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Most of the photographers tend to congregate on the bow of our tour vessel and that’s where I came to appreciate John’s knowledge and expertise of the Kill Van Kull – what we fondly call “tugboat alley”.
John’s love for the working harbor immediately evident, little did I know at the time that he’d been a ship spotting photographer for more than 30 years. Now the New York Times has written a fantastic feature story on Skelson. Only thing missing in my humble opinion, are some of his “ship portraits”… I’ve remedied that here.
Many of the freighters and tankers arriving in New York Harbor hang a left just after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and head through the Kill Van Kull waterway to the busy New Jersey ports.
And off their port bow, there is often a familiar figure patrolling the kill’s shoreline: a bearded man snapping photographs of the passing container ships, tugboats and other commercial craft.
“Some crew members definitely recognize me and give a wave or blow their horn,” said the photographer, John Skelson, 64, who has been covering the waterfront with his Nikon from this northern shoreline of Staten Island since 1970.
“I do ship portraits; that’s always been my niche,” said Mr. Skelson, who teaches photography at the Art Lab at the nearby Snug Harbor Cultural Center. “Most New Yorkers’ idea of New York Harbor is cruise ships and the Staten Island Ferry. They have no idea what comes in and out of the harbor commercially, and most of it comes right through here.”
Mr. Skelson has lived his entire life in the area, currently residing a couple of blocks from the kill, here in the Livingston section, about two miles west of the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
His waterfront is one not of bike lanes, kayak clubs and reclaimed parkland, but rather of the old-fashioned industrial kind that has largely vanished in New York, except for this stretch that is home to tugboat companies and shipyards. Here, down a dead-end next to a lone gas station, Mr. Skelson enjoys a front-row seat to a daily parade of ships.
Gritty oil tankers come drifting by as they head to storage plants in Bayonne, N.J. Huge oceangoing container ships head toward Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, and plenty of muscular tugs bustle about, escorting these vessels.
The ships slip by so close that one gets a visceral feel of their enormousness, and a visual sense of the vast amount of cargo that comes in to New York each day.
“This is really the only place you can get close to these ships,” Mr. Skelson said at the spot on Tuesday. “Sometimes it’s too close, and I don’t have a lens wide enough to get the whole vessel in.” “As long as there’s something passing through, I’m happy,” he said. Read more here…
by Mai Armstrong for the Working Harbor Committee
Ship spotting on a Balmy December Afternoon
Some days are good for photography and others are great, as was the case on Tuesday of this week. The late afternoon light and a VERY busy Kill Van Kull, what more could I ask for? Some regulars passing, and some new sightings.
And so ends a balmy December afternoon on the Kill Van Kull.
Keeping the Nikon clicking… John Skelson
This week marked the 1st anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Due to my health issues at that time I was unable to do much photography of the storm damage, but I was able to photograph the John B Caddell where she washed up on the Staten Island shore.
The 185 foot John B Caddell, was built in 1941 and used to transport gasoline and heating oil, until her retirement in 2009. She was sold to a Nigerian company who left her abandoned at a pier on Staten Island, until Sandy claimed her.
She lay there for 6 weeks before salvage crews were able to move her to Donjon Marine yard in Rossville, Staten Island. The Heavy Lift Crane Chesapeake 1000, also owned by Donjon, was used to lift and refloat her. At an auction several weeks later, a lone bidder (Donjon again) bought her for scrap.
And for Halloween…