Mattress Steamer [Civil War Ruins], 2004
Morgue I [Mortuary Science, Tenochtitlan], 2003
Mattress Steamer Door [US Declaration Draft], 2003
Mental Ward [Tobacco 1819], 2003
Dining Hall Detail [Alexandria Slave Pen, Architectural Study], 2005
Dining Hall [Cuban Cigar Wrappers], 2004
Hospital Corridor Detail [Central Park], 2003
Morgue III [Autopsy 1905], 2005
Hospital Bathroom [Lincoln Assassin], 2005
From the 1920’s through the 1940’s, bits and pieces of my family sailed into New York harbor escaping persecution and war in Europe, passing through a bewildering bureaucratic maze called Ellis Island. There were so many torments there, so many injustices and forgotten tragedies. Yet their successful passage through turned Ellis Island into a hopeful metaphor for my family, as it did for many millions of other new Americans. Fascinated by the idea of Ellis Island, and drawn to the beauty of its architectural ruin, I set out to photograph the vast crumbling complex that sits adjacent to the few restored museum buildings at the main entry. Photographing with an antique camera from the 1920’s, I hoped the ghosts of the past would speak through the tiny hand-ground lens. But on seeing the images, I became aware that those forsaken spaces, although starkly beautiful, have already been transformed into a facsimile of themselves — a museum of dust.
Searching for a way to see past the beautiful but static decay, I invented a place where the empty present intertwines with a living past, a place where rooms are haunted with flashes of American life. Ghosts of our collective memory wander through a vast crumbling complex filled with fantasies never realized, empires built, and untold tragedies. It lives in the walls, running through the dust on cracked concrete floors. The Ellis Island series is a photographic meditation on the complexities of national identity, and an attempt to decipher the many contradictory pieces of our immigrant mythology.