Brooklyn-born photographer Arthur Tress got his start taking pictures of the decrepit architecture and bizarre characters that populated Coney Island, near where he grew up. This partly explains why, in the early 1980s, when Tress stumbled upon an abandoned hospital, his artistic curiosity was sparked.
For the next few years, Tress transformed the dark, haunting halls into a hyper-saturated junk wonderland, where rocking chairs, hospital beds, and medical supplies we can't even identify were transformed into surrealist sculptures big enough to swallow you whole. Turns out ruin porn existed way before the hashtag.
Back before it was known as Roosevelt Island, New York's slender East River Island went by the name of Welfare Island, due in part to the cluster of hospitals located at the southern end. It was here that Tress discovered his aesthetic muse, in the form of a hospital slated to be renovated but instead left to rot. After climbing in the second story window, he'd found himself a new -- very old -- studio.
"I love exploring cities and finding old run down neglected- out of the way neighborhoods," Tress explained to The Huffington Post. "When I found this old hospital it was extra special because it had been used to warehouse all the surplus junk medical equipment of the NYC health department for 40 years -- hundreds of old iron lungs, 1930s X-ray machines, etc. Even a room full of old biology teaching charts and plaster painted models!"
As you may imagine, the forsaken hospital contained eerie medical debris that would drive most away. "It was spooky, full of old laundry baskets of soiled sheets, peeling wall paint, asbestos-covered pipes, even caving in walls. Plus, in the files of ancient medical records, one could imagine thousands of patients who had been and perhaps died there." And yet the thrill of the forgotten, and potentially dangerous, drew Tress in.
"At first I thought I would caught in there, and dared not paint the tiled walls, but as the weeks and months and years went by no one ever found me, except some local teenagers who tried to figure out where I stashed my spray paint cans that I kept well hidden." He worked there for almost five years, transforming many of the hospital's 500 rooms into vibrant and wonky installations resembling carnival funhouses run amok.
"Almost no one ever saw the finished pieces except myself and that is a bit sad as they were magnificent on the site," Tress said. The remaining photographs of the topsy-turvy recycled spaces are dizzying enough in themselves, we can barely imagine encountering these life-sized environments in real life.
In the end, Tress' deranged playpen once again reveals the mysterious powers of the places and spaces time leaves behind. "There is a sense of history and also of time passing," Tress explained, "a sadness of distressed and forgotten lives and places that perhaps reflects a certain dark 'gothic' disposition in my own personality which actually craves to be alone and doing weird curious things out of sight from the pressing crowd."
He also added: "And besides they are a giant, rent-free studio to do with what [you] want until they are torn down eventually. Hopefully without you being in them when they do."
Feel the magic of the abandoned below and scroll down for a documentary of Tress' time in the hospital.