See New York's abandoned places thanks to Will Ellis

Meet an intrepid photographer who braves grotesque dolls, mountains of pigeon poop and ghosts to capture the forgotten reaches of NYC

Will Ellis of AbandonedNYC: "I just set up the tripod and waited for the ghost to take pictures."

Will Ellis of AbandonedNYC: "I just set up the tripod and waited for the ghost to take pictures." Photograph: Rayon Richards

Shouldn’t you have cleaned up before letting a photographer into your house? [Laughs] Actually, we’re in an old barrack at Floyd Bennett Field, NYC’s first municipal airport. I’m looking for those rooms or objects that will make a great picture.

So you’re an urban explorer? I think of myself as a photographer. This is just one project I’m doing, photographing abandoned places.

What is the craziest thing you’ve found here? A really grotesque doll. It’s just a torso, head and arms. It’s really decayed, and it’s got this crazy hairdo. It looks hilarious.

Have you ever been surprised by anyone while exploring? Sometimes you run into squatters, someone sleeping in a bedroom, and that’s sort of alarming, when you’re alone for hours on end and suddenly see a person.

Anything supernatural?
In the Hoosac Tunnel in western Massachusetts, where close to 200 people died during construction, the moment I stepped in, my camera started taking pictures by itself and the shutter didn’t work. So I just set up the tripod and waited for the ghost to take pictures.

Are you ever scared? I try not to think of these places as scary, they’re really just tragic. There’s a graveyard in an institution upstate and all the grave markers are numbered. There are no names. You just get overcome with emotion in a place like that.

Besides a camera, what do you bring? Sometimes it’s good to bring a respirator. There’s asbestos, pigeon poop, stuff like that. There’s this building where the top floor has been inhabited by a huge colony of pigeons for 40 years. Their droppings accumulated in huge mounds. Some reach several feet in height. It’s a really surreal place.

The smell must be pretty surreal too. It was 98 degrees outside. It was completely the worst thing I’ve ever smelled in my life.

What about the dangers of going into a desolate area alone? I always worry I’ll be trapped inside, a door will lock behind me or I’ll fall down an elevator shaft.

So why do you do it?
All of these places reveal changes over the past hundred years. I’d like people to think about these changes and their own place in whatever the next chapter is.

See more of Ellis's work and follow his adventures at

Gallery: AbandonedNYC

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    Marine Park, Brooklyn

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    Fort Totten, Bayside, Queens

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    Creedmoor State Hospital, Queens Village

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    Freedom Tunnel, Upper East Side

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    Grossinger's Catskills Resort, Liberty, NY

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    The Batcave, Gowanus, Brooklyn

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    Domino Sugar Refinery, Williamsburg, Brookyln

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    North Brother Island, the Bronx

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    P.S. 186, Harlem

  • Photograph: Will Ellis

    Letchworth Village, Thiells, NY

Photograph: Will Ellis

Marine Park, Brooklyn

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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