Urban Photographer Nathan Kensinger Knows NYC’s Best Rooftops, Toxic Industrial Canals, and Dive-Bar Bathrooms


We recently published our Best of NYC issue, the Voice‘s annual opportunity to bestow awards like Best Vigilante and Best New Snarky Media-Gossip Site on our favorite things. In turn, we asked a few of our favorite New Yorkers to name their favorite local things.

Nathan Kensinger photographs the lower depths of New York’s urban landscape, from dumpster pool parties to the Gowanus Canal. He’s also a filmmaker, film festival programmer, and location scout. The prolific shooter won’t tell you how to break into abandoned buildings, but he will tell you about Staten Island’s super-virulent poison ivy.

Best neighborhood to photograph?

Red Hook used to be the best neighborhood to photograph in New York, before Ikea came in and flattened it. Now, the best neighborhoods are any new, unexpected places that I haven’t been before. One of the best neighborhoods I recently photographed was “The Hole,” a notorious mob dumping ground on the edges of Brooklyn and Queens.

Best way to break into an abandoned property?

I’d have to say it’s best that people don’t break into anything. Crime doesn’t pay!

Worst consequence you’ve confronted?

I’ve been attacked by a lot of dogs over the years, but one of the worst consequences of exploring off-limits areas is the poison ivy, especially on Staten Island. They seem to have a particularly virulent strain, and every summer, I get a terrible dose of it.

Best inspiration for your photography?

The financial and development crisis in New York City. So many neighborhoods, businesses and buildings are in jeopardy. It inspires me to get out and document their stories.

Best location you scouted? What was it used for?

I scout a lot of great rooftops around the city. It seems like scriptwriters are always throwing someone off a roof.

Favorite places to shoot that aren’t abandoned or condemned?

Drydocks. Dumpster pools. Navy Yards. Sewage plants. Toxic industrial canals. Dive-bar bathrooms.

Best New York photographer, other than yourself?

Weegee! His work is an amazing portrait of New York’s underbelly.

Best location worth photographing that even you can’t get too?

I’d like to photograph Genghis Khan’s homeland, but it is kind of far away.