Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ellis Island Hot Box

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  One room was filled with chairs piled as if for a bonfire, a few rooms had dressers, but most were empty. However, some hospital equipment must have just been too costly to remove. It was always a surprise after turning many similar corners to come on something different, and one might be forgiven for thinking s/he had arrived at the hospital’s secret center of operations. What strange, Medieval medical instrument was here devised to cure the aching human soul? In fact, those who read the "Abandoned Ellis Island" link I posted know it is a wholesome bit of early technology to sanitize hospital mattresses. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ellis Island Hospital Abandoned

[When ready, click the image above, and scroll right as in a slide show.]

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: What does one make of photographic exposures made over eleven hours in a single visit to the abandoned Ellis Island Hospital? It is not just another ruin, though until I began researching I hadn’t really understood how the hospital's story was distinct from that of the island’s northern half with its “Great Hall," celebrated now as our gateway. 

The Ellis Island Hospital, opened in 1902, was the nation’s first public health hospital and one of the largest such efforts in the nation’s history. Hospital workers had to learn to respond to conditions never before seen. Doctor’s, nurses, orderlies, administrators and officials had to learn to work with immigrants deemed too sick to immediately enter the United States, who often had little or no English and had never seen a doctor or stripped off their clothes in public. All were in a strange new place far from networks of community. Many of them were our parents and grandparents. All faced a watershed moment in their lives. In order to stay, the sick had to get well, the pregnant had to give birth to a healthy baby.

Once fully operational, the hospital took in 10,000 patients a year. Medicine learned here was sometimes cutting edge, and the morgue was a lecture space for visiting doctors. The hospital closed in 1930 and the buildings were turned to other uses until 1954 when the islands were officially abandoned and ignored. In 1996 the hospital buildings were listed among the 100 most endangered historic places in the United States. I had recently come to appreciate this history when I arrived on Ellis Island at 6:45 AM to undergo security screening and begin the eleven-hour photo shoot at 7:00.

Ellis Island Hospital is not just another ruin. However, time has sand-blasted away almost all visible clues to its previous purpose, identity or occupants. A ward of beds is merely a large room, and the recent preservation efforts have left most windows covered with metal panels in a design that offers the minimum of light and air circulation, and which hides the bruised and broken windows. A giant kitchen, an industrial laundry, the morgue, a few residences offer only flickering shadows of the world once busy here and say nothing of the complex stories occurring daily in these spaces. 

The power of the Ellis Island experience lay in the slow exploration of the large, complex site made mostly of endlessly wandering hallways and empty spaces. My sense of where I was in the large complex was often vague.  This series of photos through some of those places is intended, not as a tour, but as an impression.

[Click the image above or below and scroll right as in a slide show]

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

American River

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Immigrants bought their train tickets on Ellis Island and waited for ferries taking those who were bound West here (Jersey City) or to Hoboken, while those heading East boarded ferries into Manhattan. Twelve agents typically sold 25 tickets per minute throughout the day. This is the train shed in Jersey City. It is directly adjacent to Ellis Island, and for many immigrants this was where they entered the restless flow of the nation.

The shed is in decay. Vegetation grows from the undulating roof, and the space beneath is secured by chain link fence. It was something of a challenge to poke a camera lens in at an appropriate angle. Even in its emptiness, it is bustling. The train shed was completed between 1912 and 1914.

The terminal building, below, was opened in 1889. At its peak in 1929, more than 65,000 people arrived or departed on 350 trains every day. Just beyond the terminal building are the crumbling ferry slips where passengers crossed through New York harbor.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Abandoned Ellis Island

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: At 7 AM last Sunday we crossed over the low, iron bridge, that staff and security people use to enter Ellis Island, to begin eleven-hours of making photographs inside the unrestored southern half of the Ellis Island complex. Tony Sweet organized this, first of its kind, event, and John McInnes, Public Programs Manager at Save Ellis Island guided us. The day was well planned and we were led by people who cared deeply about the places we were visiting.

There is an excellent photo tour of the buildings we visited here:

The southern half of Ellis Island holds the hospital buildings and related buildings as described on the link above. From within those buildings we could sometimes, see through grimy glass, the throngs of Sunday tourists disembarking to see the grand restorations on the northern half of the island. Ours was a world away and mostly silent.

I spent much of the day enjoying, but not photographing, an art installation entiteled, "Unframed –Ellis Island," placed in this most unlikely of galleries. There was much else to hold my lens. Late in the day I realized how much the art installation was calling to my lens to find ways to angle it and frame it.

We emerged from from this surreal journey Sunday evening and each of us encountered separately the news that had been blistering the world all day, and as I drove home from Jersey City Sunday night I thought about what Ellis island has still to say to us today.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Monorail Crane

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Factories are architectural machines. Earlier this year I photographed and wrote about what is left of the famous and infamous Carrie Furnaces in Homestead, PA. Nowhere is that statement more true than at those furnaces which ran 24/7 over durations of 8 or 10 years, while being constantly fed with ore and limestone and other smelting ingredients in careful quantities delivered by workers to a 17-story high conveyor that loaded the furnace at the top while men poured iron into pigs at the bottom. It was a balanced digestive system kept eupeptic by ant-sized chefs and cooks and a channel of train tracks and a river of barges constantly delivering deliciousness for the Carnegie-Frick beast.

The Farrel foundry, was at the other end of the food chain, where metal is cast and made into precision machines for manufacturing. Like the Carrie Furnaces, it is a fully integrated digestive system, though of an entirely different scale with time to rest. For its type, however, it is giant and when gearing for war there was no time to rest. By my calculation, this room is near the bottom of the digestive tract. From this terminal room the monorail follows the track overhead and enters a tall crevice between the three large foundry furnaces on one side, and the roll sheds on the other. 

There seem to have been just two stops for this shuttle: this room with a chute to the foundry's main floor, and the place just beyond where the crevice intersected the side of the sand elevator bridge and opened onto the cathedral space of the foundry. There, the crevice crane and the sand bridge crane met at right angles, and people and material in buckets could transfer to reach destinations in either direction.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Temple of Precision

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: They are rails out of another time. The scale, to the left of the door, which weighed castings as they left the foundry, is calibrated to 40,000 lbs. The foundry has been as still as a sanctuary since 1986

Across the yard the machine shop is still a temple of precision. Machines still hum and machinists work and recall the days when the foundry was dangerous and important. At the head of the machine shop Joe adjusts a narrow groove called a “keyway," at the base of the large screw. The machine is a bit like the carpenter's router I used to use. The size of the machine is matched by the heft of the bench that supports the work, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when the heavy, steel bench started to move as Joe pushed buttons on a digitally calibrated display. A couple of times I watched Joe stop and check himself, “Which axis must be adjusted, how much, and on bench or router?

Distinguished machines like this will be upgraded and modified long before they will be replaced, and they develop a history. When I sent this photo to my friend, Don Bristol, he wrote:

The picture you sent, is my old machine, I ran that machine for years. There is probably only one other person that knows that machine better than me, that would be Wendall. He is most likely cutting the keyway or keyways depending on the specs. Some have one keyway while others have two, 180 degrees apart. Notice who made that Planner-Mill, Farrel did. I believe they only made two. I think one was sold, and that one has been used by Farrel for many years. Its been back and fourth between the Ansonia and Derby plants.

The size of the machine and the bench allow a skilled machinist to achieve tolerances to 1/1000 of an inch. Making a machine like that requires tolerances many times greater.