Bloomfield, Staten Island

December 31, 2011 -

There are very few roads that lead to Bloomfield, a quiet industrial neighborhood on Staten Island's northwest coast. Much of the neighborhood has been demapped and fenced-off by miles of razor wire, leaving its interior a vast forbidden zone, its desolate streets patrolled by a private security force. Bloomfield's remaining roads are poorly maintained dumping grounds, prone to flooding from bordering marshlands. They are lined with abandoned lots filled with mattresses, toys, living room sets, empty trailers, a beached jet ski. A hot tub sits in the middle of an unused road near an abandoned chocolate factory. A boat graveyard is hidden off a dead-end road overgrown with dense foliage. The profound isolation of Bloomfield has created a fertile breeding ground for a mix of strange uses. Its recent history includes the intersection of dead bodies, oil tanks, mafia extortion and NASCAR.

Hot Tub Road

Bloomfield's landscape is a microcosm of Staten Island's conflicted relationship to its post-industrial waterfront. Like nearby Fresh Kills, which is located further south on the Arthur Kill, Bloomfield's marshlands and wilderness survive next door to toxic storage systems, and its wetlands are tainted by the aftermath of devastating pollution. The demapped dead-zone at the heart of Bloomfield was once the GATX tanker field, "a 414-acre oil tank farm," according to the Chicago Tribune, which contained "81 above-ground tanks with a capacity to hold 218 million gallons of petroleum products."

Oil spills were common and in 1992 GATX agreed to "undertake a $6 million cleanup and repair program at the tank farm." The oil tanks were demolished shortly thereafter and "the lot has remained vacant since GATX Corp. stopped using it as an oil storage tank farm in 1998," according to Scene Daily. The cleanup of the tanker field is ongoing and includes a plan to spread nearly 5 million cubic yards of fill across 234 polluted acres, according to a 2011 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation document. For now, a surreal landscape of ghost roads and concrete crop-circles is all that has been left behind.

Ghost Road in the Dead Zone

Abandoned Guard Booth

Over the years, Bloomfield's much-abused marshlands have also been a dumping ground for murder victims. In 1942, a "19-year-old war plant worker was found... in a field at Bloomfield," according to the NY Times, her death "caused by fracture of skull as if by hammer blow." In 1998, "the body of a man killed by a gunshot to the neck" was found in a Bloomfield marsh, according to the NY Times, "wrapped in a blanket and set on fire." Along the dead-end road leading to Bloomfield's power plant, an empty hole that resembles a shallow grave can be found behind a dump site. A piece of pink carpet lies in the bottom of the human-sized hole.

Like the infamous mob burial ground on the Brooklyn/Queens border named The Hole, Bloomfield has been closely linked to Mafia activity. The family of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, a prominent member of the Gambino crime family who later became an FBI informant, once lived in Bloomfield, according to the NY Times. And in 2008, a multi-count indictment highlighted "the Gambinos' stranglehold on Staten Island," according to the Staten Island Advance. The indictment chronicled "a slew of crimes over three decades, including murder, theft of union benefits and extortion at the site in Bloomfield where NASCAR proposed to put an 80,000-seat racetrack."

Dumping Grove

Empty Hole

The plan to bring NASCAR to New York City was formulated in 2004 by the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), which proposed to build a 3/4 mile track on top of the old GATX tanker field. "In 2004, ISC paid $100 million — the single largest private sale ever recorded in the county — to purchase the 450-acre former oil tank farm on the edge of the West Shore Expressway," according to the Staten Island Advance. "An adjacent 239-acre parcel was purchased for $10 million." Very soon after, in 2006, "ISC pulled up stakes... in the face of mounting opposition."

The project failed for several reasons, including the Gambino's alleged extortion plot at the tanker farm, which involved "control over trucking contracts used to deliver large quantities of dirt fill needed when excavation of the Bloomfield site began in 2006." However, "the real problem," according to the New York Times, was "the island's relatively primitive road system -- mostly paved-over paths set down centuries ago by American Indians, then used by farmers and other early settlers. The meandering layout makes even simple traffic control measures, like timed stoplights, virtually impossible," and leading politicians and nearby residents to voice "concerns about how the borough’s roadways would handle an influx of cars and fans headed to NASCAR races," according to the Staten Island Advance.

Bloomfield's remaining handful of narrow, flooded, deserted roads remain relatively empty today. One of the few social hubs in this quiet neighborhood is at the Staten Island Sportsmen's Club, located across the street from the empty NASCAR/GATX wasteland. Founded in 1936, club members are invited to fire their shotguns throughout the day, blasting clay pigeons from the sky, with no fear of bothering the neighbors. The lure of Bloomfield is simple, according to one club manager. "There's nobody out here. And we like it that way."

For other photo essays from Staten Island's waterfront, please visit New Dorp Bungalows(2011), Fresh Kills (2009), The Wrigley Building (2008), and Staten Island: North Shore (2008). For other photos from this exploration of Bloomfield, please visit Nate Dorr's website, Hyraxical Apocrypha.

Bloomfield Meadow

Clay Pigeon

Bloomfield Avenue

Abandoned Trailer

Lazy Boy Field

Grand Am

Empty Trailer

Cat Food Interior

Squatter Bedroom

Marshland View

Boat Graveyard

Caitlin Rose

Life Preserver

For Sale: "As Is"

Big George Bridge

Tracks into the Marsh

Arthur Kill Shores

Arthur Kill Sunset

Curate NYC

In December 2011, one of my photographs was selected for Curate NYC, "a juried exhibition and online platform that exists to heighten exposure and opportunities for New York City visual artists." Over 1,500 New York artists submitted work for this competition. The top 150 entries were selected by a panel of judges and exhibited at the Rush Arts Gallery in Manhattan. My entry was a photograph titled "A Kissproof World" (2009), which was from a series taken underneath the Coney Island boardwalk. It was exhibited at the Rush Arts Gallery from December 1st-10th, and was also selected for an online gallery by the Deep Tanks Studio in Staten Island.

More information on Curate NYC can be seen at their website.

A Kissproof World (2009)

Block By Block: New York Street Historians

On Sunday, November 20th, 2011, I curated an event titled "Block By Block: New York Street Historians" at UnionDocs, the documentary collaborative in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The event was a panel discussion with several "street historians" who are creatively exploring and documenting the city - author Kevin Walsh of Forgotten New York, location scout Nick Carr of Scouting New York, urban explorer Moses Gates of All City New York, and tour guide Cindy VandenBosch of Urban Oyster. "Block by Block" was featured in the Wall Street Journal, Urban Omnibus, and the Brooklyn Paper, and in an article I wrote for PBS 13 WNET's website, MetroFocus. The event was part of a series of UnionDocs panels I am curating - the first, from April 2011, was "Down the Road: Modern New York Street Photographers." More information can be seen at the UnionDocs website.

The following is from my description of "Block By Block":

"In a city as vast as New York, there is always a story waiting to be told, a block waiting to be walked, a building with an unwritten history. Over the past decade, many New Yorkers have been creatively documenting the changing streets of the city on websites and blogs. Often, these modern day storytellers are not historians or authors by training. Their work is part of a tradition of “unofficial,” “informal,” “underground,” and “alternative” histories of New York City. However, after walking through the city block by block, a better title for their work could be “street history.”

The modern New York City street historian can be traced back to George G. Foster, a reporter who explored 1800′s New York as it grew from a town into a modern metropolis. His seminal work, “New York By Gas Light” (1850), is considered a groundbreaking example of urban non-fiction, and presented “the under-ground story – of life in New York,” with portraits of “the festivities of prostitution, the orgies of pauperism, the haunts of theft and murder, the scenes of drunkenness and beastly debauch.”

Foster’s candid explorations of New York’s streetscapes directly influenced the work of many writers in the 1900′s, including Joseph Mitchell – The New Yorker magazine’s “poet of the waterfront,” Herbert Asbury – a reporter who penned a series of “informal” New York histories including “The Gangs of New York,” and Meyer Berger – a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and “incurable New Yorker” whose colorful New York portraits were published in several collections.

In the same era, several New York street historians physically embraced the challenge of exploring modern New York. For his magnum opus, “History in Asphalt” (1978), amateur historian John McNamara walked, biked or canoed every street in the Bronx, creating an exhaustive encyclopedia of street and place names. His peers include Commander Thomas J. Keane, who completed his walk of every street on Manhattan Island in 1954. Unfortunately, Keane did not keep a diary, but in the next century, Robert Jay Kaufman did, writing “Blockology: An Offbeat Walking Guide to Lower Manhattan” (2005), after walking the 1,544 blocks below 14th Street, a distance of about 300 miles.

Today’s panel brings together four active New York City street historians – a guide, an author, an urban explorer, and a location scout – who are tirelessly exploring the 21st century city, block by block, on their own unique paths - Nathan Kensinger, curator"

Announcing The Newtown Creek Armada

On November 8th, 2011, The North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition (nbART) announced the selection of its sixth public art project, The Newtown Creek Armada, an interactive installation in which a model boat pond will be created on the Newtown Creek, one of America's most polluted waterways. The Newtown Creek Armada is a collaboration between myself and two other Brooklyn artists - Laura Chipley and Sarah Nelson Wright - whose work also explores industry, ecology, and change in urban spaces. The project was created in response to nbECO 2012, an open call seeking environmentally and sustainability conscious art installations.

The Newtown Creek Armada will be launched in Fall 2012, when visitors will be invited to pilot a fleet of artist-created, miniature, radio-controlled boats along the Newtown Creek's surface, while at the same time documenting the world hidden beneath the water. Each boat in The Armada will be equipped with a waterproof camera, allowing participants to record a unique voyage on and under the creek. Video from these underwater explorations will be on view at the creek, giving visitors a chance to virtually immerse themselves in the toxic waters of this Superfund site. In 2013, the archive of voyages from The Armada will be presented in an immersive gallery installation.

The Newtown Creek has been a neglected toxic waste zone for more than a century, and has been described as "the bleeding edge of an environmental disaster, one of the largest oil spills in the world," by Mother Jones Magazine. I have been photographing the polluted banks of the Newtown Creek for several years, as part of my explorations of New York City's industrial edges. Photo essays on this website about aspects of life along the creek include Newtown Creek: Brooklyn Shores (2011), Secret Parties (2009), The Dutch Kills (2008) and Linden Hill Tracks (2007). In 2010, the Newtown Creek was declared a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, and a massive cleanup effort is now underway. The Newtown Creek Armada will engage the long history of the creek while inviting the public to explore the potential of its polluted waters.

For more information on The Newtown Creek Armada, please visit the project's website:

Gowanus Canal: Toxic Playground

October 31st, 2011 - This photo essay is excerpted from a lecture & slideshow I presented at Cabinet Space on October 8th, 2011 titled "Gowanus Canal: Toxic Playground," which was part of Gowanderlust, my nighttime walking tour of the Gowanus Canal organized by Cinebeasts. For a description and photos from Gowanderlust, read the Urban Omnibus writeup.

For the past several decades, the Gowanus Canal has been a center of unrestricted creativity in Brooklyn. With seemingly few rules or regulations, the canal area became a source of inspiration to numerous artists, filmmakers and photographers. Bohemian communities developed on its waters, including a houseboat armada and the now-defunct Batcave. Its empty lots, once described as "Brooklyn's biggest toxic playground" by Robert Guskind, were taken over by graffiti artists, sculptors, and homeless camps. Arts groups and gallery spaces, including Rooftop Films and Issue Project Room, found homes in its industrial buildings. Creative projects like the Dumpster Pools were installed on its banks, while community groups like the Gowanus Dredgers organized access to its waters.

However, the darker side of the canal's lawlessness includes more than a century of criminal dumping. As chronicled in Allison Prete's documentary "Lavender Lake: Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal" (1999), the canal has long been "an open sewer" for the surrounding communities, in the fecal sense and in other ways. The canal was completed in 1869, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and industries along its shores have been poisoning its waters ever since. At one point, according to stories, the pollution was so bad that the canal was prone to spontaneous combustion. It was also a reputed Mafia dumping ground, with neighbors finding dead bodies in the water, sometimes tied to chairs. In 2010, the canal was Superfunded, with the EPA labelling it "one of the nation's most extensively contaminated water bodies."

Canoeing on the Gowanus Canal (2009)

For the past eight years, the Gowanus Canal was my backyard. I boated in its waters with an inflatable boat found in a trashcan, swam in the dumpster pools, went to parties on its houseboats, canoed with the Gowanus Dredgers, and explored the many abandoned buildings and empty lots on its shores. The Gowanus was an early inspiration for my photographs of New York's industrial waterfront, and I assisted many other filmmakers, journalists and photographers in their creative pursuits along the canal.

In the past few years, even with its Superfund designation, a surge of upscale hotels and venues has threatened to overwhelm the canal's established creative community. The lure of empty streets, open space, and a measure of lawlessness has drawn new crowds to the neighborhood, and to large warehouse venues like The Bell House, Littlefield, and the Brooklyn Boulders rock climbing gym, located in the old New York Daily News garage. At the same time, however, new creative projects have also appeared on the canal, offering a balance to the suddenly crowded streets. These include the hand-built birdhouses of the Canal Nest Colony and several guerrilla gardens that have sprung up on dead end streets. As the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal continues over the coming decades, it will hopefully not erase the unique balance of industrial, artistic, and creative uses that continue to thrive in the area.

For more photo essays about the Gowanus Canal, please visit The Whole Foods Lot (2010), The Batcave Revisited (2010) and the Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station (2009).

Bran (2009)

Toxic Playground (2009)

Silos and Graffiti (2009)

Rubble Sculpture (2009)

Abadi Warehouses (2009)

Graffiti Blocks (2009)

Whole Foods Lot (2009)

You Go Girl (2009)

Filmmaker Digging (2009)

The Batcave Revisited (2010)

Long Gone (2010)

Needle Supply (2010)

Dumpster Pools (2009)

Dumpster Diving (2009)

Doomsday Symposium: The Post-Apocalyptic New York Landscape

October 19, 2011 -

From October 21st 2011 to January 2012, a selection of my photographs will be exhibited at the 92Y Tribeca. The exhibit, part of the 3rd annual Doomsday Film Festival and Symposium, "brings together a wide variety of artists who have created work inspired by the idea of an Apocalypse." My photographs will explore the post-apocalyptic landscape, with images of devastation from across New York City.

The selected photographs capture the ruins of a once thriving industrial empire, the remains of neighborhoods that have been destroyed and wiped off the map, abandoned military bases and civic structures, toxic environmental wastelands, and the unstoppable return of nature to desolate areas where humans once lived. They include the photograph featured above, from the South Edgemere Wasteland, a New York City neighborhood which was destroyed over 35 years ago during an economic and social crisis, and which has since become a beachfront wilderness populated by homeless encampments and marauding wild dog packs.

The exhibit will open on Friday, October 21st with a reception from 6-8pm. For more information, please visit the 92Y Tribeca.

Child's Shoe - The South Edgemere Wasteland (2010)

Bring To Light: The Forgotten City

On October 1st 2011, my photographs from inside the Greenpoint Terminal Market were projected onto the exterior of this warehouse complex in a site-specific installation titled "The Forgotten City." The piece took viewers through the hidden rooms and passages of these warehouses with a series of photographs taken between 2007 and 2011. The piece detailed the history of these buildings, which date back to 1890, and included stories of riots, explosions, fires and squatters. "The Forgotten City" was inspired by my original photo essay, "The Greenpoint Terminal Market Revisited," which was published on this website in November 2010.

This installation was a part of Bring To Light, an outdoor nighttime art festival of light-based video, sculpture and installations on the Greenpoint waterfront. Bring To Light included over 50 artists from around the world, "some of the established auteurs of this artistic genre... and a long list of emerging talent," according to Urban Omnibus. "The Omnibus team, proud civic partner of the event, is particularly excited to check out... the industrial photography of Nathan Kensinger."

Brooklyn Based wrote of the event "photographer Nathan Kensinger has a... interesting project planned for Bring To Light. He’s been taking photos along Greenpoint’s waterfront for years, and will be projecting images that he’s captured of the inside of the Greenpoint Terminal Market onto the side of one of its buildings tomorrow. 'The photographs were taken over the past five years, and will be presented along with the story of the buildings, which date back to 1890,' Kensinger wrote... 'They have a long, dark history: a century ago, a thousand workers rioted in the streets in front of the Greenpoint Terminal Market, in the same streets where Bring To Light will take place.'"

For more information, visit Bring To Light's website: The following are several photographs documenting the installation.

"The Forgotten City"
at Bring to Light (2011)

"The Forgotten City"
at Bring to Light (2011)

"The Forgotten City"
at Bring to Light (2011)

"The Forgotten City"
at Bring to Light (2011)