Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cast off: Inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard

By Meredith Deliso

John Bartelstone caught his first glimpse of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1967 while on a tugboat in the East River.

“The first time I saw the Yard I thought, I had to get in there,” says Bartelstone, a former architect who currently works as a Manhattan-based freelance architectural photographer. “It didn’t look like anything else in the city, at least that I knew of.”

One of the city’s oldest and largest industrial facilities, the Yard occupies 250-acres on the East River between the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges. An active site since the early 1800s, it currently is an industrial park with a range of manufacturers and light industries, and is a source of inspiration for the city’s more adventurous artists.

Bartelstone didn’t get in there until 1984, where he was further captivated by the history and industrial structures. For the past 15 years, he’s been heading into the Yard with his camera in hand, photographing its docks, buildings and ships, bargaining for access in exchange to donate all the photos he’s taken to the Navy Yard for their records (he’s been true to his word).

This month, you can see some of his photos for yourself, as DUMBO-based publisher powerHouse Books releases “The Brooklyn Navy Yard,” a collection of Bartelstone’s black and white photographs of the industrial space.

Shot from 1994 to February of this year, the photos show a place out of time, a “gold mine” for an eye like Bartelstone’s. The photographer is interested in immersing himself in parts of New York that are disappearing, and, as its radio towers, cranes and buildings have been torn down over the decades, the latter of which to make way for developments like Steiner Studios, the Navy Yard is as good as place as any to preserve on paper.

At the same time, the Yard’s been renovated over the past decades — roads revamped and new buildings constructed — and Bartelstone finds there’s a “little less to discover now. The complexity is diminishing in a sense.” Nonetheless, “It’s really such a fertile place,” says Bartelstone, who can still be found in the Yard shooting every few months or so. “There are so many wonderful forms there. It never stops being interesting.”

Pamela Talese has been similarly entranced by the Yard. The painter couldn’t help but notice it as she biked from Astoria to Red Hook on a waterfront project.

A kindred spirit of Bartelstone’s, the two have also become friends through their work, industrial documentarians in the same vein as the photographer Stanley Greenberg who often capture overlapping images of the Yard’s docks and ships — he by camera, she by paint (evidence to the right, in Talese's painting of The Baltic Sea, found on the cover of Bartelstone's book).

“I can’t seem to get away from it,” says Talese, who’s in the Yard five days a week, 9-5, painting on site. “I’m totally addicted to the Yard.”

Since 2005, she’s been carting her supplies on a flatbed trailer attached to her bike and setting up her easel at the Yard, documenting its dock workers, dredgers and massive machinery in her plein-air oil paintings. The artist has had three shows at Atlantic Gallery in Manhattan devoted to or including paintings of the Yard and is at work on a fourth.

“I want to continue working at the Yard,” says Talese, who also lives in Manhattan, but finds herself more at home in the grittier parts of Brooklyn. “I think it has more to say, or I have more to say about it.”

With only workers generally permitted to wander the Yard, Bartelstone’s book, as well as Talese’s faithful paintings, present a rare insight into one of the city’s remaining working harbors.

“The place has always been mystery,” says Bartelstone. “No matter when (people) see it, it will always be amazing.”

“The Brooklyn Navy Yard” is available through powerHouse Arena for $50.

Cover courtesy of powerhouse Books. Pamela Talese photograph courtesy of the artist; photograph by John Bartelstone.


Stefan Falke January 8, 2010 at 12:33 PM  

same location, with the Mary Whalen being restored there a few years ago:

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