September 21, 2011 -
Governors Island is a 172-acre ghost town on the southern shore of Manhattan. Covered in ruins, the island houses an impressive collection of abandoned structures, with empty apartment towers, homes, schools, churches, swimming pools and playgrounds. Half of the approximately 100 buildings on the island are in some state of decay, including a supermarket, auto body repair shop, movie theater and hospital. Many of the other buildings are controlled ruins, minimally cleaned up to allow limited public access. Walking through this deserted landscape is a surreal experience, especially when considering its close proximity to the bustling financial center of lower Manhattan.
After serving as a base for military operations for over 200 years, Governors Island was abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1996. The federal government sold most of the island to New York City for $1 in 2003. Today, Governors Island has come to resemble San Francisco's Alcatraz Island and Japan's Gunkanjima Island, with evocative off-limits ruins dominating the landscape while smaller sections are slowly reclaimed and opened to the public. Artists have been brought in to help colonize the wilderness, creating a variety of installations inside otherwise empty spaces. Often, they are appropriately post-apocalyptic - embalmed wildlife, metal skeletons, animal bones, zombie films. Despite these creative uses, many of the island's structures are slated for demolition, to make way for a public park. Some have been purposefully set ablaze by the fire department to "test new techniques."
These photographs were take between 2005 and 2011, after the island was opened to the public. They offer an update to a photo series from 2003-2004 titled "Governors Island: Photographs by Lisa Kereszi and Andrew Moore," a project commissioned by the Public Art Fund to document the deserted island before it was open to the public. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited Governors Island since it has been made accessible, but the ruins still remain.
For more photo essays from partially abandoned New York City islands, please visit The Encampment on Roosevelt Island (2007) and Ellis Island: South Side (2007).