As one of the world’s great natural harbors, New York Harbor has been used extensively over the years as a transfer point for shipping between the US interior and the rest of the world. Since the advent of jumbo jets and the subsequent decreased cost of air transportation in the 1970′s, shipping at the port of NY/NJ has declined – especially on the east side of the Hudson where an inefficient ground transportation structure exists. Because of the heavy shipping and industrial use, the bodies of water surrounding New York City are some of the most polluted in the world – with many superfund sites. With these photographs, I’m questioning the idea that industry produces pollution, as well as the apparent dichotomy between man and nature, and water and land. What happens when pollution becomes beautiful? Don’t waves crash onto land and wash it away? And water recedes? Isn’t man a part of nature and vice versa? These photos are all from Newtown Creek, which has recently become a superfund site, and is the site of the 3rd largest oil spill in US history. – Chris Davis
What initially drew you to Newton Creek, and then to the Gowanus Canal?
I was actually drawn to the Gowanus Canal before Newtown Creek, but logistics found me completing the portion on Newtown Creek first. In December of 2010 I move to Cobble Hill after living in the same apartment in the east village for nearly 10 years. At first I was completely out of sorts – having lived in the same place for such a long time, I knew where everything was, knew what the good restaurants were, knew what bars I liked, etc. After a few months of feeling like a tourist in my own neighborhood, I decided something needed to change, so I started spending afternoons out riding my bike seeing what was around me. It was on one of these trips where I first discovered the Gowanus Canal. I knew that the canal was a superfund site, but nothing could have prepared me for the stench that day as I had gone during low tide. Even with the smell, I rode my bike around the canal for hours, looking from each bridge, and every street I could find that dead ends into the canal marveling at all the contradictions that are present in and around the canal.
I had always had it in mind that I would photograph Newtown Creek, so when a friend approached me about shooting it for an online magazine she was starting(which unfortunately fell apart before the first issue), I jumped at the opportunity.
When did you first start working on this series?
I first started thinking about this series in the spring of 2011, but it took a few months before I was ready to shoot. I shot the Newtown Creek portion last fall and into the winter.
Where do you see this project going?
I’m not sure exactly where the project will go, but I’m interested in continuing to photograph New York Harbor section by section. I’m interested in the changes that are taking place as more and more waterfront space gets turned over to the public.
(Chris is based in New York. See more of his work, here)