From the 1920s through the 1940s, 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 were so many torments there, so many injustices and forgotten tragedies. Yet their 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 1920s, I hoped the ghosts of the past would speak through the tiny hand-ground lens. But 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 a place where the decaying present intertwines with the living past, a place where rooms are haunted with flashes of American history. Ghosts of our collective memory wander through a vast crumbling complex filled with fantasies of lives never realized, empires built, and untold tragedies — they live in the walls, gathering dust on cracked concrete floors. Ellis Island is a photographic meditation on the complexities of national identity, and an attempt to decipher the many contradictory pieces of our immigrant mythology.
Additionally, Marder's Exile Project can be seen in the pages of INSIGHT magazine, Volume 1.