No Man is an Island: Poetry in the Ruins of the New York Archipelago

Front Room Gallery

May. 25, 2024 - Jun. 23, 2024

205 Warren Street
Hudson, 12534
PHONE 718-782-2556

Front Room Gallery is proud to present “No Man Is an Island: Poetry in the Ruins of the New York Archipelago,” fifty years of work by photographer Phillip Buehler documenting many of the islands surrounding Manhattan. This is Buehler’s third solo show at Front Room Gallery.

Phillip Buehler is a New York based photographer who documents the deterioration and remnants of neglected architecture constructed in the recent past. In the series “No Man is an Island…” Buehler has photographed the historic, and also often forgotten islands, around New York City. Some of them, like Ellis Island, loom large in their impact on history, culture and existence in the national identity. Others, like “Rat Island,” a privately-owned 2.5 acre islet north of The Bronx, with an unusual statue of William Tell (and nothing much more), are known about by virtually no one. But many, like North Brother Island, held storied institutions like Riverside Hospital—a place to quarantine people with smallpox, and later tuberculosis, and even later drug addiction. Eventually the forces that be let it go to seed, and it has been abandoned for around sixty years now.

Buehler’s exhibition can trace its birth to his trips in a rowboat to then-abandoned Ellis Island in 1974, when he was seventeen, to make a 16mm documentary film. In Buehler’s “Ferry Ellis Island, 1974” the photograph captures the haunting silhouette of the skeleton of the Ferry, its structure looming like a monument of time and history. The ferry, once a bustling vessel ferrying hopeful immigrants to the shores of America, now sits beached and weathered, its skeletal frame a stark contrast against the backdrop of the docks. The photograph captures a moment frozen in time, where the past and present intersect, inviting viewers to reflect on the passage of time and the stories that linger in the silent echoes of abandoned places.

Coincidentally, the 16mm documentary film Buehler and a friend shot about Ellis Island will be published in the New York Times Op-Doc series “Encore” the same week as this exhibition opens. His adventures on Ellis Island will also be the subject of a public television episode of “State of the Arts” that will premiere on May 24 th , the day before the exhibition opens.

Buehler’s photograph from the Boat Graveyard at Staten Island offers a captivating glimpse into a scene reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic Kevin Cosner blockbuster “Waterworld”. At first glance, what appears to be an ovular floating shed jutting out from the water is revealed to be a submerged Navy Sub Chaser. This sub chaser (USS PC11264) was the first Navy ship crewed predominantly by an African American crew. Surrounded by the rusty corpses of numerous other warships and boats, the Sub Chaser stands as a silent sentinel, a relic of past conflicts now surrendered to the relentless march of time.

These islands were often used as a place to keep people out of the view of the general public–the mentally ill, the infirm, and the addicted. They have had famous residents, like Woody Guthrie, and Typhoid Mary, but many of the islands are ignored and forgotten most of the time. Roosevelt Island was one of these places, built to house the victims of smallpox. Before the famous Roosevelt Island Tramway, there was Renwick Castle, a gothic revival building designed primarily by James Renwick Jr., the architect who designed St. Patrick’s cathedral. It still stands in ruins, but Buehler’s photos of it, taken in 1981 have a different vibe. Overgrown and set against the Manhattan skyline, it feels completely out of place, and almost forty years later, even more so.

Buehler has spent the last half-century visiting New York’s other islands, sometimes by boat, sometimes by drone, looking to rescue some of their stories before they’re lost forever.

Buehler received his BA at Rutgers University and his MFA in photography at School of Visual Arts. Phillip Buehler has been featured in Art in America, The New York Times, Art News, The Art Newspaper, Wall Street Journal, American Photo Magazine, The Huffington Post, Hyperallergic, Gothamist, The Guardian, The Sun, ABC, CNN, and numerous other publications.

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