Julia Solis: The Art Of Ruins


Years ago, I attended on a whim a packed book release party at City Lights for New York Underground by Julia Solis. I stood there, crammed in and dangling off a staircase, as a tall, crimson-haired woman took to the makeshift podium. I hadn’t heard of her outside of some vague rumors that she was once a fixture in the San Francisco art scene but was now a die-hard devotee of New York.

That night I discovered she’s a passionate, funny and brazen urban explorer and historian (among other things) who, in devil-may-care Pre-9/11 New York had accessed some of the more inaccessible subterranean spaces of New York City, including the cathedral-like inner sanctums of the Brooklyn Bridge and the horrific remnants of many old hospitals and asylums. All of which is documented in her truly stunning book. Who knew that the insides of bridges look like Gothic cathedrals?

Since then, I’ve come to appreciate all of her many facets. A former member of San Francisco’s own legendary Suicide Club, Julia Solis is a fearless and devoted explorer who is also a photographer with a keen eye for the aesthetics of ruins. Some of her tales of adventure have been documented in Re/Search’s Pranks 2. She penned the dazzling and disturbing short story collection, Scrub Station,  and is also the founder of the  “urban archaeology art groups” Dark Passage and Ars Subterranea. She’s probably connected in some way to at least a dozen more innovative art and adventure groups. Real adventure, the kind that she perpetuates is hard to come by these days. Of course now, there is a whole slew of “urban exploration” collectives online featuring people who do little more than get drunk at construction sites. Which is fine now and then but is nowhere near the kinds of adventures Miss Solis undertakes. And the best thing about all her divergent projects is that they come together in her total appreciation for ruins and the pictures, stories, and dramas that they inspire.

Lately, I’ve been following her travelogue which she seems to update fairly regularly. Based on all she does online, and all the groups she’s involved in, it’s pretty easy and just as fun to get lost amidst all the dark threads of her art. It also makes me want to carry my camera with me wherever I go.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →