PDN Photo of the Day

Toxic Rainbows in the Gowanus Canal

The Gowanus Canal was declared a Superfund site in 2010, and its reputation as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the U.S. has endured, even as the Brooklyn neighborhood it runs through has become increasingly hip and prosperous. The man-made river is still a slimy, oily, mess in places, the result of its long industrial past, but on its surface, Steven Hirsch found fragments of utterly surprising beauty. His abstract, rainbow-hued photographs record patterns, shapes and colors found in the muck that shimmers and floats on the canal. Gowanus Water, published this month by powerHouse Books, collects more than 70 of these images, made since 2010 and titled after figures from Greek mythology, many of which relate to water and time. “Poseidon,” 2014, is a sparkling composition in teal, gold and purple, while “Styx,” 2015, is a swirl of yellow, red and blue. In the book’s introduction, journalist and Slate photography blogger Jordan G. Teicher describes them as “kaleidoscopic images whose elements resemble the spiral arrangements of meteorological events or celestial bodies, and sometimes channel 1960s psychedelic motifs.”

But for better or worse, Hirsch’s toxic rainbows, like everything gritty in Brooklyn, might be on the decline—Teicher describes visiting the Gowanus with Hirsch and finding evidence that the cleanup is working. “One spring day, we visited the canal and Hirsch saw, for the first time, the water teeming with tiny fish…Indeed, thanks to its Superfund status, the canal—long referred to by locals as “Lavender Lake” for its distinctive, unnatural hues—is slowly on the mend. Soon enough, Hirsch’s polluted palette will be a memory, much like the industrial heyday of the borough’s interior.”

Related Stories:

Film on the Gowanus Canal

Tug Life: Photographs By a New York City Tugboat Captain

Environmental Crusaders: Photographer Peter McBride and the Colorado River

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Fine Art


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