Memories of the Future

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Note: This is still a work in progress; technical data is for placement only. Text has not been copy edited or been fact checked.

Location: Brooklyn Bridge Park, minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

Background

In thinking about the rising waters I became interested in the notion of memory and place and what our memories would be of the small things that constitute our daily lives if the shores, avenues and meeting places of our civilization were no longer.

Shot with my old Rolleiflex I processed and then submerged negatives in sea water from the Atlantic ocean, Memories of the Future was inspired by a saltwater eaten instant photo I found along the East River in Dumbo, the waters already rising there and threatening the very place I found the photo. Looking at the fading instant photo I was reminded of my time in Japan days after the tsunami struck it in 2011 where storm battered photos were rescued and saved for the survivors. They already experienced the ferocity of surging seas—I started thinking that their experience might very well be our future too if we don’t get a handle on things. Perhaps even that is wishful thinking, but I have to hope that we might be able to avert the worst if we make the right decisions now.

Of course, all of the places depicted here still exist and make for excellent spots to spend summery days. The people who built New York City, with their sweat, dedication and sometimes their lives, left us civilization’s greatest modern city. However, the carbon used to create this magnificent city and the carbon that still fuels much of i,t now threatens its very existence. The decisions this generation makes now will decide if future generations will be able to experience the same city we love.

Please read the bottom of this page for notes on the process of making Memories of the Future.

Locations, Left: Macy’s Department Store, minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

Right: Central Park: minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

Location: Brooklyn Bridge Park, minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

Draft (nonfunctioning map) :Climate Central’s inundation map. This shows one of the next to worst scenarios on the map—a sea level rise of approximately 60 feet. For such a rise global temperatures would have to rise xx degrees and xx kilometers of Arctic ice would have to melt.

Draft (nonfunctioning map) :Climate Central’s inundation map. This shows one of the next to worst scenarios on the map—a sea level rise of approximately 60 feet. For such a rise global temperatures would have to rise xx degrees and xx kilometers of Arctic ice would have to melt.

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Coney Island Boardwalk. Minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

Left: Coney Island, Astro Park Minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c Right: Socrates Sculpture Garden, Minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot,

Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

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67 Furman St, New York, Minimum sea level rise for impact : 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

Left: Sunny’s Bar, Red Hook, Right Ferris Street, Red Hook inundation timeframe for both: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

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Location: Brooklyn Bridge Park, minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

Found photo along DUMBO shore. Approximate location in photo: 20 Jay Street: Minimum sea level rise for impact at 20 Jay Street: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050.

Minimum sea level rise for impact for DUMBO shore: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

 
 
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Central Park: minimum sea level rise for impact: 1 foot, Inundation timeframe: Present-2050, minimum temperature rise for a 1 foot sea level rise: 2c

 

Technical Process

These photos were produced using a 1950’s Rolleiflex on 120mm film (some of the film I’d been saving for 20 years) and then post-processed in sea water. One roll was produced using a Leica M6 with 35mm film.

The water collected for these photos all came from the Atlantic Ocean and was taken from 2 locations: the Coney Island shore which looks out to the Atlantic and from an inlet along the Red Hook Channel at Louis Valentino, Jr. Park. Both negatives and prints were used in this series. Once processed/printed the negatives and prints were submerged for varying lengths of time. All of them came out in unpredictable ways.

Color negatives and paper are made up of an emulsion and a base that contains 3 layers of ink that are comprised of red, green and blue with a yellow filter beneath the blue emulsion layer. When the negatives and prints are submerged, the sea water eats away at these layers, sometimes obliterating them all together. Other submergings result in some layers disappearing, while others are left in place resulting in blotchy discolorations or singular colors.

Most negatives were cut from their strips and submerged as single images. Interestingly, if two cut images are placed side by side in the same manner, in water that was not agitated, the results are usually vastly different. Frequently one negative will be hardly degraded while the other can be in an advanced state of breakdown creating a kind of mystery to the whole process.

As I embarked on this project much was to be discovered especially in regard to how the layers of inks and emulsions worked. In the beginning, especially with the prints, I manipulated the final result by rubbing the pints to discover what effect that had on the layers. Once I had a better understanding of how the process worked, I did not disturb the final image and tried to be as careful as possible, just letting them be.

Generally, the negatives take more time to degrade and were submerged in the salt water for about 5 days each. Less than 5 days, for the most part, result in minor changes, more than 7 days and they start to disappear altogether. The hours following the 5th day can be crucial. At this point degradation can accelerate rapidly and even taking the materials out of the water can have a dramatic impact on the final result because, at that point, the inks and emulsion are all very pliant and, in some cases, just slide off of the base.

I found no discernable impact on the images in regard to water temperature. The images seen here were first submerged in April and last submerged in July. April was cool in NYC and the water would be about 20c then and could be as warm as 30c in July.

What did have a big impact on the negatives, however, was if the water was virgin or if it had been used before. The logistics of keeping an ongoing supply of sea water on hand meant that some negatives and prints were submerged in water already used. The results in this water could be dramatic, especially if negatives were dropped into water only used for prints. When negatives are submerged in print water, they are usually in an advanced state of degradation within 48 hours, and they look like the have a bad case of acne or what the moon became after being hit by a meteor storm: pockmarked and ground up.

The prints were submerged in clear plastic containers and I watched the materials degrade over time. Negatives and prints are slippery to retrieve and I used the tools I had on hand to extract them. Usually that was a pair of long chopsticks meant for cooking, other times I just used my bare hands, resulting in traces of my fingerprints along the edges. After I retrieved them from the water, I let them dry in the open air where they collected natural and manmade particles consisting of plastic and other pollutants we’ve put into the air.

The negative that was left for the longest amount of time was 12 days. In that time, its layers were eaten away in their entirety leaving not a trace of human existence either in person or structure. In place of anything discernable from the original were salt crystals and the atmospheric pollution the negative picked up in the drying process leaving only a record of nature’s ever present existence and the pollution we left as our legacy.