David Mandl has lived his entire life in Brooklyn and has dedicated the past 15 years to documenting its less-travelled corners. His project END is a photographic catalog of 120 dead-end streets in the borough. He began the survey in the era before Google Maps, using a paper atlas to track down terminal spots marked with a yellow diamond. A handful are in the heart of Brooklyn, but most are on the periphery. The conceit forced Mandl to explore what he calls “the limits of the officially recognized or permitted landscape,” the “no-go zones” that most people ignore.
While his process involved a physical engagement with the city over an extended period of time, the images refuse to share that experience with the viewer. We see only the endpoint of his journeys. Occasionally, we catch a glimpse of urban activity — a canoe, a basketball hoop, a deer statue — but more often our view is obscured. The signs are posted in front of a guardrail, fence, wall, or screen of unkempt foliage that disrupts the continuous space of the city. The images frustrate the desire to know what lies beyond. In this context, the repetition of the word “END” (often centered in the frame) becomes unsettling. Is this a warning? A metaphor?
Why do these places matter? And why publish an atlas of nowheres in a city so rich with vibrant somewheres? One answer is that examining these places tells us something more essential about the city than we learn from its more conspicuous landmarks. Faced with these repetitive images, we focus on what makes them different, concentrating on the material qualities of built surfaces and plant life. Looking beyond the END sign in the foreground, we can see a wide variety of environments. Despite lacking traditional identifiers of place, each image conveys a sense of the surrounding world that fuels the imagination. In this way, the photos are really about what’s not pictured. They invite us to reflect on what we know, or think we know, about Brooklyn and its neighborhoods.