The expansion of New York City, and Manhattan in particular, limited by its water-bound geography, offers a fascinating and overarching narrative of reuse: The same plot of land, and often the physical structure it hosts, has typically been devoted to many different purposes over time. In Transformations NYC, I use photography to examine that evolution, and in particular the way in which precious land that was once an economic and transportation hub has evolved into a destination for leisure and cultural activities.
The piers on Manhattan’s West Side Highway, along the Hudson River, were once used strictly for shipping and transportation. Many have since been transformed into recreational facilities—retrofitted to accommodate golf ranges, carousels, ice skating rinks, and soccer fields. Likewise in Queens, New York City’s biggest borough, an unused public school building was transformed into a branch of Manhattan’s famous Museum of Modern Art.
Around the corner, a 200,000-square-foot water meter factor has become an ever-changing, community-sanctioned outdoor showcase for graffiti artists. And back in Manhattan’s Nolita district, an empty lot that sat abandoned for 30 years was reborn as a community sculpture garden. Yet even positive change can be short-lived: Now there is talk of turning the lot into apartment buildings, in order to fulfill the requirements of the Affordable Housing Act.
To discover these venues of change, I did research into landmarked areas of the city. My working assumption was that if a structure could not legally be torn down, it would have to have been retooled for modern use instead. I visited these sites, and discovered others on long walks around the city. I shot almost entirely verticals. The vertical orientation of the images is an acknowledgment that the only way a city built on an island can grow is up. Things must be built on top of what was there before.
Transformations NYC reflects my fascination with the way neighborhoods grow in response to political, economic, and cultural influences and imperatives.
It would be easy to call such transformations urban renewal, but they are not part of any government or social program. They are more accidental than that, driven by changing demographics and modern-day business models. Nor am I suggesting that these changes are all necessarily good; even positive developments can come at the expense of old, interesting neighborhoods and structures. My preference is to remain an impartial observer, simply capturing the complex history of New York City’s urban landscape.