Yuri Marder:
Ellis Island

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.

More of Yuri Marder’s work can be
seen at
The artist can be contacted by email