Yuri Marder — Ellis Island back
Artist's Statement

Ellis Island

From the 1920's through the 1940's, bits and pieces of my family sailed into New York harbor escaping persecution and war in Europe, passing through a bewildering bureaucratic maze called Ellis Island. There was so much pain there, so many injustices and forgotten tragedies. And yet the successful passage through turned Ellis Island into a hopeful metaphor for my family, as it did for many millions of other new Americans. Fascinated by the idea of Ellis Island, and drawn to the beauty of its architectural ruin, I set out to photograph the vast crumbling complex that sits adjacent to the few restored museum buildings at the main entry. Photographing with an antique camera from the 1920's, I hoped the ghosts of the past would speak through the tiny hand-ground lens. On seeing the images, I became aware that those forsaken spaces, although starkly beautiful, have already been transformed into a facsimile of themselves — a museum of dust. In response I have imagined an unearthly place where the present intertwines with lost passions of life over three centuries, filling the haunted rooms with icons of America's past. Ellis Island is a meditation on the meaning of American identity, and an attempt to decipher the many contradictory pieces of our immigrant mythology.