Alan Gastelum, Photographer, Lobbies New York City To Address East River Garbage (PHOTOS)

New York's East River has had its share of environmental challenges over the years. And while progress has been made since the days when raw sewage and industrial runoff poured unchecked into its waters, portions of the tidal strait remain magnets for garbage and other pollutants.

That garbage, in particular, is the subject of a new photo series by photographer Alan Gastelum.

Dubbed "East River And The Sanctum We Walk," the collection includes images of trash and other stray items that have collected along the East River Promenade between 10th street and the Williamsburg Bridge in Manhattan.


Gastelum began photographing the waterfront early in the summer of 2011, taking some of the objects back to his studio for more detailed portraits.

"The images of the garbage are more like portraits to me," Gastelum told The Huffington Post. "They're portraits of the people who once owned these washed away items. Each image tells numerous stories and each object holds a sense of nostalgia and mystery."

But the images don't simply capture the intrigue of long-forgotten objects, they're also part of a larger effort on the part of the artist to see the problem addressed.

"The purpose of these photographs is to raise awareness of the things that make our neighborhood beautiful and the small things that get in the way," Gastelum writes on his website. "Whether it's us as a community uniting to make this area clean of trash or calling upon city officials to maintain this stretch of the East River walk, my hope is that these photos will compel action to be taken."

To that end, Gastelum has worked with Beth Bingham of Partnerships for Parks -- a joint program of City Parks Foundation and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation -- to organize a number of volunteer cleanup days.

"About 25 people showed up for the last cleanup. Beth did most of the organization of the volunteers and I posted info across social platforms," Gastelum told HuffPost. "She combined forces with the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Riverkeeper. They were a huge help as well."

Bingham, who works as the catalyst coordinator for East River Park, did not respond to a request for comment ahead of press time.

While they're planning to host more volunteer days in the future, Gastelum says the real goal is to implement a more permanent fix for the garbage problem in the form of debris collecting booms, which they're currently lobbying the city to install.

But despite slight glimmers of hope from the city, the effort has stalled in recent weeks.

"Word was that the city approved a $10,000 budget three months ago, that would have bought booms for both esplanades," Gastelum said. "As of last week, we learned that it didn't go through."

So now he's pursuing other avenues as well, including applying for a $5,000 grant from Good magazine which he would use to purchase and install one of the booms and, hopefully, "get the attention of the city to install the other."

"It's like Kickstarter, [except] it's just based on votes. The most votes wins the grant," Gastelum said.

Ideally, however, Gastelum believes the money for the booms should not have to be raised from external sources like grants or private donations.

"I do think it should come from the city," he said. "This part of the park was an $80 million project, so $10,000 doesn't seem like that much to maintain the beauty of the park."

Check out Alan Gastalum's "East River And The Sanctum We Walk" photo series below, along with photos from some of the recent cleanup efforts:


-- John Stephens contributed reporting for this article