The Irresistible Pull

Photographs by Maureen Drennan

June 1, 2024 - August 31, 2024


The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) proudly presents “The Irresistible Pull” by photographer Maureen Drennan. Merging two of Drennan’s projects “Island Kingdom” and “Rust Belt of New York,” the exhibit explores Brooklyn and Queens’ industrial waterfronts. Drennan’s lens reveals the soul of these neighborhoods, often dismissed as “off the beaten path,” yet integral to the tapestry of New York City. “The Irresistible Pull” immerses viewers in unseen lives and landscapes shaped by water, environment, and architecture. The exhibit invites exploration into the magnetic forces that bind people to a place and what compels individuals to these often-overlooked communities.

Attend the virtual gallery talk exploring the exhibition on Thursday, July 18th. Register for free >

Maureen Drennan on beach
Maureen Drennan
Artist Statement

In the summer of 2017, my friend Jonno Rattman, who runs the magazine Newest York, suggested I photograph “the Rust Belt of New York”. He gave me complete freedom to interpret and capture the essence of the “Rust Belt” according to my own vision and approach. I explored the manufacturing and industrial areas of New York City, viewing them as miniature reflections of the broader Rust Belt of the Midwest. Manufacturing industries were once vital and significant but, like manufacturing in the Midwest, have fallen into decline. Regrettably, being part of the working class in New York City, particularly in manufacturing, often means experiencing marginalization.

Before beginning the Rust Belt of New York project, I had specific expectations about what I might find. While I anticipated the dominance of buildings in the industrial areas, it was the prevalence of nature that caught my attention. The high grass in abandoned lots is lush, flowers and trees poke through every possible crevice. In the summer the air is heavy with the buzzing of insects and bird calls. The clang and hum of machinery and beeping of trucks in the distance blend with the natural sounds and add to the almost pastoral feel of these spaces. While photographing these old industrial and manufacturing areas in Brooklyn I met and listened to a multitude of New Yorkers.

In my work, I rely on the generosity of strangers and draw inspiration from people I engage with and photograph. If we end up talking for a while before I take any photos that’s fine, I enjoy the interaction. You never know what is going to happen, what they will share with you. It’s an intimate encounter that can be both enriching and humbling. The people I encountered willingly shared their stories with me, speaking candidly about their jobs and families.

Five years earlier, when I began photographing Broad Channel in the summer of 2012 I came with another set of expectations. There I expected the presence of nature. I was immediately fascinated with this beautiful place, a complete anomaly from the rest of New York City. It feels like a small fishing village and people swim and watch birds off their docks in Jamaica Bay. There is a wild and overgrown sense to Broad Channel.

The residents love living by the water and are defined and enriched by it, but there exists a delicate balance between the community and the natural environment. As the effects of climate change shake this balance, the community has been confronted with the harsh reality that their home and community may not be as secure and idealistic as they hope it to be. Flooding from Hurricane Sandy devastated the community; many lost their homes and possessions. The arduous recovery underscores the conflict of living close to the water, especially when leaving, to them, is not an option.Photographing the destruction held little appeal for me. Instead, I found the resilience of this tight-knit community compelling.

Literature has had a significant influence on my photographic projects. While working on the Rust Belt I was reading Joseph Mitchell, the New Yorker writer who worked from 1938-1996. He was a reporter but he wrote like a novelist, he walked all over the city and got to know every side street and quirk and every character. He obsessively did this for his entire life. The writer Even Overby described him as “An excavator of lost souls and eccentric visionaries, his genius lay partly in a natural ability to connect with people.” I was inspired by the way he would meet and talk with so many people with a mixture of intent and serendipity.

I bring that inspiration to my work.

About the Artist

Maureen Drennan is a photographer born and based in New York City. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, National Portrait Gallery, Tacoma Art Museum, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, JFK Terminal 4, Aperture, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Centotto Gallery, Transmitter Gallery, and Mrs. Gallery. Her images have been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, California Sunday Magazine, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Photograph Magazine, Photo District News, Art 21 Magazine, American Photo, UK Telegraph, Refinery 29, and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. She teaches at LaGuardia Community College in New York City.

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Shannan. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Stilt House. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Gracie. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Egret. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Arches. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Ladies in White. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Canal. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Mayor Al. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Cross. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Morgan. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Rockaway Ferry. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Dyker Heights. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Cici. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Goats. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Actress. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Manny. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Doors. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Tjaiemani. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Water Train. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Hasidic Boy. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Bunny. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Margaret. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Bridge. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Wesley. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Kevin House. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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Nicholas and Phillip. Photo: Maureen Drennan.
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West 12th Road. Photo: Maureen Drennan.