Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal is one of America’s most polluted waterways. More than a century of unfettered industrial abuse was followed by decades of bungled attempts to clean it up. It is significantly cleaner than it was 30 years ago but it’s contaminated waters hold the evidence of it’s history. To look into the Gowanus Canal is to gaze into the eyes of a corpse. It is murky and clouded over but if you look closely you can see life and light reflected in the mercury, feces, and coal tar that drift in the canal like malevolent clouds. There’s something about this that reminds me of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych “The Last Judgment” (1482). In it we witness a dark, terrifying scene of hell on earth. The judged are tortured and murdered by a host of nightmarish figures while above them, god and angels with trumpets, float in a beam of light and blue sky. In one detail of the painting, the damned are being chased into a river by dragons and thrown off of a bridge by strange frog people. I keep imagining that when they’re headed into that terrible water they unexpectedly catch a glimpse of god and that blue sky reflected in the black water below them and for one second imagine themselves falling down into heaven.
William Miller is a veteran photojournalist and native New Yorker. Born in 1969 he studied photography at Bard College with Larry Fink and Stephen Shore. His work has appeared in Saveur, Harpers, Paris Match, Spin, GQ, Stern, the New York Post, the Daily News, The Globe and Mail among others and his clients have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Human Rights Watch, Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders and Sundance Channel. His art photography has been exhibited around the country and seen in Lenscratch, F-Stop Magazine, Lens Culture, Hyperallergic, Feature Shoot, El Pais and won the 2011 Celeste Prize for Photography.
Artist’s Website: williammillerphoto.com