Walt Whitman, in his 1856 poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, ecstatically invokes New York City’s waterways. Passionately, deliriously, Whitman calls out to the tides, the gulls, the ferry passengers, the light, the clouds, the ships, the sailors, the waves, the cities on the far shore. All humans are divine in his eyes, their reflected faces anointed by “fine spokes of light” in the passing waters. “Suspend,” he cries, celebrating these moments unmoored from the sure time of the city.
Inspired by the unfettered humanism of Walt Whitman and by the shifting light and reflective waters of American Luminism, I have gathered these images of life upon and alongside New York City’s waterways.
The distant spires of Manhattan appear from across bays and harbours, rivers and creeks. These photographs ferry the viewer to the far reaches of the outer boroughs: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. There, time moves according to season, ceaselessly circling back upon itself, eschewing the forward march of the grid.
Daylight lengthens, the water warms and resounds with voices and motors. Daylight shortens, the waters cool into icy silence. Shoreline remnants tangle into fictive histories. Bridges arc from shore to shore, steel longings drawn between boroughs, eternally crossing the tides below.
New York Waterways by Susannah Ray is published by Hoxton Mini Press.