Abandoned NYC

The Brooklyn Army Terminal is An Example of How Old Buildings Can be Put to New Use

“I walked into my first abandoned building on a whim while wandering around Red Hook, Brooklyn, and I was hooked from that point on”, photographer Will Ellis told The Plus when we asked him how his project, Abandoned NYC, started.

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Although Will isn’t the first to photograph abandoned buildings, he certainly sticks out from the crowd. Will has trawled through the archives of the New York Times, and researched the stories of each place he visits and how they fit into the broader history of New York City.

Here we present his exploration of the Brooklyn Army Terminal, though not technically abandoned, it is a perfect example of a historic building that has been ‘brought back from the brink of decay.’ It now leases a thriving hub of leasable spaces occupied by manufacturing, technology, and arts organisations.

Despite this, it has the visuals and sense of history that Will is looking for in a subject. “It’s one of the most incredible spaces in the city, and not many people get a chance to see it,” he told us.

We had a chat with the New York-based photographer.

The Plus: Alongside the photos, you also explain and tell a lot about the history of the buildings and places. Why do you think this is important?
Will Ellis:
While I can’t do much to preserve the buildings themselves, the text gave me an opportunity to record the history of these sites, which is often just as compelling as the images. My hope is that people don’t just look at these and think “cool pictures”, hopefully they stick around, delve a bit deeper, and learn a thing or two about the history of New York.

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TP: How do you find the abandoned buildings and places in New York?
In New York City, even the most ‘secret’ places have already been shot by dozens of photographers. If a building is accessible, you can usually find pictures by other bloggers and ‘urban explorers’ out there. So the Internet is my no. 1 tool, as well as tips I hear from friends and fans of the blog.

TP: Do you have a favourite abandoned place or building?
My favourite might be a school in Harlem, that’s been abandoned for around 40 years. It’s just gorgeous, with trees growing out of the upper floors and beautiful light. I have a pretty sentimental attachment to it, because it was one of the first places I photographed, back when it really did feel like an adventure and it was all very new and exciting.

TP: Your book Abandoned NYC is out now. Can you tell us what we can expect from the book?
The book includes 16 locations-asylums, abandoned islands, tunnels, hotels, ballrooms, factories, military sites and more. Each is paired with an essay going into the history of the place and what’s going on with it today. Though I think of it as a photo book, there is a ton of information in there as well.

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You can order Will Ellis’ book here.