On February 4th, longtime Untapped Cities columnist Will Ellis will be giving a talk for our events series about his new book Abandoned NYC at the East Village speakeasy The Red Room. There are just few tickets (free) left to this talk and in preparation we’ve asked Will to share with us his multi-year experience putting together this book.
Untapped: How did you first get into abandoned photography?
Will Ellis: I walked into my first abandoned building on a whim. It was an old warehouse on Imlay St. in Red Hook (naturally, it’s being converted to condos today). Compared to some of the places I’d visit over the next three years, there really wasn’t much to see, but it was the first time I felt that sense of wonder coming into contact with an unknown space. For a month or two, I was going out to abandoned buildings every chance I got.
Untapped: What are the challenges and limitations to abandoned locations as a topic?
Ellis: You might think the big challenge is “getting in” to these buildings, but in reality, abandoned buildings are some of the most accessible subjects for photography. That’s why “urban exploration” has become such a popular pastime, and as it’s caught on over the past few years I think the real challenge is standing out from the crowd, because so many people are doing this! As a photographer, the inclination is to resist subjects that might be perceived as “overdone,” but it’s most important to follow what truly fascinates you. I’ve tried to take the subject and make it my own.
Creedmoor State Hospital
Untapped: What have been your most memorable shoots?
Ellis: I often name Creedmoor State Hospital as my favorite or most memorable shoot, because it’s definitely the most surreal place I’ve ever set foot in. Sometimes you get a warm, welcoming feeling from a location–I’m thinking of watching the sun rise in P.S. 186, or walking the Freedom Tunnel–other times it’s like they chew you up and spit you out. I destroyed my phone and nearly drowned at the Domino Sugar Refinery, so I don’t have the fondest memories of that place. I think the ones that are most special are the first few I ever photographed, because it was all so new and exciting—The Smith Infirmary, P.S 186, and Creedmoor are the ones that tend to show up in my dreams over and over again
Domino Sugar Factory
Get tickets to the February 28th talk with Will Ellis in the Untapped Cities events series (the February 4th talk is already sold out):
Untapped: How have you and Untapped Cities worked together on this book?
Untapped Cities has a great network of like-minded individuals behind it, and I was really lucky to be introduced to the photographer Christopher Payne through [founder Michelle Young] at Untapped Cities. He was in the process of finishing up an incredible series of photographs of North Brother Island (which is now an incredible book) and kindly allowed me to tag along for a day. I’m so grateful to him because the book wouldn’t feel complete without a chapter on North Brother, and I never could have made it out there on my own.
Untapped: How long have you been working on the book?
Ellis: I made it a goal pretty quickly to do a book soon after starting the blog; it was always part of the plan. It was at the end of that first year that I went through the process of writing the proposal, sending it out, waiting for responses. Once I found a publisher, that’s when the real work began. It’s one thing to write up an article for the internet, but having it in print meant there was a lot of pressure to get things right. I spent a lot of time researching the history of the locations, writing and revising and revising again. The text was definitely the most time-consuming part of the process. The release was delayed a few times for various reasons so it’s been in the works for almost two years now! I’m so excited to finally get it into people’s hands.
P.S. 186 in Harlem
Untapped: What are you working on next?
Ellis: The book definitely feels like the culmination of this whole project, and I’m looking forward to putting my energies into something new, though I do plan to keep the blog updated with new photo essays every month or so. One project that I’m excited to get back into is a still life series of found objects in New York City I’m calling “Urban Artifacts.” I have some images of that on my website. I had actually made a lot of progress on it but it’s been on hold for a while. I’ve got boxes and boxes of junk I’ve picked up in different areas, and a lot of it hasn’t been photographed yet.