Photographer Explores NYC’s Forgotten North Brother Island with a 4×5 Camera

Boilerplant from Morgue Roof, North Brother Island, New York

It’s a part of New York City that few have ever seen or will ever see. Called North Brother Island, this piece of land sits in the East River, housing a piece of NYC history that has been decaying ever-so-slowly for the past five decades or so: a hospital once used to house quarantined patients from the general population of NYC.

While usually off-limits to the general population, photographer Christopher Payne was granted access to explore the island. And so, 4×5 camera in tow, he document the decaying remnants of this medical facility and the island that has reclaimed it for his new book, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City.

Male Dormitory, North Brother Island, New York

Opened originally in 1885, the Riverside Hospital was first used to house smallpox patients before eventually turning into a generalized quarantine facility that housing everyone from World War II vets to heroin addicts.

But, despite its past, Payne tells Slate that, “It was very hard for me to find the artifacts I expected to find,” he told the website. “They really just didn’t exist. Most of the time you’re looking at the shell of a building, and it’s so far gone you can’t even tell what it was used for.”

Beach at Dusk, North Brother Island, New York

As he spent more time trying to capture the building, Payne eventually decided to focus more on the landscapes that surrounded them. “One thing that struck me was seeing how much nature had reclaimed the island,” he told Slate. “If you go there and don’t have any idea what the place used to be, you’d assume that’s how it always was, but if you look at the historical photos, you’ll see this campus with manicured streets and lawns. Now it’s a forest.”

Below are more images from the collection, all of which can be found in North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City, which you can purchase on Amazon for $30.












Tuberculosis Pavilion Lobby, North Brother Island, New York

Classroom, North Brother Island, New York

Boilerplant Roof Interior, North Brother Island, New York

Classroom books, North Brother Island, New York

Tuberculosis Pavilion Balcony, North Brother Island, New York

Let us know what you think of the series and this unknown island in the comments down below, and if you want to see more, be sure to pick up the book and give Payne’s website a visit by clicking here.

(via Slate)

Image credits: Photographs by Christopher Payne and used with permission

  • Thomas Bennett

    I have a strong urge to go there and read a couple of those books.

  • J.R. Bob Dobbs

    I like how the photographer arranged the books.

  • Andrew

    cool set, not a whole lot left.

  • Eden Wong

    Agree about the books… that’s kind of a wild shot… I wonder how much set dec was involved…

  • Adam Cross

    the place itself is interesting, the photos not so much

  • Peter “Pots”

    It is just king of a spooky place that is hard to believe that is part of NYC.

  • Jeremiah True

    I have a strong urge to just go there

  • IamGoogoo

    Even being as reclaimed(by the earth) as they are these buildings are much more attractive that the ugly boring crap they build today

  • uaio

    Lovely work.

  • Matt King

    I’d live there, so long as they’re aren’t (let judgement ensue) demonic entities floating around.

    On another note, this is totally perfect location for #TheWalkingDead, but I’d be afraid they’d destroy it more and take away from the natural beauty created among its time enveloped deterioration.

  • Tiktian C

    I don’t see why he decided to use a 4×5 camera

  • Jason Muspratt

    Maybe it’s just the scans, but do some of these look a little… soft?

  • Edgar Allan Bro

    …because that’s the camera he shoots with?

  • Edgar Allan Bro

    It’s the jpegs PetaPixel are using. The ones on Slate and his website aren’t.

  • Tiktian C

    seems like overkill

  • lyone


  • lyone

    Because large format cameras take better pictures.

  • Tiktian C

    all fair points, (except for that ad hominem at the end)
    however I feel that for a location like that there are better suited cameras out there.

  • Tiktian C

    They take images with high resolution, and distinct depth of field, they are not the be all end all camera for all purposes.

  • mthouston

    Photographers have a long and grand history of dragging large format camera in the wilds.
    Every hear of Ansel Adam or Carleton Watkins.

  • Tiktian C

    or have another photographer carry it for you! alla Edward Weston and Dody Thompson

  • RaePooletik321

    my mum
    recently bought Kia Rio Sedan from only workin part time online. blog here

  • Wally Whammy

    Have no fear the land will soon be re-purposed into something only the rich can afford to use.

  • BoneDiddlie

    And they have movements which Christopher has used very much in his past work and books.

  • BoneDiddlie


  • Jason Troxel

    I wonder if that island is for sale… or open to development. I’d live there.

  • genotypewriter

    Umm have you extensively used all kinds of 4×5 to generalise things this way? Did the photographer even mention which 4×5 it was?

  • Tiktian C

    I do not believe you have to have used ALL kinds of 4×5 cameras to know that they are larger and more cumbersome than a good number of excellent medium format systems.

    I assume it was some sort of field camera (I use a sinar monorail (P) personally (which is heavy and which I wouldn’t want to bring around with me for too long a period of time) and while it wouldn’t be the heaviest thing around, if you are argueing that large format cameras are small and great for wandering around in the woods with I’d question your idea of fun :)

    I’m not really a very good lightweight photographer (I might have done the same thing) but as an observer I feel that if I were asked what to bring on an excursion like that I wouldn’t tell someone else to lug a 4×5 with them

  • genotypewriter

    I guess your Sinar explains your views that 4×5 is difficult to handle. Modern 4×5 field cameras are very light to the point they are barely heavier than full size 35mm DSLRs. I had a Chamonix 4×5 which was only 1.4kg. Pair that up with some light f8-f9 lenses, and a changing bag instead of 20 holders, it becomes a light setup. I’ve travelled with that camera fitted heavy lenses (~1kg) and have shot it handheld too.

  • Saul Molloy

    I’m most interested in the the ‘look’ of the photos from the processing…some of them, like the one with the pool and the red house in back appear quite different from the norm and from that point unusual. Funnily enough I’m writing this from a place with a abandoned buildings just like this which are being demolished as I type…I’ve never even been to NYC but the fact that nobody has bought the island is strange.

  • Gonzalo Broto

    Very interesting images, full of suggestive silences and traces. I would love to go there myself, as well!