Willis Elkins

When I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 2007 I became interested in exploring the almost inaccessible waterfront that borders the neighborhood on three sides. Finding that much of the East River and Newtown Creek shorelines was unreachable by land, I took to an inflatable raft (and later kayak). Traveling the waterways, I saw how much of the border between land and water is bulkheaded like a canal. Such seawalls have replaced what used to be natural flood zones of sand, marsh, or rock, where the rising and falling tide can both create a vibrant ecological zone for wildlife and provide sanctuary for various flotsam that is pushed ashore from the rough seas.

I began to notice beached items on the least accessible shorelines: tennis balls on uninhabited islands; pre-production plastic pellets (known as nurdles) on rocky shores; and a plethora of everyday objects (bottle caps, plastic bags and disposable lighters) in salt marshes where people rarely go. Most of the debris I encounter travels to its destination via estuary currents, harbor wind, and the city’s antiquated sanitation system, which lets sewage and street debris overflow into the waterways when it rains.

This project, “The Lighter Log,” which grew out of my exploration, is not solely about disposable products or ocean pollution. Rather, it deals with the exploration of overlooked urban coastlines, and how these geographies can be used to study waste infrastructure, and consumer/disposal habits of the city’s residents.

BIO: Raised in Houston, TX, Willis Elkins came to New York in the early aughts, receiving a BA from NYU in 2006. His interests as an artist and environmentalist lie in challenging waste streams and disposability, and exploring local aquatic ecosystems. Willis has worked at the Buckminster Fuller Institute since 2007 and currently serves as a trip leader/canoe instructor for the North Brooklyn Boat Club.




Canarsie Pier Lighters, 2011


Bergen Beach Lighters, 2011


Plumb Beach Lighters, 2011


Photos © Willis Elkins 2012. All Rights Reserved.
No reproduction without the written consent of the artist.

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