, must be scheduled well in advance. Unauthorized tours are not permitted. To schedule a tour, call 212.930.0501. Group tours are $7 per person for adults ($5 for seniors); no charge for full-time students.

Additional Public Programs

Visit the exhibition website at for details about additional programs.
Other artists, photographers, and interested public are invited to participate in a collaborative, online project on the theme of eminent domain through a link on the exhibition website.

borough edges, nyc

A series of bike tours to selected edges of the five boroughs, led by photographer Bettina Johae. Each tour begins at 12 noon and will last approximately three hours. Rides will be at an easy pace and for all ages and fitness levels. Interested individuals should e-mail

May 11 – The Bronx

May 18 – Manhattan

June 1 – Queens

June 15 – Brooklyn

June 22 – Staten Island

Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City will be on view from May 2 through August 29, 2008 in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. The exhibition is open during regular Library hours: Monday, Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sunday (through May 18), 1-5 p.m. Closed the following days: Saturday, May 24; Monday, May 26; Friday and Saturday, July 4 and 5. Admission is free. For more information, call 212.592.7730 or visit

About the Photography Collection
The Photography Collection of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs comprises approximately 400,000 photographs, including examples of almost every photographic process from the earliest daguerreotypes to contemporary digital images.

The Photography Collection was developed in 1980 when images culled from other NYPL departments and branches were brought together to form a new division. The historically stated focus of the collection has been "documentary photography," a term originally coined in the 1930s to describe the work of photographers who attempted to document specific social conditions. The Photography Collection, which has significant holdings in this area, actually encompasses a much broader range of the medium, including images made for commercial, industrial, and scientific application as well as images for the press and other print media, the vernacular of amateur snapshot photography, and original works intended for exhibition and/or the art market.

Future collection activity and development will focus on fulfilling the department's role as the most accessible public resource in New York City for the study of photographs and the history of photography.

About The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. It comprises four research centers - the Humanities and Social Sciences Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the Science, Industry and Business Library - and 87 Branch Libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English as a second language. The New York Public Library serves over 16 million patrons who come through its doors annually and another 25 million users internationally, who access collections and services through its website,

Acquisition of works for this exhibition was made possible through the Estate of Leroy A. Moses, which provided funds to purchase photographs that enhance the Library's collection of New York City views from 1950 to the present day.

Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., and by an anonymous contribution in honor of Elizabeth Rohatyn.

Additional support has been provided by
The L Magazine, the exhibition's Media Sponsor.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz I. and Adam Bartos, Jonathan Altman, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

the genre of office urban exploration photography?

Over the weekend, Boing Boing, Laughing Squid, and other cool blogs linked to Phillip Toledano's Bankrupt series, in which the photographer took photos of recently abandoned offices. I first came across Toledano's work about a month and a half ago while searching for new discoveries of photo books. I wondered then if Bankrupt is related philosophically to urban exploration photography. I think it is, but the series still leaves me cold, and I haven't fully decided why: Is it because there is electricity on in the buildings? Has the building not actually been abandoned? Is it because I spend a good portion of my life in an office and don't regard these images as new, or perhaps different enough from me? Is it the fluorescent lighting? Is it Toledano's aesthetic style? Is it because the rooms' architectural styles are so dreary?

What do you think? Is Bankrupt a twice-removed cousin from "traditional" urban exploration photography? Why or why not? Does Toledano's work resonate with you?

The links:

Phillip Toledano's online version of his Bankrupt series at

Toledano's online version of Bankrupt at

statement from

Do these images "document the high cost of human failure"? (I'm not convinced.)

Is there an "unsettling, Pompeii-like stillness to recently abandoned offices"? (Eh, maybe? I'm indifferent. Convince me otherwise...)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Time Out New York carries the flashlight

Ars Subterranea was included in Time Out New York's "Extreme issue" a couple of issues ago. Billie Cohen from TONY, who wrote the first significant piece about Ars Subterranea in 2002, accompanied us on a daytime exploration. Since TONY is a NYC-based publication, the site had to be within the City's five boroughs.

Time Out New York / Issue 659 : May 14–20, 2008


We’re thrilled for you

Superheroes aren’t the only ones who can leap tall buildings, see in the dark or pummel evil opponents named Drunkin Janitur. In NYC, anyone can—even us.

Illustration: Thomas Pitilli (appearing in TONY).

Urban spelunking

View extreme photos of urban spelunking (Photos Cohen took of the exploration.)

I’m shining a flashlight down a long, dark tunnel. The beam settles on a staircase at the opposite end, seemingly a million miles away. Everything else is hidden in blackness, except for the dust swirling in front of me. “This is how horror movies start,” I say.

The group behind me laughs in polite acknowledgment of the newbie’s jitters. “We usually let the person who’s never done this go first,” my guide, Julia Solis, had said, as if she were giving me a Christmas present.

But it’s a gift I asked for. In this city, as in many others around the world, brave—and, some would argue, stupid—cadres of people climb, shimmy, tiptoe and probe through abandoned buildings, forgotten tunnels and forsaken ruins. They call themselves “urban explorers.” The ones I’ve sought out run a local arts organization called Ars Subterranea (, which (legally) presents exhibitions and events in deserted gems such as the old Long Island Railroad tunnel under Atlantic Avenue and the Bronx Borough Courthouse. “Ars Subterranea preserves forgotten architectural relics through creating experiences with sites or locations,” explains Gayle Snible, an explorer who also serves as the group’s publicity director.

Today we’re scouting a site for documentation purposes, and I am sworn to secrecy about the location to protect its integrity. What I can reveal is that it’s a complex of early-20th-century buildings. They are stately, with columned entries, brick facades and big windows, many sealed with cinder blocks. Solis warns me to be careful of the floors; often they are not solid. These, however, are—they’re just covered with layers of brick dust, debris and something that looks suspiciously like asbestos.

Dangers aside, the decay is at once haunting and elegant. “I have a preference for hospitals,” says Solis, Ars Subterranea’s founder. “If you want to see what it means to be human, they’re the best places. You can go to a museum, but in a hospital there’s nothing between you and reality.”

The complex we’re exploring today wasn’t that kind of institution, but we still see rusted bed frames and other evidence of past lives: in the basement, piles of discarded office chairs; in the long dormitory rooms, eroded radiator covers; in one cubby, small plastic football figures; and in a closet, shelves labeled DRESSING TRAYS and MORGUE PACK.

When I emerge from the closet, I don’t see anyone else. I beat back an eruption of terror, certain I’m going to get picked off by some dude from Hostel. But then I hear the rustling footsteps of my crew, each caught up in their own discoveries. One is awed by unbroken lightbulbs, Julia is drawn to staircases, and I find I have a thing for slivers of light shining through very dark spaces. As I build courage throughout the day, I turn off my flashlight to see where cracked walls, broken windows and roof holes let the sun sneak through.

When we finally emerge, I can’t believe it’s still daylight. The safety of noon hadn’t been tangible in the musty blackness inside, but now I hear kids playing ball at a nearby field and church bells ringing somewhere. I make a mental note about the fickleness of perception. Safe in the bright day, I feel pleased with myself, even a bit cocky. I can’t wait to go into the dark again. Although next time, I might bring a bigger flashlight. — Billie Cohen

-- and a couple of photos I took during our visit:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sound the Alarm

Wave Hill was moderately crowded today with visitors wanting to get away from the urban jungle for a short commune with nature. Here are a couple of photos of plants that I particularly enjoyed (the cacti greenhouse is surprisingly extensive):

It was good timing that I was able to see the current exhibition up in the Wave Hill Glyndor Gallery, Sound the Alarm: Landscapes in Distress (up through June 1). Featuring the work of eight artists, the exhibition "calls attention to the indelible impact of human activity on the environment from the Arctic to the Equator," according to the show's curators. Most of the work is interesting, although I only knew Edward Burtynsky's work by name beforehand. Travis Roozee tells a partial story of Centralia, Pennsylvania, a town I've wanted to visit for years now. (He also did a series called Rooftop Brooklyn that I remember, because it's about birds...Bushwick pigeons, to be specific.) Gilles Minasson's photo of teens ice hopping was simultaneously playful and sinister. Sergio Vega's images were interesting, factually, but there wasn't enough of it to be cohesive enough, and the inkjet print quality of his image "Jose Dias Soares Farm at Rochedo (field)" (2007) was distracting.

The find of the exhibition was the discovery of Sasha Bezzubov's Things Fall Apart series. Bezzubov documents the ruins of natural disasters. (Although this article states, too simplistically and mistakenly, that the natural disasters he documents are actually the result of man.) Bezzubov brings his vision to disaster photography, traveling to India (after the 2001 earthquake), Indonesia (after the 2005 tsunami), and California (after a 2003 wildfire). (He's also traveled to Missouri and Floria after hurricanes and to Utah after a wildfire, as seen on his website.)

at the Sound the Alarm exhibition: Sasha Bezzubov's "Wildfire #4, California" (2003) from the series Things Fall Apart.

not at the exhibition: Bezzubov's "Earthquake #1, India" (2001), also from the series Things Fall Apart.

The quality of Bezzubov's images are stunning, similar in style, but not subject matter, to Burtynsky's work. The brochure accompanying the exhibit states that there is an upcoming monograph for the series, and I anticipate it being appropriately breathtaking. (NOTE: If you spend time on Bezzubov's website, click on images twice to view the largest image size available, as the work definitely benefits from being viewed as large as possible.) It is also of note that although Bezzubov is working on a newer series, Things Fall Apart is still an active series of work. I wonder if he is currently in China or planning a trip in the immediate future to document the recent earthquake's after effects.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Handbook for Adventurers

As my last post stated, it'd sure be nice to be driving a car through Rodney, Mississippi and exploring its abandoned Civil War-era buildings and imagine what life was like there way back when. But one's inability to travel to other cities, states, and countries doesn't have to hinder his or her's ability to have meaningful adventures. That's what I love about "urban exploration", a term that I personally use in a broad sense.

In 1990, Ten Speed Press published The Urban Adventure Handbook by Alan S. North. North expressed, both in the Handbook and in a subsequent interview, that "The Call of the Wild" is strong for him and that exploring a city is what he suggests as an alternate to when one can't get to nature. Nonetheless, his Handbook covers a wide variety of urban activities in a moderately thorough manner: Buildering, Balancing (predominantly on slack chains), Urban Adventure Bike Riding, Urban Spelunking, and Going High (climbing towers, bridges, high-rise buildings, monuments, etc.). To North, Urban Adventure is about taking risk, but the rewards are great:
Going on URBAN ADVENTURES will change the way you see your urban environment. The structured, asphalt-and-concrete, developed world will become your wilderness playground. An old brick building will become a choreographer and teach you to dance in a vertical world. The blacktopped, potholed pavement will become a rapids-filled river enticing and challenging the deft navigator. A commuter-choking bridge will become a sculpture to climb. The smelly sewers beneath the city will become a Minoan labyrinth.

The Urban Adventure Handbook is quite possibly the first how-to guide for what is now called Urban Exploration. It is the precursor to Ninjalicious' Access All Areas: A User's Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration. The graphics are funny and helpful, and the book has almost a 1970s vibe to it, even though it's from 1990. Technique, etiquette, equipment, and safety are covered. Advice is freely given.

When you get hauled in for trespassing, etc., don't call your attorney, significant other, or mom at an unreasonable hour. (page 137)

Generally, the water found in drainage systems in polluted. It contains lead, oil, fecal matter, urine, and any garbage that happens to wash down the street. So don't drink it. Operating sewers, in particular, are deadly bacteria-infested environments. (page 118)

If a building management authority asks you to get off of the building, it is best to acquiesce. Agree and leave the site promptly before the law arrives. If you are on a public or corporately owned building, you can always return later when no one is there to bother you, and, correspondingly, you will bother no one. (page 45)

These suggestions may seem obvious or even humorous to you. But sections on Foot Placement (when Buildering), Drafting (during bike riding), and Running a Self-Belay (when Going High) are informative.

I've really enjoyed reading and looking at this book, even though I have no intentions of balancing on a slack chain. The below illustrations by Charles K. Neifeld are particularly humorous and/or accurate.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring is here!

Spring is finally here. The weather is fantastic, my lilac tree is thisclose to blooming, and a strong urge to explore is pulsing through my veins. Since I'm 8 months pregnant, I'm living a bit vicariously when it comes to exploration and travel. (Having said that, as of today, we own a car, so who knows, maybe more travel is imminent.)

I found this video on YouTube. The green landscape combined with the sound of the car makes me want to travel to Rodney, Mississippi and see this nearly-abandowned town for myself.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter from Wantage, New Jersey!

I spent Easter with family in Wantage, New Jersey; we saw vultures, a badger, and a pheasant. We spent most of our time in a nice house and also watching dozens of kids search a hill for hidden Easter eggs, but this barn caught our attention when we drove in:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Return to the Bronx County Courthouse

This last week, I had the opportunity to serve jury duty in the South Bronx. During lunch hour, I walked across town to the Bronx Borough Courthouse, the site of last April's Ars Subterranea event The House of the Marble Mistress. (Truth be told, I was partially visiting the Courthouse and partially frequenting the Caribbean and Soul Food restaurant across the street from it.)

What a difference a year makes; the front entrance wasn't even visible due to the large green fencing and the construction going on in the 'hood. Abandoned since 1978, there are finally plans for the grand building; according to New York 1 News, a charter school will open at the site in September. New (since April) "For Rent" signs were still on the building's exterior on Tuesday, but I hope that this news is accurate. The owner told Ars Subterranea last year that the desired tenant was a school or library (not retail), and it seems like this wish will become reality.

Below is a video that ran of Ars Subterranea's House of the Marble Mistress event:

There are also a few pictures on my Flickr.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ars Subterranea at Anthology Film Archives (NYC) on March 24!

Ars Subterranea has several projects planned for 2008, and the first one will be a night at the cinema. We'll have the opportunity to view Tales from the Sanatorium, a graphic novel in-progress. Ars Sub Founder/Executive Director Julia Solis will co-present the evening and show us previously unseen work. Other works both old (Met State is a must see) and new (Julia's collaboration with's Tom Kirsch) will be shown. Co-presenter Ross Lipman will also be on hand to present The Disembodied Theater Corporation's work about the High Line, NO WAY OUT BUT ONWARD. It should be a great evening!

from the Anthology Film Archives press release:

video performance works by
The Disembodied Theater Corporation and Ars Subterranea
Monday, March 24, 7:30pm
With Ross Lipman & Julia Solis in person!

Anthology Film Archives presents an evening with The Disembodied Theater Corporation featuring dispatches, news, songs, and fragments from the Ghost City: the skeletal remains of abandoned towns, railways, and graveyards that stand as remnants of a lost society. Filmmaker Ross Lipman and author Julia Solis will present a haunting assemblage of ruins, rants, and shards of memory that paint a collective portrait of dystopia. The evening will feature two distinct presentations: NO WAY OUT BUT ONWARD, an adventure in psychogeography through New York’s High Line, and presentations by members of the arts group Ars Subterranea, DISPATCHES FROM THE WASTELAND: three short imaginary narratives set inside abandoned mental hospitals.

An adventure in psychogeography through New York's High Line

PowerPoint performance by The Disembodied Theater Corporation
Written and narrated by Ross Lipman
Suite for Bass, Viola, and Trombone by Laura Steenberge
Photos by Leigh Evans, Ross Lipman, Nina Mankin

The High Line is the abandoned elevated freight rail that runs through the west side of Manhattan. Soon to be the site of an aerial public park, it for the moment remains a haunted paradise above the city—a verdant wasteland inhabited only by occasional taggers, wanderers, and police. In October 2004 a ragtag group ventured up to explore. As they were to learn, it's a space with its own internal logic, interacting with its visitors in a way unique to each. NO WAY OUT BUT ONWARD is a recounting of that day's events, told in PowerPoint, the modern day equivalent of an old-time Magic Lantern performance.

Scene from No Way Out But Onward.

Presentations made by members of the arts group Ars Subterranea

Three short imaginary narratives set inside abandoned mental hospitals

Tales from the Sanatorium
Drawing inspiration from The Canterbury Tales, the graphic novel series depicts an imperious Nurse leading a band of disheveled souls through endless apocalyptic asylum landscapes, occasionally pausing to tell stories. In the first installment, the Nurse recounts her own tale, "Rubber Lullaby." A combination of derelict spaces with mixed-media collage and still photography created by Bryan Papciak in conjunction with Ars Subterranea, Tales from the Sanatorium is a graphic novel set in an abandoned mental hospital – staged like a movie, but photographed as a series of stills.

Scene from Tales from the Sanatorium.

Funeral Play
A surrealistic journey into a hospital bed, based on a forthcoming Furnace Press book by Julia Solis.

Excerpts from a postmortem diary by Tom Kirsch ( and Julia Solis.

Followed by:

Met State
(Bryan Papciak, 10 minutes, color/b&w, 16mm, 2001)
An award-winning experimental short film by exploring the graphic nature of derelict space through
an experimental study of an abandoned insane asylum.

About the presenting organizations and artists:

The Disembodied Theater Corporation is an amorphous performance entity devoted to the temporary manifestation of non-filmic cinemas.

Ross Lipman is an independent filmmaker, photographer, and writer who has presented work throughout the world at venues ranging from the Oberhausen International Film Festival to the Chinese Taipei Film Archive. His works have been collected by institutions and museums including the Sammlung Goetz in Munich. He is also one of the world’s leading authorities on the restoration of independent cinema, and was recently honored with the National Society of Film Critic’s 2007 Film Heritage award. In recent years he has been designing film, video, and performance works exploring urban decay as a marker of modern consciousness.

Ars Subterranea likes to play inside ruins and is comprised of artists, historians, and urban explorers working to create an intersection between art and architectural relics in the New York City area. Ars Subterranea’s aim is to instigate unique perceptions of New York's history by constructing narratives around the city's forgotten relics.

Julia Solis conducts archaeological parlor games and investigates ruined urban spaces. As the founder of Dark Passage, she started the creative preservation group Ars Subterranea in 2002 with the object of staging scavenger hunts and exhibitions in unusual locations in New York. She is the author of New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City (Routledge, 2004) and an editor of Furnace Press, which specializes in publications on urban decay.

Visit the project’s website:

More about Ars Subterranea:

32 SECOND AVENUE NEW YORK, NY 10003; (212) 505-5181

About Anthology Film Archives: Founded in 1970, Anthology’s mission is to exhibit, preserve, collect documentation about, and promote public and scholarly understanding of independent, classic, and avant-garde cinema. Anthology screens more than 900 film and video programs per year, publishes books and catalogs annually, and has preserved more than 700 films to date.
Directions: Anthology is at 32 Second Ave. at 2nd St. Subway: F or V to 2nd Ave; 6 to Bleecker.
Tickets: $8 for adults, $6 for students & seniors; $5 for members.

Passenger series. California; December 27, 2007; 6:42:55 p.m.

vacation photos

Abandoned locations are of interest during my travels (even if I don't enter them), and sometimes they show up when they're least expected.

In December, I traveled to Arizona for the holidays. Usually, Ed and I climb Squaw Peak's Summit Trail (now Piestewa Peak's Summit Trail) when we visit, but this year we went to South Mountain Park . At the base of the road to Gila Valley Lookout, there were two empty dwellings. Below are photos of one of them; the other was quite kitschy and not as interesting. Although this is a touristy-y site, it was a nice fifteen-minute detour. There wasn't any information available anywhere at the site (or online), so I'm sorry to say that I don't know what kind of dwelling this replicates, what its purpose is, etc.

Downtown Phoenix itself has changed incredibly since I frequented the area to attend alternative art events. I was dismayed to see a "For Lease" sign on the Icehouse - I thought that it had closed - but happy to find out that it indeed continues on as an art space. I saw the best art at The Icehouse in the early-to-mid-1990s, and its work lives on. The second photo taken at the Icehouse is (part of) the area at which I saw Survival Research Laboratories' event A Million Inconsiderate Experiments right before moving to New York City in 1996. Memories...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

for the Oscars tonight

Photo by David Byrne, taken on July 4, 2006 and accessed at ran a story this week about Marfa, Texas and how two films nominated for Oscars this year were filmed in Marfa: No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

I haven't seen either movie yet, but I've noted that Marfa keeps getting great press, mostly for its connections to minimalist art and its Prada store, and now for being a thinly-populated town aesthetically friendly to film shoots.

Marfa's on my list of places in the United States to visit, but there are several places ahead of it on the list, including:

Yellowstone National Park - I think this would be a great family vacation, especially if we saw a geyser.

Walter De Mairia's The Lightning Field - I had the opportunity to visit The Lightning Field when I was in art school, and I blew it!

Coyote Buttes North - The Wave - I wonder how old a child needs to be to complete the hike to The Wave....

Applalachian Trail - I'd like to take a day trip to the Trail via the New York Metro-North stop.

The Everglades - I took the Shark Valley tram tour during the dry season, but I'd love to return during the wet season and do a lot of bike riding and spend quality time in the 'Glades.

I went for the abandoned buildings, and I got Iceland and community as well.

I'm a fan of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós' music - I own a few CDs but have never seen them in concert - but ever since hearing raves about Heima, I've been waiting for the opportunity to see the film on the big screen.

First, I heard that Heima was a great rock doc, and then I read the following sentence in press materials for last night's screening at Scandinavia House: They played in deserted fish factories, outsider art follies, far-flung community halls, sylvan fields, darkened caves, and the huge, horseshoe-shaped Ásbyrgi Canyon (formed, legend has it, by the hoofprint of Odin's six-legged horse Sleipnir). Wow! Since I've also been daydreaming about visiting Iceland, well, that's a lot of reasons to see one movie, right?

Heima was astoundingly beautiful and wonderful. The film documents Sigur Rós playing two weeks of gigs across its country. Each show is incredibly different: the concert in Reykjavík is a large, crowded outdoor event; the band plays at a community center in Kirkjubaejarklaustar at a Thorablod meal (extreme foodies take note!); a protest against a dam is the site of another show; etc.

The music was wonderful, and the movie does provide an overall context for the band's sound. At one point, one of the band members talks about the Icelandic need for "space", and SR's music definitely conveys Space (not the extraterrestrial kind, but the one of topological space, distance, area, and volume).

But moving past the music...the two sites featured in Heima most relevant for this blog are the abandoned fish factory in Djupavik and an artist's former home in Selardalur.

The band's tour journal describes the visit to the abandoned fish factory moderately well, and I'm sure that many of this blog's readers can appreciate the desire to crawl through the pipe leading to the site. (Is this how the audience entered the space?)

A detailed excerpt from the tour journal brings some intimate details:

the pipe is too small for the guitar amp to fit through into the tank and it stands outside in the grass pointing towards jonsi some metres distant. occasionally the gulls and arctic terns wheeling overhead outside are audible through an open square in the roof and these will probably be evident on the finished recording being captured by ken and biggi on the other end of the pipe.

once this is over, the band move to the factory for the first time, where they discover their gear is too tightly arranged between decaying and anomalous american automobiles in the dark concrete skeleton of dead building.

The fish factory looks like a hip nightclub in some shots, and the song's churchlike sound ends with a cacophonic burst of energy.

Performing in the abandoned fish factory. (movie still)

An internet search provides little information about the site in Selardalur, except that it is indeed a tourist destination in the West fjords area of Iceland. The concert segment is filmed at an artist named Samuel's former farmhouse. Looking at the site, I can't help but wonder how much longer that farmhouse is going to stand upright, hence GO VISIT SELARDALUR NOW!

This shot was on the screen for about two seconds, and there was no information about where it was located. (movie still)

Besides these two locations, I enjoyed two other things about the movie: the nature and audience shots. The audience at most of the shows was pretty diverse, age-wise. Senior citizens, infants, adolescents, teenagers, young name it. Everyone looks beautiful while listening to music. These concerts were community get-togethers.

The following notes reflect the nature seen in this film: strong sense of narration with the sea, waterfalls, fields, mountains, birds in caves, birds in sky, iceberg floating in water, footprints drying in the sand, landscapes of houses/boats/communities, fog & mist moving across mountains, stones, a man who makes instruments from rhubarb.

The trailer for the movie can be seen here.

These Sigur Rós videos were screened before the start of the movie:

Hoppipolla; Glósóli; Svefn-g-englar; Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa; Untitled #1 (aka Vaka).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Passenger series. Lake George, New York; February 18, 2008; 09:32:31 a.m.

Water tunnel workers memorial in Woodlawn

My neighborhood, Woodlawn in the Bronx, has strong working class roots, noticed by the presence of an AFL-CIO office and a bar named Aqueduct North, presumably after/for the workers who work on and in New York City's various water tunnels.

Sometime in the last two years, a memorial "for those who lost their lives in the construction of the Third Water Tunnel" was completed at Katonah Ave. & 241st Street. Done by New York City's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), I think it's an appropriate and artistically interesting memorial. Below are a few photos.

There is also an annual memorial event honoring deceased water tunnel workers; I think it takes place in early spring. If I hear about it ahead of time, I'll post details. Please drop me an e-mail or comment if you hear info about a confirmed date.

The names on the manhole covers are a nice, simple touch.

This graphic shows the meeting of the three "watersheds": Croton, Catskill, and Delaware.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Furnace Press announces winner of Decomposition Series contest

A little while back, Furnace Press held a call for submissions contest for its forthcoming Decomposition Series, which focuses on "noteworthy abandoned sites in New York State".

I'm part of Furnace Press, and I saw the entries. They were good, and it was competitive. But a winner was picked, and by the end of 2008, Furnace Press will publish Elevator Alley: The Working Landscape of Buffalo's Ward by Michael Cook and Andrew Emond.

Michael Cook runs the website The Vanishing Point, which is personally of note for its detailed sections on Storm Drainage and Power Generation. (One of my favorite things that I did at Niagara Falls was the tour of the Sir Adam Beck 2 Generating Station.)
An interview with Cook ran on BLDGBLOG this last summer as well.

It'll be interesting to see what Cook and Emond do with Buffalo's Elevator Alley.

Photo taken from The Vanishing Point's "Falls Street Tunnel" section.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Life in the Approval Matrix?

Urban exploration photography makes an appearance in New York magazine's Approval Matrix this week. Check out the SE quadrant of the image, or visit the link to see this brief mention. Do you think it's in the correct section?)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Passenger series. Canyon Lake, Arizona; December 20, 2006; 12:49:22 p.m.


"The most beautiful thing in the abandoned hospital was the peeling paint." This sentence starts Rebecca Solnit's "Abandon" essay in her 2005 book A Field Guide to Getting Lost.

In the early 1980's, Solnit spent six months in an abandoned hospital near San Francisco, accompanying her then-boyfriend as he shot a Super 8 film on location. She was a punk rocker then, something that she sometimes refers to in her writings. After her fascination with ruins, she returned to (a more straightforward) nature, and lately she's been more into activism and politics.

The abandoned hospital is just a tool for Solnit to make the small leap to discussing Demeter, Persephone, and Hades; she then takes a bigger leap when discussing the beauty and "abandon" of her deceased friend Marine. Solnit is one of America's preeminent contemporary nature philosophy writers, but to hear Solnit discuss abandoned ruins for just a few pages is nourishing.

"Ruins become the unconscious of a city, its memory, unknown, darkness, lost lands, in this truly bring it to life," she writes. Much later in the essay, she talks about the area of New York City (it seems that she lived in NYC for a while, or at least visits frequently) that is now the sports complex called Chelsea Piers. She briefly looks back to the years when the Chelsea Piers was a "temporary autonomous zone" at which gays cruised and groped each other. Peter Hujar and David Wojnariowicz are mentioned, and the description of the ruins of Chelsea Piers are described so beautifully that I wish I were there. ("Paper from old shipping lines scattered all around like bomb blasts among wrecked pieces of furniture"..."this kind of place, one that was ruinous, bleak, but somehow still imbued wtih a romantic outlaw sense of possibility, of freedom, even the freedom to be idealistic...") Earlier, she described the "new" Chelsea Piers, and says "although it may yet yield to ruin again". Oh, that would be great, but I hope I don't have to wait for the apolocalypse for it to happen.

Solnit seems to be a bit of a hippy, or perhaps I'm confusing the term "hippy" with "idealist." (It should be noted for the record that the word "hippy" has a personal positive connotation in my world.) I was intrigued when I stumbled upon her artistic link to Mark Klett, and it makes me warm inside to know that she's explored ruins as well, although she tends to hint at "the golden age of ruins" having passed. Also, has she wandered into ruins recently, as she has matured 20 years into her life? (I ask this somewhat rhetorically; I think I know the answer, but I'd love to hear what she has to say on the topic.)

"We are now at the beginning of an era whose constructions are far scarier than ruins. In the time of which I write, the new silicon-based life forms were sneaking into every interstice without setting off alarms that all would be utterly changed in a way far more insidious than nuclear war, that they would bring a new wealth that would erase the ruins."

To start the essay with such beauty and end it with such despair is heartbreaking. But Solnit is an idealist. But is she an optimist? I'm hoping that delving further into her work will answer my question.

Monday, January 21, 2008

a link for Martin Luther King Day

For today's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, NPR did a piece about Camilo Jose Vergara's documentation of King murals in urban America. The interview and the slide show is available here. I've copied and pasted the text that Vergara wrote about this project, which is also available at the NPR website.

Photographing a Ubiquitous Subject

by Camilo Jose Vergara, January 19, 2008 · In the following essay for, Camilo Jose Vergara writes about the images of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that he has photographed and how they are beginning to disappear in some places.

In America's poorest neighborhoods, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps the most popular subject of public art, along with the streets, hospitals, schools and housing projects bearing his name. Collectively these have become one of the defining elements of the American ghetto. I believe that they help us understand how people living in poor, segregated urban communities — those about whom Dr. King was most concerned — perceive him and his legacy. They show how inner-city residents use his portrait to feel proud, to sell merchandise, and to develop a sense of security, identity and belonging.

Since 1977, I have been documenting images of Dr. King that regularly appear along the commercial streets and alleys of such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Camden, N.J., and Baltimore. Many of the murals portraying this civil rights leader are painted on the outside walls of liquor stores, auto-repair shops, fast food restaurants, mom and pop stores, and public housing projects. The majority are the work of sign painters and amateur artists. All of the statues and many of the murals I photographed are located on streets named after him.

Over time I became interested in learning why these images are so pervasive. I feel that they reflect a significant cultural phenomenon: the rise of Dr. King as a central moral figure in poor neighborhoods, and his elevation to secular sainthood as the savior of dispossessed African Americans. His varied representations, often based on photographs taken from the national media, express poor people's perceptions.

After the South Los Angeles riots of 1992, many Latino shopkeepers had Dr. King's portrait painted on the facades of their stores in the hope of staving off the African-American rioters from robbing or vandalizing their businesses.

Wherever they are located, his portraits are usually respected, thus escaping damage and defacement. Sometimes, however, practical considerations result in electric cords emerging from his face, or a closed-circuit TV camera being attached to his ear, or security gates installed over his portrait.

But few of the sign painters hired for portraits of Dr. King have been particularly adept at getting good likenesses, with the result that he often comes out looking Mexican or even Mexican Indian. And now that Latinos in South Los Angeles have become the majority, new images of Dr. King rarely appear while the old portraits of him have been replaced by religious images and specifically Latino subjects.

The phrase "I have a dream" is often written above or below portraits of King. The dream is about justice, equality, three meals a day, housing, education, jobs and peace in the neighborhood. The many images of him in the inner city are powerful reminders to residents to keep pursuing those goals.

Camilo Jose Vergara has been documenting urban America for more than three decades. His work is included in the Berman Collection at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and in 2002 he won a Macarthur Genius Grant for his photography. He is the author of several books, including How the Other Half Worships.

Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, 1977. Photo by Camilo Jose Vergara.