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I have a close friend who lives on Staten Island and as a result of my trips to visit him I became fascinated by the ferry system that connects one island, Manhattan, with the other island borough in New York Harbor. In addition to being the most efficient way to move large numbers of people from Manhattan to Staten Island and back, the ferries are a major tourist attraction. The round-trip is one of the very few “free rides” – literally – in a city that’s not known for offering many bargains. In the late fall of 2019, I began to ride the ferries specifically to photograph the boats, crew and passengers with my mechanical cameras and black and white film.
Until the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020 kept me off the ferries, I would spend hours riding back and forth to capture the unique world of those huge people-moving vessels that plied the 20-minute voyage from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island. My favorite of the ferries was the John F. Kennedy, which went into service in 1965 and ran until the fall of 2021, when its engines gave out. The boat was a throwback to another time, with wooden benches and metal fittings that were as decorative as they were functional. The Kennedy was auctioned off by the city for $280,000 in January of 2022 and bought by a group that plans to turn it into an entertainment and dining venue. So it looks like the venerable ferry has gotten a reprieve from being broken up for scrap metal.
When it was relatively safe to travel on the ferries again, I took some pictures in the spring of 2021. But, after more than a year of photographing the city while it was in the grip of the pandemic, my heart wasn’t in the project anymore. However, the images that I took show a unique water-borne experience that takes thousands of people every day between Manhattan and one of the outer boroughs of New York City.