Patrick Schnell took his first photo of an abandoned Gowanus factory about two years ago. His son had discovered the place, climbing around in it with kids from the neighborhood. He brought his dad back to the site, on Carroll Street between Bond and Hoyt streets, that winter. It was snowing the day they returned, and the flakes floated down through the half-gone roof. “It had kind of a beautiful feel, that place,” Schnell says. “It was clearly being taken apart, but some structures were well preserved. It was a very strange and surreal environment.”
After that visit, Schnell realized that he had stumbled on the last vestiges of Gowanus’s industrial past — and its ephemeral present. He wanted to document what was left of these old, decrepit factories and empty warehouses that had once defined the neighborhood before they all disappeared.
Schnell, originally from Germany, has lived in Gowanus since 2005. He is a doctor and works full-time, so his cataloguing of the neighborhood is something of a side job. But he stays on the lookout for new spaces. When he finds them, the hardest part is finding a way to get inside these closed-off locations. He often has to crawl through tight spaces or climb fences and walls. “You go through really small holes, and you have to use your imagination,” Schnell says. “You have to be physically fit to do it.”
Once inside, Schnell lets the wreckage and the ruins direct his camera lens. He sets up his tripod and just takes shot after shot. “You’re immediately sort of drawn into this trancelike state,” he says. “No one’s around you. No one can hear you. No one can see you.”
Morning sunlight in an old plant on Carroll Street between Hoyt and Bond streets. The building has since been demolished.
The same manufacturing site on Carroll between Hoyt and Bond streets.
Former living quarters above the manufacturing plant.
Plants grow in cubicles of a roofless site on President Street between Fourth Avenue and Nevins Street. The building has been torn down.
Remnants of coal silos and new construction (now finished) at Second Avenue near the Gowanus Canal.
An old manufacturing location between Carroll and First streets and Bond Street and the Gowanus Canal. A new building is now going up in its place.
The same manufacturing site between Carroll and First streets and Bond Street and the Gowanus Canal.
An old circuit breaker.
Gowanus coal silos between 6th Street and 4th Street Basin. A new building is going up in the foreground.
Close-up of the demolition of Gowanus coal silos across from Whole Foods at 3rd Street and Third Avenue.