Julia Solis has made a livelihood of exploring what lurks beneath the surface of structures across America and around the world.
I can’t remember how I stumbled upon artist and urban explorer Julia Solis’ work. I think I was searching for Revs, the graffiti artist who inspired a generation of street artists in the early ’90s, who painted “long, feverish diary entries worthy of a Dostoyevsky character on dozens of walls hidden deep inside the [subway] tunnels.” What New Yorker hasn’t looked up from her book on the subway to see some cryptic message swimming in drowned blue light and wondered who crawled through rat nests and cesspools, risked his life to leave those words? Though Revs fiercely guards his anonymity and avoids publicity, Solis gives foremost thanks to him in the “Acknowledgments” section of her book, New York Underground: Anatomy of a City, which offers a historical tour of New York City’s enormous subterranean labyrinth—from the bowels of Grand Central Terminal, to the labyrinthine ruins of the Croton Aqueduct, to the gang tunnels under Chinatown. Solis seems a gatekeeper to a vast shadowy underworld of outlaw adventure, and I assumed she’d be as elusive as Revs. Surprisingly, she responded to my interview request with the same generous accessibility that characterizes the tone of New York Underground. Solis is also the author of Scrub Station, a collection of stories, and a co-founder of the urban archaeology art groups Dark Passage, Ars Subterranea, Inc. and Furnace Press, which focuses on city architecture with a view towards the obscure and neglected. More recently, she’s focused on photographing above-ground decaying structures—capturing the opulent decomposition of theaters, psychiatric hospitals, prisons, pools, and other ruined urban spaces around the world.