July 2004 - Metropolis

The Mysterious Island
The mysteries of Governors Island.
By Susan S. Szenasy

New Yorkers want to know what’s next for Governors Island, the former military base smack in the middle of New York Harbor. But before diving into future plans, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation took a moment to look back. With help from the Public Art Fund they enlisted two photographers, Andrew Moore and Lisa Kereszi, to document the current state of its buildings and grounds—from forts dating to the War of 1812 to a Burger King and a bowling alley. The island, which has been uninhabited since the Coast Guard moved out in 1997, felt to the artists like a cross between a ghost town and a movie back lot. “It’s a place where most people are not allowed to go, so there’s this mystery surrounding it,” Kereszi says. “It’s something that’s off-limits, but we get to peek inside.”

Moore, known for large-format photographs of more decrepit historical sites, such as Havana and Roosevelt Island, was amazed at the condition of the buildings. “It looked like it had just been abandoned the day before,” he says. Unlike his typical subjects, “It didn’t have the usual patina of decay and the sort of haunted quality of the romance of ruins, so it was a great challenge to find ways to deal with history without the obvious markers of nostalgia.”

Kereszi’s smaller, more detail-oriented photographs explored interiors, where there were still pinup posters on the backs of doors and old medical tools in hospital drawers. “I kept thinking about the people who lived there and the children who grew up there,” she says. “I was looking for the residue, little things that were left behind and point to the life that existed.”