This past Saturday, I took the tramway to Roosevelt Island for a late winter wander around South Point Park and, to see for the first time, the just opened FDR Four Freedoms Park.
The sun was shimmering in a cloudless blue sky and I took advantage of the large windows and fantastic aerial views, as seen from my side of the car, to capture the urban scene below me as the tram silently, smoothly sailed across the Island of Manhattan to the Island of Roosevelt.
When I alighted from the tram I headed south toward the infamous Renwick Ruin walking along the river, enjoying the suns rays on my face and the expansive views of Manhattan. Although warm, there was still enough snow on the ground to add to the composition of each image; this was my first time on the island during the winter months. The trees on the island were absolutely beautiful in their bare natural state with twisted bows and gnarled trunks; these abstract designs against the morning sky accented the foregrounds or acted as frames for the shots.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, I love to photograph old, crumbling, rusted, broken-down, laid-to-waste, structures and the Renwick Ruin, a.k.a. The Small Pox Hospital has all of the aforementioned elements. Designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., it opened in 1856 as a hospital and later a nursing school, finally closing its doors a century later where it has sat secluded, on the end of the island, slowly deteriorating.
The building is now under re-construction with future plans to reopen it to the public. But, for now, it is protected by a strong black wrought iron fence, and its skeletal remains held up by steel brace supports. Still, amidst all of the decrepitude and dilapidation the beauty of the neo-gothic architecture can be seen and admired.
Through the pane-less windows, I sensed the spirits of the forgotten looking back at me as my lens focused on fragments of this monument’s past. The sun illuminated the roofless interior and I saw part of a wall from what might have been a patient’s room. Looking up I saw the rusted remains of a staircase still climbing toward a nonexistent floor. Vines and weeds, growing with complete abandon, have pushed, shoved and squeezed their way into every brick nook and cranny yet, this natural destruction only added to the haunting mood of the ruins.
Adjacent to the Renwick Ruin is the newly constructed FDR Four Freedoms Park, designed by architect Louis Kahn, which sits at the southernmost end of Roosevelt Island with a memorial to FDR capping the tip. The park is a narrow long spear-point of four acres bordered by a regiment of Little Leaf Linden trees. You can access the park along the river promenades on either side or walk up the wide open-air staircase of white Mount Airy granite at the base of the spear point, facing the memorial and New York Harbor behind it. The trees were the most striking part of this park at this time of year because, the bare branches were bright red contrasting sharply with the snow covered lawn and the white granite that is the foundation of this park. The memorial, also made from this same stunning granite, is a three sided roofless enclosure cradling a floating bronze bust of FDR, who was up to his neck in snow, though still conveying his leadership and vision adroitly captured by the artist Jo Davidson.
Walking back toward the tram, I came upon a large gaggle of Canadian Geese enjoying a sunny day in the park, nibbling at tiny bits of vegetation that the melting snow revealed, curled up with beaks under their feathers taking a nap or walking up the pathways two by two. They did not seem to be bothered by me or my camera and I happily spent an hour following them around like a paparazza.
The afternoon was waning as was my energy nevertheless, before boarding the tram back to Manhattan I spent a few minutes shooting towards the lowering sun creating starbursts and silhouetting the landscape.