Tag Archives: Ellis Island

Flooded, Uprooted, Burned: The Tracks of Sandy on the Shore

After TIME commissioned me, along with four other photographers, to capture Hurricane Sandy using Instagram, I and many of my colleagues felt a deep personal need to go back and document the aftermath. I’ve covered disasters in other parts of our country, but this is my hometown, and Sandy was a storm of historical significance. I’ve often found that there is great power in telling difficult stories in a beautiful way. Interest in any given story wanes so quickly, yet it’s only through taking the time to go deeper that we get to a place of real understanding. I had to return to this story, and I wanted try to comprehend the scale of this storm. The only way for me to capture Sandy’s destructive fury was from above.

Stephen Wilkes for TIME

Storm surges over power the coastal areas and flood the streets during low tide in Milford, CT.

On the Sunday after Sandy made landfall, I decided to rent a helicopter and fly over some of the most devastated areas, including the New Jersey shore, Breezy Point and Far Rockaway. It was a beautiful day to fly, but unfortunately that beauty quickly eroded into shock as we began to get close to the coasts. It was everything I’d heard about, but it was difficult to believe what I was actually seeing. Once we got above the shoreline, I really started to understand the scale of the destruction. The expanse of land it ruined, the totality of the devastation — it was like a giant mallet had swung in circles around the area. It was mind numbing.

When I got home that night, the images still in my mind made it impossible to sleep. Through various points of this storm, it felt like we were all living through a science fiction movie. Seeing these devastated towns from above showed the cold reality of this storm’s severity.

From above, I realized how close particular neighborhoods were to bays or oceans. Sometimes, it was a matter of two blocks, and it’s a proximity not immediately apparent when you’re on the ground. In Breezy Point, for example, I knew that more than 80 homes had burned down in a fire, but nothing could have prepared me for what I actually saw. The blackened and charred blocks of homes viewed as a giant physical scar across the landscape. Seeing how much land was affected and yet how many homes were saved, made me think of the firefighters and how hard they must have worked just to contain this fire.

In flying over Staten Island, I was really struck by the marina, and how the boats were physically lifted from the pier and tossed together. It looked like a child’s game—huge, 40-ft. boats being thrown around like toys. We then flew over Oakwood, where I saw a house that had been lifted and dragged through a field of cattails; its path clearly visible days later, having left a trail of destruction through the cattails.

Sandy was a warning shot. I’ve had a unique view of what’s happened on a physical level. But the emotional toll has yet to be measured. It’s my hope that these images serve as a wakeup call — whether that call is about global warming, infrastructure, or just the recognition that the world is changing, it’s a reminder that we need to take special care of our fragile world.


Stephen Wilkes is a fine-art and commercial photographer based in New York. Wilkes was awarded the Photo District News Award of Excellence in 2011 and 2012.

Wilkes’ work will be part of Art for Sandy, a fundraising initiative to support Sandy relief that’s being hosted by 20×200 and TIME.



Ellen Wallenstein

New York photographer, Ellen Wallenstein‘s ideas and interests navigate in and out of all sorts of interesting arenas, and maybe that is just part of being a New Yorker where inspiration is never an issue.  Her bodies of work reflect a broad range of approaches and subjects from projects such as Dead Men from New Fairfield, CT, Ellis Island Self Portraits, Pocketbook of Drag Queens, and the project I am featuring today, Respecting My Elders. Ellen is an engaged photographer, teaching photography and book arts at School of Visual Arts and Pratt and writes articles and book reviews for PDNedu and Fraction magazines. She received  a B.A. in art history from SUNY Stony Brook and an M.F.A. in photography from Pratt Institute and was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize in 2011.

Her project, Respecting My Elders, Ellen was supported by UnitedStatesArtists.org, a “micro-philanthropy” which supports artists projects across the country. She raised funds for an upcoming website and a first catalogue of (26) portraits of creative elders, which should be in print by the end of the year. She will be giving a public talk on her portraits at the Center for Alternative Photography/Penumbra Foundation  in NYC, on October 23rd. (It will be streamed live, as well)

Respecting My Elders:
I most often work on long-term documentary projects that mesh into the fabric of
my daily life. For the last few years I’ve been making portraits of older people in
their environments.”

Respecting My Elders” is a collection of color portraits of creative individuals over the age of eighty, photographed in their homes and studios. They are artists and intellectuals born at the turn of the last century, whose wisdom and insight are important to our nation.

Editta Sherman, b. 1912 photographer, nyc 2009

Known as The Greatest Generation, and coming of age between the two World Wars, the effect of their contributions upon future generations is evident in their productions. These include books, poems, paintings, photographs, plays and performances, as well as important breakthroughs in education, philanthropy and the sciences. I believe these persons deserve to be celebrated: my photographs are meant to capture their spirit and beauty, and to inspire admiration by future generations.
A. R. Gurney, b. 1930, playwright, roxbury, ct 2010
The photography sessions become collaborations between my sitters, many of who pose with objects of significance, and myself. I work alone, with a handheld camera in natural light. 
David Vestal, b. 1924, photographer, bethlehem, ct 2008

This endeavor builds upon a previous project, “Opus for Anne,” which documented three years of weekly visits to an elderly Hospice patient who became a close friend. After she died I felt inspired to contact others of her generation who had influenced me artistically and intellectually.

Dr. Billy Taylor, b.1921, jazz musician-educator, riverdale, ny 2009

I began in a “sixdegrees- of-separation” manner, starting with my mother and her circle, asking friends and colleagues for suggestions and introductions, as well as contacting strangers I was interested in meeting. This led me to some fascinating people who in turn recommended me to their friends and colleagues.

Edward Albee,b. 1928, playwright, NYC 2010
I’ve been taking these portraits slowly but steadily, as I continue my teaching. I feel that this project is going to be my life’s work.

Francine du Plessix Gray, b. 1930, writer, warren, ct 2010

James Earl Jones, b. 1931,actor, nyc 2012
Joan Copeland, b. 1922, actress, nyc 2010
Milton Glaser, b. 1929, graphic designer, nyc 2009

Ned Rorem, b. 1923, composer/writer, nyc 2010

Richard Howard, b. 1929, poet, nyc 2010
Romulus Linney, b. 1930, playwright, nyc 2010

Rosalind Soloman,b. 1930, photographer, nyc 2011

Will Barnet, b. 1911, painter, nyc 2010

Wolf Kahn,b. 1927, painter, nyc 2010

Ten Years On

Before the tragedy of 9/11, Hiroshi Watanbe captured an iconic and evocative image of the World Trade Center, taken from Ellis Island. It is an amazing image, and became even more so after the events of that day. I am thrilled to see it used for such a meaningful purpose…

TEN YEARS ON: A Tribute in Music to Commemorate 9/11



As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, people across the globe are looking for ways to connect and commemorate. Not only will some share in moments of silence, but also in prayer and in remembrance. Others, still, may find solace in music and in song.

For those looking to commemorate 9/11 through music, platinum selling Welsh recording artist Jem has compiled an album in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, on behalf of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The album entitled ‘Ten Years On – A collection of songs in remembrance of September 11th 2001’ comprises moving reflective songs by an amazing caliber of artists whose heartfelt lyrics and music will bring people together in remembrance on this monumental day.

Jem was inspired to create something special and memorable for the families and to connect all worldwide on this landmark anniversary because of her personal connection to the day. In turn raising awareness and funds for the valuable work fulfilled by the 9/11 Memorial.

The artists have all kindly donated their songs along with acclaimed California based Japanese photographer Hiroshi Watanabe who donated the cover photograph, ‘Ellis Island 2, New York’, a print of which resides in the permanent collection at Houston’s Museum of Modern Art.

The album is released on September 1st 2011, on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and on the website.

Ten Years On

Before the tragedy of 9/11, Hiroshi Watanbe captured an iconic and evocative image of the World Trade Center, taken from Ellis Island. It is an amazing image, and became even more so after the events of that day. I am thrilled to see it used for such a meaningful purpose…

TEN YEARS ON: A Tribute in Music to Commemorate 9/11



As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, people across the globe are looking for ways to connect and commemorate. Not only will some share in moments of silence, but also in prayer and in remembrance. Others, still, may find solace in music and in song.

For those looking to commemorate 9/11 through music, platinum selling Welsh recording artist Jem has compiled an album in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, on behalf of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The album entitled ‘Ten Years On – A collection of songs in remembrance of September 11th 2001’ comprises moving reflective songs by an amazing caliber of artists whose heartfelt lyrics and music will bring people together in remembrance on this monumental day.

Jem was inspired to create something special and memorable for the families and to connect all worldwide on this landmark anniversary because of her personal connection to the day. In turn raising awareness and funds for the valuable work fulfilled by the 9/11 Memorial.

The artists have all kindly donated their songs along with acclaimed California based Japanese photographer Hiroshi Watanabe who donated the cover photograph, ‘Ellis Island 2, New York’, a print of which resides in the permanent collection at Houston’s Museum of Modern Art.

The album is released on September 1st 2011, on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and on the website.

– Book Review: “Searching for Schindler” by Tom Keneally

In 1980, Tom Keneally (author of "Schindler’s Ark") was looking for a briefcase when he came to a halt in front of a store called the Handbag Studio in Beverly Hills: "I hesitated, always a nervous shopper. But the shopkeeper soon appeared beside me, having stepped out from within. Atlanta Driveway repair . He had a stocky Slavic look, and resembled the great character actor, Theodore Bickel – a touch of Tartar in the cheeks, a barrel chest, powerful arms, a wrestler’s neck. He wore a white shirt, a conservative tie and a good jacket with an Eagle Scout pin nested in its lapel. There was a glitter of fraternal amusement in his eyes. Even then, I believe I preceived that he had dealt in markets beyond my knowing." Excellent visual writing, isn’t it? It immediately produced strong pictures in my mind.

The shop owner, a Polish Jew by the name of Leopold Pfefferberg, introduced himself as Leopold Page (the name was foisted on him at Ellis Island in 1947) but Keneally soon took to calling him Poldek. Poldek had a story to tell and he wanted Keneally to write if for him. Poldek told him, "it’s a story for you, Thomas, It’s a story for you, I swear." Keneally reflected on the fact that "every writer hears that exhortation. People without any idea of how long a book takes pass on the tale of an amusing uncle or aunt, along with the strange addendum: I could write it if I had nothing else to do. The suggestion is sometimes made tentatively, sometimes with the sincere expectation that the writer will answer, Wow! That he will drop to his knees and embrace this jewel of a story."

However, in the case of Leopold Page/Pfefferberg/Poldek it was all different. "He opened two filing cabinets, selecting documents – a piece on Oskar Schindler from the Los Angeles Examiner , copies of postwar speeches by former Jewish prisoners made in Oskar Schindler’s honor, carbon copies of letters in German, and documents partly yellowed, old enough for the staples in them to have rusted somewhat even in Southern California’s desert climate." Of Schindler, Poldek said, "This guy Oskar Schindler was a big masterrace sort of guy. Tall and smooth in his suits … the cloth! He drank cognac like water And I remember, when I met him the first time, he was wearing a huge black and red Hackenkreuz , you know, the Nazi pin." Well, it is of course a Hakenkreuz , and not a Hackenkreuz . Moreover, labor camps are Arbeitslager and not Arbeitslagen , and the destruction camps are Vernichtungslager and not Vernichtungslageren . The worst mistake in his German expressions probably occurred when he said, "The cinema, when we got there for the premiere, was in chaos, and Judy, Jane and I were manhandled to our seats by a muscular security woman yelling, ‘Das Buchauteur.’" To be correct, he should have said Der Buchautor . Don´t pretend to understand foreign languages if you do not.

"Searching for Schindler" (Vintage Books 2008) is a memoir. When Keneally set out to become a writer, Australians thought that writing and the arts "were something which happened elsewhere, in Western Europe." However, when Keneally met Poldek (in October 1980), he had already "been a writer for some seventeen years or so."

Upon returning to Australia from California he told his family that he "had encountered the most wonderful story imaginable," but didn’t know if he was able to write it. Ultimately, he decided to give it a try. "Back in Sydney’s northern beaches, from the desk in my office, I began composing an account of Schindler’s activities, the basis of a possible advance from Nan Talese. I could see the husky, non-verbal surfers riding their boards on the beach below." I had never given a thought to where "Schindler’s Ark" had been created, but knowing now, it feels somewhat strange that it was begun at an Australian beach.

Keneally goes to see former Schindlerjuden (Jews saved by Schindler), first in Australia, and then together with Poldek in the US, Poland, and Israel. "I knew…that I would try to write the book in the spirit of Tom Wolfe, in what Truman Capote or his publisher called faction. I knew, too, that things that were said by one interviewee would have to be matched or weighed against what the historic record said, against context and the memories of other former Schindlerjuden ."

However, this is not only a book about how "Schindler’s Ark" was written, it also discusses the Booker prize, American book tours, and the writing of the screenplay of "Schindler’s List" (Spielberg eventually sacked him). Moreover, it reveals Keneally’s involvement with rebel Eritrea and with a new republican movement in Australia that wanted to turn the country into "an official republic with its own head of state," teaching at UCI, going to film premieres in Washington, New York, London and Vienna and so much more. It makes for supremely entertaining, interesting and informative reading.

I especially warmed to the following varied and telling tidbits:

* "Even at meals Spielberg was always asking questions. He liked having people around to discuss things with, even while the technicians changed the lighting or the camera crew set up for a new shot. Many of the survivors who visited the set were astonished by the extent of the questions Spielberg asked them. Part of his strength as a director, says Palowski, was his willingness to seek input from just about anyone who had any connection with the story."

* "In lunchtime conversation we revisited the issue of where in Oskar altruism ended and opportunism began. I made the claim that it was actually important that that question could not be answered, that the abiding attraction of Schindler’s character was wrapped up in the very conondrum."

* "The plane taxied past the sign on the runway that says No Turn Before the Ocean – a sign which always rather disturbed me, since I thought that any pilot worth his salt might already know that."

* And last but not least, when Keneally asked Spielberg whether the film could be called "Schindler’s Ark," Spielberg replied he’d do it "except that he wanted to use lists throughout. Lists were visible, metaphors weren’t."