A few years ago, a friend and I took our kids to New York and to Ellis Island. The main hall was immense and there were plenty of items and photographs in the black and white of that time documenting its history. What I did not know was that there was another side to the island. The side where some immigrants entered but for some that is as far as they ever got. The Hospital side.
A couple of weeks ago, in class, the photographer of the week was Stephen Wilkes. The photographs were from his collection Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom http://www.ellisislandghosts.com. He was asked to photograph the hospital before it was cleaned up and stabilized; he took five years, returning to photograph the hospital and all of its rooms during different seasons and relying only on the natural light available.
I’m not much of a writer so bear with me as I try my hand at a review. First off were the striking colors in the midst of the shattered windows, peeling paint, rusty fixtures, and falling ceilings. Then there were the size of the prints. One (I am guessing) was 5′ tall; it was a photograph of the hallway of the nurses wing. I felt I could just step into the picture and walk down the hallway forever.
Hmm, let me describe it this way. Anyone out there remember the movie Titanic? In the beginning, the camera makes it way through the sunken ship giving us a glimpse of another era and the tragedy that occurred and then you are magically transported to the ship at in all its grandeur. That’s where these photographs took me; right to edge where they could come alive.
Like in class, a bit of the impact is lost when viewing these photos from my laptop compared to the actual prints, but even so this is a very impressive collection and definitely (I think) worth checking out (see link above).