Photographer Will Ellis made a name for himself capturing New York’s amazing decrepit spaces on his blog Abandoned NYC, and now his work is the subject of a new book, out this week. The book features 16 derelict locations (mostly) within city limits, including brand new photos of five locations never released online (hello, sunken Coney Island submarine). Ellis’s love of abandoned buildings is as deeply tied to a curiosity for the ghoulish as it is to an intense connection with the history behind New York City’s many stories. His blog covers NYC abandonments more extensively and prosaically than nearly any other print or online source, and his photos capture the beauty of what many shrug off as eyesores and urban blight. Ellis talked with Curbed contributor Hannah Frishberg about the book and shared 18 photos of a few of his favorite sites.
How did you get into urban exploration?
It wasn’t something that I set out to do at all, I was just out one day with my camera in Red Hook, just kind of looking around, looking for inspiration, and I came across this huge warehouse, 160 Imlay Street [ed. note: This building is now being converted into condos]. I’ve always been drawn to creepy stuff: ghosts, monsters, stuff like that. Halloween was my favorite holiday growing up. So that’s kind of what drew me to it, initially. I was also reading a lot of these old gothic fiction and horror stories at the time, H.P. Lovecraft and stuff like that. A lot of those stories are about creating that sense of atmosphere, and more often than not they’re set in these decrepit estates. So I was able to find those places I was drawn to in these books, but to find them in real life, in my own backyard. I still don’t think of myself as a daredevil. I never used to break the law much, I played by the rules. I’m scared of heights. But I saw you could just walk into the building, and I went for it that day. From that point on, I was hooked. That sensation of discovery, the thrill and adrenaline of it. Especially in the first two months I was doing this. For several months I was going out every chance I got. I’ve slowed down a bit since then.