Photo from Beyond Passaic, by Bryan Zanisnik.

A stunning, melancholy, mysterious landscape ethnography has just been published by Triple Canopy. Triple Canopy supports non-traditional, multimedia “articles” particularly well suited to projects on waste, as “Beyond Passaic: Contamination, security threats, hobo encampments. A Meadowlands photo essay” proves. The artist-author Bryan Zanisnik walks through the no-man’s land of The Meadowlands, a combination of parks, highways, dumps,  Superfund sites, and industrial buildings, both abandoned and in use, “processing toxic fumes.” For Zanisnik, “The Meadowlands cannot be comprehended from a bird’s-eye view, nor can it be experienced in a hazmat suit—or even by driving above the wetlands on the Turnpike. One must stay close to the ground and risk exposure to the environment.” Beyond Passaic is a phenomenological, exploratory journey of a liminal landscape: “All this, along with American Dream Meadowlands, may soon be swallowed up by the marsh, I thought. But if not, the marsh may soon disappear or, even worse, be placed on maps.”

Some excerpts:

I leaned against the fence and turned my eyes toward the front of the soiled white boards, which were marked by bold, red letters: ENVIRONMENTALLY CONTAMINATED TOPSOIL. DO NOT ENTER OR DIG. Below the warning was a telephone number. I wrote down the number in a small notepad, then rushed back to the center of the field. I decided to abort my trip to Disposal Road, and left my half-eaten sandwich behind.

Returning home that afternoon, I opened my notebook and hesitantly called the number listed on the sign. The phone rang three or four times, then an operator with a high-pitched voice answered.
“Amtrak reservations, my name is Joanne. How may I help you?” I froze. “Hello?” she continued, less pleasantly. “What is your destination?” I knew she could hear me breathing on the other end of the line, so I had to say something. “I am not booking a trip. I was exposed to hazardous waste in the Meadowlands, and the sign told me to call this number.” A few moments passed in silence, and then she casually said, “Please hold while I transfer your call.”

Photo by Bryan Zanisnik.

What follows is a partial list of objects that I’ve come across:
US Army helmet
Baby carriage
Giant wrench
Toilet bowl seat
Aluminum siding
Basketball hoop
Ikea bookshelves
Metal ornate fence with fish engravings
Briefcase
Cat food
PC
Couch with a floral pattern
Couch with a striped pattern
Drafting desk
Reclining chair
Exercise bike
Front door
Garage door
Cement mixer
Tackle box and fishing pole
Electric guitar
Life preserver
Loaf of bread
Melted auto muffler
Tree house
Neoclassical pillar
Oil drums
Tanker truck
Orange juice container
Bed sheets
Pair of keys
Spider-Man sandal
Power Rangers back pack
Pile of paint cans and a blue tarp
Shotgun shells
Bathroom sink
Brick wall
Stovetop
Suitcase with broken handle
Men’s underwear
Women’s underwear
Ladder
Unopened registered mail
Vintage Coca-Cola bottle (circa 1920)
Boat in a field
Car in a river

Photo by Bryan Zanisnik.