I like to ride the bus. Early morning, pre-dawn, and late at night. The M15 is my bus of choice. Down 2nd Avenue and up First. There’s not so much traffic at 5am and it’s actually quicker than making my way to the train and then waiting for one to arrive. More importantly, unlike the subway, there’s a view. Mind you, for a city that supposedly never sleeps, the M15 route has a surprisingly dark, slow view. I sit morning after morning, enveloped by the darkness, my reverie broken occasionally by neon signs and 24 hour bodegas catching my attention. So, I decided to get off the bus and begin to photograph, in the dark.
Although my initial visual interest was in the dark emptiness that made up the route I got seduced by the glowing neons that popped forcefully out of the night and so began to photograph them. On March 26th though I changed my mind and stopped. On Second Avenue at 7th Street there was an explosion that demolished three buildings and two people’s lives. After the initial shock and thoughts for those affected, I cynically thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity for some real estate developer. Instead of 100+ year old, low rise buildings with tens of rent stabilized apartments, there could be a big building with 30 floors and MARKET RATE apartments.
Back on the bus, I continued looking out of the window and realized that the darkness was not just a sleepy night. It was emptiness I was looking into. That’s why it felt so different from the daylight hours when people rushing about distract you from the urban landscape. There were gaping holes in the urban fabric. Empty lots. Some empty for years, not even noticed anymore. Buildings knocked down and land held until its value begins to rise. Buildings with residents and businesses, there one minute, gone in the blink of an eye. Grand plans for new builds, some will materialize soon, others, maybe not.
Of course it’s not just on the M15 bus route, the city is a constantly evolving building site. But this is my usual route and so I decided to keep track of what’s going on. I photographed each empty lot that appeared to be unused or in the very early stages of being built on. From the start of the M15 route at 125th Street and Second Avenue down to the bottom of Manhattan, the Staten Island Ferry terminal and back to 125th Street up First Avenue.
I’ve filed the photographs in a concertina folder, one pocket for each location and I hope to revisit and add to the file as time goes on. You can see the photographs here…. Gone. Now?
You’ll notice that I have added text underneath each photograph. The cross streets so that you can find each site (should you want to!). I have also added links to articles that correspond directly to the site photographed or that speak more generally to the current atmosphere on development, preservation and gentrification. If you live in New York you’ll be aware of many of these discussions. If you live elsewhere I think these articles will give you some insight.
I’ve photographed vacant lots but their silence speaks to more than emptiness.