New York City is a historic place, and like any historic place it has its secrets. Photographer Will Ellis know this better than most.
Ellis is an urban explorer, one of many who seek out and investigate abandoned and usually off-limits buildings and structures.
Often these places exist right in our everyday environments without us even knowing they’re there.
He’s been photographing abandoned spaces in and around New York City for years, documenting these hidden artifacts of bygone times.
His work has been compiled into a book, which is available for purchase here.
Ellis shared some exclusive images with us and talked about his experiences exploring New York’s most intriguing hidden ruins.
Ellis says he first discovered the thrill of urban exploration when he entered an abandoned building in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Red Hook on a whim. 'What stuck with me was that sense of discovery and adventure,' he tells Business Insider.
At first, Ellis says, he was interested about the visual aspect of the buildings and explored in order to get great photographs. Soon, though, he starting wondering about the history and stories behind the structures he was shooting, so he began to do research.
'Most of these buildings don't just stand alone. They tend to fit into larger trends and major shifts that have taken place in the city over the past 200 years or so,' Ellis explains. Examples of this are factories on the Brooklyn waterfront or military barracks that were once used to protect the Manhattan harbour.
The remains of massive holiday resorts in the Catskills, about three hours' drive from New York City, also stand as an artifact of a bygone era, when the city's Jewish families would flock there on vacation.
'There's a bit of an identity crisis going on in New York right now, as the city is becoming more and more unaffordable, sanitised, and commercialized. These places give us an opportunity to reflect on the past,' Ellis says.
It's hard to imagine abandoned places existing in New York, but they're there. 'I think to see this side of it is really surprising for most, especially now that it's changing so quickly,' says Ellis.
'Most of the major abandoned sites in the five boroughs were built for a very specific function, as hospitals, factories, military bases,' Ellis explains. 'That makes them difficult to repurpose.'
The cost of demolishing or renovating derelict buildings is often too high for owners, who opt to simply let their properties rot.
Still, with development happening more and more across the area, many of these places won't stay abandoned for long. Ellis says that 'about half of the buildings in the book have plans in place for demolition or renovation.' The 'Batcave' below is now being revamped for studios and galleries.
Ellis says that he finds places to explore on the internet, which is full of passionate urban explorers like himself. He says that he wishes there were a better way, but that trespassing is usually necessary to get the shots.
One of Ellis' most memorable discoveries took place on the top floor of an old mental institution in Queens. The accumulation of 30 or 40 years of pigeon droppings has completely covered the floor and other surfaces in the space. ' It's completely disgusting but also oddly beautiful, to see how time has transformed this space with such a dark past into something so alien and bizarre. I've never seen anything like it,' he says.
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