Tenth Anniversary

March 2017 -

This month marks the tenth anniversary of an ongoing series of photo essays which started at this website in March 2007. Published every two weeks for the past decade, these essays capture a period of remarkable change along New York City's waterfront, as many of the industrial relics of the past century were removed to make way for new residences and parks at the water's edge, even as sea level rise, climate change, storms, and economic forces radically reshaped the city.

These photo essays started as a personal project to document the rapid transformation of Brooklyn's coastline, and have since expanded to capture change in all five boroughs, and in other coastal cities. Initially intended to show unseen aspects of the contemporary landscape, they have since taken on a historic value, with hundreds of thousands of photos cataloging lost landmarks and disappearing neighborhoods. These essays have been exhibited in museums and libraries, have been published in all of New York City's major periodicals, and several of these photos are in the permanent archives of the Museum of the City of New York, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and the Brooklyn Library.

These essays are currently published as the Camera Obscura column at Curbed NY.  The first five years of essays are archived at this website, while the most recent five years can be seen at Curbed. A complete list of all 212 photo essays has been amassed here. As the evolution of the city continues, this archive of photo essays will continue to grow.

Industrial Twilight: Photographs of the Changing Brooklyn Waterfront

From August 26, 2016 to Fall 2017, the exhibit "Industrial Twilight: Photographs of the Changing Brooklyn Waterfront" will be exhibited in the Atlantic Avenue Subway Station. This solo exhibit of Nathan Kensinger's photographs presents a retrospective of his work from the past decade, documenting the post-industrial coast of Brooklyn. "Industrial Twilight" was curated by the MTA Arts & Design program, and presents eight photographic transparencies, each printed six feet wide and installed in a backlit Lightbox.

"The images in Industrial Twilight show us the eerie stillness of places where industry thrived, from Sunset Park to Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Navy Yard," writes the MTA. "Kensinger finds poetry in these places and leaves a lasting reminder that while change is constant, history surrounds us with a reminder that before Brooklyn became a “brand”, it was an economic engine that employed thousands of people. Kensinger's images reveal a lone canoeist gliding down the Gowanus Canal past a concrete plant still going strong with the F train in the background, and images of the pre-transformation waterfront at Bush Terminal and the Domino Sugar Refinery. The architecture and lighting in the images of the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Greenpoint Terminal Market provides a haunting but reverent look at the borough in this moment of time, while an overgrown home at Admiral’s Row reflects that growth is never ending, and the waterfront still captures the imagination of the borough."

This exhibit was sponsored by Griffin Editions and Kodak Alaris. For more information on Industrial Twilight, visit the MTA Arts & Design exhibit page.

Chance Ecologies - 2015-2016

Summer 2015 - Summer 2016

Since 2015, I have been co-curating Chance Ecologies, an ongoing project creating a framework for artistic practices exploring unplanned, post-industrial wild spaces in New York City.  This project began with a summer-long investigation of Hunter's Point South, Queens in 2015, led by Catherine Grau and Stephen Zacks and myself.  In 2016, it expanded into an exploration of the Flushing River, curated by Catherine Grau and myself as part of a 6-week-long artists residency at the Studio In The Park at the Queens Museum, and an exploration of the Newtown Creek for the Queens Museum's exhibit Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix. Together with a group of over 20 international artists based in Brooklyn and Queens, Chance Ecologies has created an invaluable archive of materials from these unique parts of the city's waterfront. In October 2016, this work was exhibited at the Queens Museum in a new group show titled Chance Ecologies: Queens.

For more information on Chance Ecologies, visit www.chancecologies.org

New York's Abandoned Landmarks & Endangered Vernacular Architecture

October 2015 -

Over the Spring and Summer of 2015, Curbed NY published a series of my photo essays about New York City's endangered vernacular architecture and abandoned landmarks, for my column Camera Obscura. Written as the city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmarks law, these essays explored some of the important places that remain unprotected in NYC, including historic structures that the Landmarks Commission has refused to designate, as well as officially designated Landmarks that have been abandoned and left to collapse. In both cases, the fates of these important structures have been left to the whims of developers and city agencies.

These photo essays included everything from 30 year old Bronx casitas to 1930's bungalows & boardwalks to the 19th century officer's houses of Admiral's Row, the famed Fulton Fish Market, and a collections of civic structures - schools, courthouses, police precincts - which are now facing demolition, collapse, or redevelopment.

A link to each photo essay is included below:

- In the Bronx, Art Fills an Abandoned Neighborhood Landmark (April 2015)
- What's Next for New York City's Many Abandoned Landmarks? (May 2015)
- Revisiting Brooklyn's Abandoned Admiral's Row Before It's Gone (June 2015)
- As High Bridge Reopens, a Neglected Park Remains in Its Shadow (June 2015)
- What Comes Next for the Changing Coney Island Boardwalk? (July 2015)
- Rockaway Boardwalk Re-emerges With a New Identity (August 2015)
- Is This The End of the Brooklyn Bungalow? (August 2015)
- The Slow Resurgence of the Rockaway Bungalow (September 2015)
- Inside the Casitas of the South Bronx's Community Gardens (October 2015)

Documenting A Decade of Destruction

March 13, 2015 -

Ten years ago today, I decided to explore an abandoned powerhouse in Long Island City. It was not my first time inside an abandoned building, but it was the first time I purposefully brought a camera with me to photograph the space. Roaming through the old structure, into empty offices, dusty tennis courts, 275-foot smokestacks, and a turbine hall with a missing roof, I captured the initial images for a documentary project that has continued throughout the past decade.

125,000 photographs later, this project is still evolving and expanding. Begun as an attempt to document the rapid destruction of New York City's industrial heritage in the new millennium, this growing collection of photographs cohered two years later into a series of photo essays, published online once every two weeks since March 13, 2007. There are now 170 original photo essays in this series, documenting New York City's abandoned and industrial edges on this website, and at my Curbed column Camera Obscura, which began in 2012.

Over the years, the focus of these essays has changed from Urban Exploration adventures inside post-industrial ruins, to portraits of decaying and demolished neighborhoods, to considerations of how humans are altering the natural landscape, especially along the waterfront. Ultimately, the project has grown to become a large scale portrait of the specific effects of the Anthropocene Era within New York City, chronicling the permanent impact of humans on the environment, from the industrial revolution to today.

The Long Island City Power Station, built in 1906, was a coal powered facility that ceased operations in the 1920's and became home to the Schwartz Chemical Company in the 1950's. Shortly after I visited it, the building was partially demolished, like many of the city's other century-old powerhouses, refineries, silos, factories, warehouses and garages, which I have also photographed. Yet even as the aging structures of the industrial revolution are swept away from the American landscape, the ongoing impact of the pollution caused by human activities continues to shape our future. Radiation, oil spills, chemical waste and sewage overflows are all daily realities in New York City, and are helping to cause the sea level rise that will bring more storms like Hurricane Sandy.

In the context of human history, or of a geologic era, 10 years is nothing. But within the past decade, an enormous amount of change has occurred, both in the built environment and in our understanding of the impact we are having on the globe. In the brilliantly illuminating book "The Sixth Extinction," published in 2014, Elizabeth Kolbert explores the meaning of this period of time, as it exists within the Anthropocene, the current geological era that is only now being recognized: "Even a moderately competent stratigrapher will, at the distance of a hundred millions years or so, be able to tell that something extraordinary happened at the moment in time that counts for us as today. This is the case even though a hundred million years from now, all that we consider to be the great works of man - the sculptures and the libraries, the monuments and the museums, the cities and the factories - will be compressed into a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper."

New York City's Forgotten Waterways

December 2014 -

As 2014 comes to a close, Curbed NY has published the final installment of my recent mini-series about New York City's forgotten waterways. This series explores lesser-known waterways in all five boroughs of New York City, including Staten Island's Lemon Creek, Brooklyn's Coney Island Creek, Queens' Hook Creek and Flushing River, and the Harlem River, which flows between Manhattan and the Bronx.

As sea levels continue to rise worldwide, New York City is in the process of reconsidering its relationship with the water that surrounds it. Each of these photo essays explores a different aspect of the city's plans for the waterfront, while examining issues of pollution, flooding, resiliency and access. This series documented many the city's new waterfront parks, wetlands and marshes, while also telling the stories of communities living on the water's edge.

A link to each photo essay is included below:

- New York's Once-Neglected Harlem River Experiences a Rebirth (Sept. 2014)
- Queens Forgotten River Looks Ahead to Cleanup and Change (Oct. 2014)
- Coney Island's Untamed Creek, Caught Between Past and Future (Nov. 2014)
- Following Hook Creek Through Ghost Towns and Wetlands (Dec. 2014)
- Little-Known Lemon Creek Winds Through Staten Island History (Dec. 2014)

Photographing The Post Sandy Shoreline

October 2014 -

For the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Curbed has published my three part photo essay looking at how New York City's waterfront has been transformed since the storm. This series of photo essays - collectively titled The Post-Sandy Shoreline - looks at the divergent recovery efforts in three different areas that were hardest hit by the storm - Breezy Point in the Rockaways, Sea Gate in Brooklyn and Oakwood Beach and Ocean Breeze in Staten Island.  These photo essays encompass two years of photographic work, tracking the progress made since Hurricane Sandy devastated New York's waterfront. They can be viewed at Curbed using the following links:

- Breezy Point Residents Choose to Remain and Rebuild
- Two Years On, Coney Island Enclave Still Awaits Recovery
- Residents Retreat From Staten Island's Hard-Hit Waterfront