Capturing the haunting neglect and immense potential of Gateway’s landscape of fields, marshes, structures, beaches, activities and historic relics, Laura McPhee’s photographs—taken over the course of one year with a large-format view camera of nineteenth-century design—portray eras past while simultaneously transporting viewers to a future not yet defined.
It is difficult to comprehend that all of the following images were taken in one park, but Gateway is composed of an agglomeration of municipal parcels and State lands that have collectively encountered nearly every imaginable impact a growing city and its inhabitants can muster. At various times in history, its sites have been exploited, celebrated as revelatory or precious, and adapted to meet military or security operations. Almost always unexpectedly beautiful, Gateway is a park in transition precisely because it is situated within a landscape and megaregion that are undergoing constant change themselves.
While a picture of the lush and rolling Sheep Meadow with skyscrapers in the background might convey the unique character of Central Park, and a shot of Half Dome at sunset illustrates the sublime wilderness of Yosemite National Park[LM3] [JH4], what has become evident is that no one view of Gateway captures its full essence as a park. Its diverse range of landscapes is both an asset and a challenge for visitors to comprehend, and the park’s future will depend largely upon an acknowledgment and celebration of this complexity. Caught as it is between the city and the sea, conservation of Gateway will be vital not only to the formation of a new ecological future for Jamaica Bay and its surrounding communities, but to the City of New York, the Greater New York region, and the nation.