Ellis Island

New York City by Savannah Dodd


New York was never on my bucket list. As a midwesterner, there was always something off-putting about the northeast, something that made me feel like I needed a thicker skin.

But fate brought me to New York last month, and I'm so glad it did.

Our first stop was Ellis Island. I had planned to spend some time searching the registry, but when we arrived off the ferry, we discovered that we were just in time for the last "hard hat" tour of the day - a tour that takes you through the original hospital wards that closed in 1954. The tour was a bit expensive, but it was a worthy investment because the revenue from the tours goes to fund the restoration of these wards. In order to preserve as much of the original material as possible, the restoration project aims to halt the decay, but not to recreate the hospital in the state that it was in the first half of the 20th century. The majority of the wards have yet to be restored, making it a great opportunity for anyone who likes dereliction photography.

After Ellis Island, we stopped at the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. It was a big mental shift, to go from a site of hope and inspiration toward the proverbial "American Dream" to one of destruction. Looking back at my photographs now, I feel like they contrast with the nature of the locations. My images from Ellis Island focus on the decaying buildings and so they look much more spooky than they do hopeful, while the images I took at Ground Zero are bright and pink cast from the sunset.

Yet in some ways I think these pink-cast photos aren't in contrast at all. The memorial at Ground Zero is beautifully done. It's serene, melancholic, and calming. There are trees, benches, and a central water feature, giving the site texture and sound. The memorial space is enveloped in the World Trade Centre complex which includes the 9/11 Museum, but also a shopping centre, office spaces, and restaurants. The memorial is at the centre of this commercial hub. Maybe the whole thing is in fact in contrast with itself, but maybe that's the reality of the legacy of 9/11 in New York, that it is somehow built into the centre of everyone's lives alongside their daily commute and shopping routines.