I was only seven years old when I wandered onto my first construction site in Jackson Heights, Queens and just weeks after that I watched a close friend fall to his death at the same site. Though tragic in every way, it never deterred me from hopping a fence or overlooking any signs that bore the words “NO TRESPASSING!” As an adult, I discovered a passion for photography and though that passion consumed me. My love and appreciation for things like construction sites, junk yards, factories and the numerous locations that are often deemed “Off Limits.” Having a camera and a desire to document my surroundings led me to many destinations. A few years ago, I attended a Q&A in downtown NYC where the author of a book whose title escapes me would speak about his experiences shooting his factory themed images for his book. Imagine how disappointed I was when he talked about getting permission and a time frame to capture the images for his project. “What a jip!” I thought. This guy got an all access pass and chose to shoot from the cushy balcony. Where was the rush of adrenaline coming from? Where was the risk? Undaunted, I returned to my passion and that rush that comes from not knowing what will happen next. That feeling you get when the hairs on your neck stand on end and tingle. While I’m too old and too sick to climb fences, outrun police or feel the breath of an angry guard dog on the chase,. I’m still holding out that there’s a gallery exhibit or even a book in the future. And while I’ve begun to gather and post pictures on my social media page, I know I still have a long way to go. Here’s a link to some of the images I’ve come across. Left Behind
While it’s seldom discussed outside the photographers circle. I am pretty sure there is something equivalent to a photographers boner. Though not thoroughly researched. I can assure you that there are a number of subjects that bring tingles to my lower parts. One of them is industrial photography and the kind that just might include a little trespassing. As someone who, at the age of seven considered construction sites part of his urban playground. I have a long history of being both physically and creatively drawn to industrial types of art, architecture and style.
Deciding to turn down a different street, take a different route and cross that bridge yesterday in Tacoma paid endless dividends. While we had already been having a stellar day of beautiful weather, good food, record shopping and coffee. The tail end of our visit, was by far the most rewarding. My eyes lit up as I spotted a collection of out of commission train cars just outside one of the industrial parks businesses. loudly urged “Stop.” “Stop.” “Stop the car.” As I jumped out of my seat toretrieve my camera from the trunk. Though I can’t wait to go back and further explore that particular area. I feel lucky to have a few worthwhile images to go home with.
As I arrived at my Tuesday morning physical rehabilitation session. . I felt the warmth and rejuvenated spirits of my therapist and the staff I have become so used to seeing since my first visits back in July. It was rejuvenation one can only get from a much needed vacation, or in this case a three day weekend. While waiting for my session to begin, I asked some of the staffers about their extended weekend and what adventures they might have gotten into. Imagine my surprise when the responses each focused on staying home, relaxing and avoiding traffic. While I was expecting detailed stories of running marathons, camping and climbing the peaks of Kilimanjaro I could easily relate to the idea of staying local and just chilling out. For, not a week goes by when I’m not asked the world’s most important question “What do want to do this weekend?” Though intended or not, and I’m sure it’s not. That question challenges me to come up with the greatest idea ever known to man. A thinly veiled eight hour trip to Baltimore for crabs. An endless drive south to Portland or north to Vancouver. Or in this weekends version an endless drive to the mountains for a runny eggs and oily bacon breakfast. Followed by a tiring ride home and a stop to find out just how bad the food at Chick-fil-A can be. Maybe, one day soon, when the question “What do you want to do this weekend?” comes up. I’ll be able to say, “Absolutely nothing.” Until then, here’s to three hour drives to the country and the mountains. Follow your wanderlust. Wherever it may take you.
After my Father wrecked or sold ever car he owned. He began using his Mother Veronica’s decade old, beat up car to get from A to B and not much further. The trunk was so dirty that your hands would instantly turn black once you unlocked it. The seats were torn and tattered and the floorboards were often covered with debris and weeks worth of empty fast food containers. Regardless, we were able to fit my Father’s 6’4 frame, our dog, myself and up to eight kids piled up in the backseat. The Hawkins brothers Keith, Petey and M.J., Glen, Tommy and whoever else would risk the trip on that day. (Aside from those named. The cast would always change depending on the day and who was willing to brave the back seat.
Once there, we would often disperse into two separate tribes or war parties as my Dad would set up camp and build a fire to roast hot dogs, marsh mellows or whatever supplies we manged to gather before our voyage. In the few hours we’d stay we’d play war, burn tires and grab whatever we could from the abandoned cars and the nearby railroad tracks. In truth, there was no Tarzan or nearby water to be found. For the life of me, I may never learn how or why it came to be called “Tarzan Island.” But as I would come to learn at the time and many years later. It was what everybody called it. Year later, I’m talking decades. I returned to Sunnyside Queens to seek out the area. The train yard itself was still there, but it had been closed off and closely patrolled. Whoever said, “You can’t go back.” was probably speaking from countless heartbreaking attempts.
As I’ve returned to many of my original stomping grounds, I find that most things are best left to memory and the mystique many things and places held when we were young impressionable and somewhat fearless. Things definitely felt a lot bigger back then. Something that helped us grow up and mature. And while there’s no diminishing the risks we took and the element of danger we were always drawn to. I feel very lucky to have taken chances and not letting those fears get the best of me. In the end, I’m happy to be able to recall so many adventures from younger years. Like my wife always says. “Maybe one day you’ll write that book.”
Considering how many stops and U-turns we make during most trips. It’s a wonder we ever get anywhere. This Sunday’s ride home from Georgetown was no exception to the norm. This Sunday, after attending a rather underwhelming San Gennaro Festival in Georgetown. We began heading back home. After a stop at a scrap yard and one next to a sole train car, I was more than satisfied with the days choice of destinations. From there, another serving of ice coffee was all I needed. Scenes like these have given me thrills since my early childhood and show no signs of dissipating. As a young boy, my Father would take me to the junk yards that lie behind Shea Stadium as well as the train yards in Suunyside, Queens. Those trips instilled in me a sense of adventure and desire to seek out whatever was on the other side of the fence. My only hope moving forward is that my footing keep up with my desire. Only time will tell.
While it’s true that much of what I photograph and want to photograph can often be found on the “off-limits” section of the map. There are times when an opportunity presents itself and I’m left to freely explore and photograph the things that spark my imagination. Such was the case during a weekend trip to Hudson New York’s Basilica Farm & Flea. As if the areas architecture wasn’t enough to jump from the driver’s seat. Turning on to S. Front Street and historically eye-popping visuals. I knew the long drive to Hudson was about to produce many rewards. And while the Farm & Flea provided plenty of eye-catching merchandise. The adjacant train yard was, at least for me, the real thrill.
Prior to moving to the Journal Square area of Jersey City. I had little to no knowledge of the area with the glaring exception of beautiful views of the former American Can Company we would often view from Rt. 9 and or The Pulaski Bridge. As we passed the yet to be renovated towers. We’d often comment, better yet drool about the possibilities of someday moving in to an old run down factory or industrial complex. Little did we know at the time that those run down, abandoned beauties would be reborn as loft condos.
Upon starting our four year process of searching for a home. We saw a number of properties in and around Jersey City before deciding against moving to the area. Then, all of the sudden, thanks to the wisdom and hindsight of our trusted realtor. We gave the area one last shot. On the day we came to see the very first unit the market offered us. We were both convinced that this was the place we wanted to be. This was the kind of home we always imagined but never thought we would find. And while it took some months and the loss of two units we had our hearts set on. We sealed the deal on one we both loved and still feel very happy to be in.
While the neighborhood took time getting used to. Exploring the surrounding areas has been an amazing adventure. In areas I once tip toed around for fear of trespassing or being interrogated. I know walk boldly. The neighborhood has evolved and changed for the better.The area has become quite colorful and artful with new murals being created in some of the most unexpected places and access to anywhere else I’d like to go is literally at our fingertips.
Aside from all those pretty good reasons to be positive. My neighbors and the residents here are pretty damn nice. See friends, families and pets in riding the elevators or roaming the halls daily only reassures me moved to the right place.
As the weather warms I plan to extend my walks, exploring more corners of the area and stop being so weary about those helicopters that seem to appear any time I get to close to a bridge or railroad. Wish me luck.
One morning last week there came an authoritative knock on my door. On the other side of the door was a Viking helmet adorned neighbor blowing a horn declaring a day of action. Knowing the call of a Viking and the failure to properly follow Viking code full well. I followed him down to where the bikes, horses and Viking ships are docked. It had been a couple of years since I’d been on a a bike. (My last one, as well as every bike I’ve ever know has been stolen at one point or another.) Knowing full well my history as well as my recent battles with gravity. Said friend let me take a spin around the safely enclosed garage to help me get familiar. After a few twists, turns, crashes and fall downs. I was granted my own Viking helmet and we were off. And while our buildings surroundings aren’t very bike or hike friendly. A sturdy mountain bike and a seasoned leader more than get the job done.
After a short ride down the hill and a slight turn to the right. It seemed that we hit pay dirt. For that road led to all the things I love and enjoy both exploring and photographing. Trains, factories, train yards… You name it. The only thing missing was a junk yard with featuring an unchained rabid guard dog. I felt like a kid again. We hadn’t even made it half way to the end and I was already making reservations to return. After a few stops to take in the sites atop the railroad cars We took the road all the way to Secaucas before hitting what seemed to be the river of deceit.
After a break and a survey of the land we had discovered, conquered and thoroughly photographed. We headed back on the rocky path that brought us there. As time had passed I had become more and more comfortable with the slightly oversized bike. So much so that my buddy gave me his official thumbs up. Half way back, the days heat, coupled with my lack of balance began to take their toll. Like a good soldier, I kept the pace. Assuring myself that, once we get passed this rocky strip of road and onto solid pavement, I’m home free. Then, as soon as I hit solid ground. Every ounce of strength I had left gave out and I hit the pavement like a hundred and forty pound sack of wet bricks. Aside from a few bumps, bruises and damaged ego. I was fine. Though I ended up walking the bike the rest of the way home. The trip and the overall experience, as well as the opportunity to earn my very own Viking helmet, were more than worth the spilt blood. That weekend I returned, on foot of course, and did some more exploring as a solo act. I really love that the area we chose to live in offers such a diverse and colorful landscape.
After a long, hot day in the city with my mom and wife. I was eager to go home, shower, sleep and enjoy a tasty beverage. While we exited the Journal Square PATH together. I took a much need break to separate myself from the crowd as well as my loved ones. As I stopped to allow time for the herd of exiting passengers to thin as they made their way to the escalators. Standing there exhausted, poising myself for the short, yet arduous walk home. I noticed a light peaking through the concrete and metal columns just beyond the tracks. Stopping to take this one image gave me an extra boost of energy as well as short, yet sweet moment to myself. A much needed moment to exhale.
As I began to plan my route back home last night I ran into more than several dead ends and locked fences. Feeling a bit worn and self aware that I wasn’t exactly walking through territory that saw much heavy foot traffic. The rocky, uneven and muddy ground below me had already began to take it’s tole on my new pair of Nike’s and a slight sense of paranoia had start to set in. Weary of being sighted by any construction foreman’s or pulled over by the authorities. My pace quickened as my eyes widened searching for an opening in one of the fences. As the night grew dark and my path became more like an obstacle course. I kept my eyes close to the ground. That’s when I found buried treasure just below the muddy terrain. Without wasted breath I leaned forward, scooped up a couple and headed towards home. The experience quickly reminded me of my elementary school days when my friends and me would explore the train yards of Sunnyside Queens looking for buried treasure. While I may not be hoping any fences or climbing up on roofs these days. The explorer in me is still alive and well.