New Jersey couple Dasha and Taylor Milova got married on New York’s Governors Island, and when they chose this location, they knew that the island was in decay and most of the buildings located there were abandoned. Nevertheless, this couple loved the photographs of their special day, which offered a glimpse into history and breathed new life into an old space.
Meet The Couple
When Dasha Sverdlova and Taylor Mills decided to get married, they, like any couple, they wanted it to be special. Specifically, they wanted the photography to be special. And they both had something very specific in mind.
Taylor's Interest in Abandoned Spaces
When Taylor was little, she moved from Kansas City to New Jersey. There, she found a new fascination— abandoned spaces. "The abandoned railroad tracks and factories of yesteryear are common threads throughout North Jersey, and being able to access these spots was something I never experienced before growing up in Kansas City," she said. And she wasn't alone in her fascination.
Dasha Shared Her Interest
Dasha had the same interest. "I've been interested in abandoned areas since I was little," she said. Dasha would explore these places in her native St. Petersburg. "When I was around 5, my parents and I would sneak into an abandoned hotel near our summer house in Russia, where I'm originally from."
The Decision Was Easy
When the two decided to get married, they made two important decisions. They would both take on the surname Milova. And, they wanted their wedding to incorporate abandoned spaces. This, however, was easier said than done.
The Problem Was Apparent
The couple, who live in Jersey City, New Jersey, began their search. But it wasn't working out the way they'd hoped. "We had been looking for abandoned churches and abandoned warehouses to get married, but unfortunately, most of the time they are not accessible, and definitely not accessible to our older grandparents," Taylor said. They were going to have to find another solution.
A Solution Was Found
Eventually, they found what they were looking for: Governor's Island. The Admiral's House on the island was in disrepair. This would give them the perfect backdrop for their photos. As Taylor described it, "We both are drawn to the imperfection of abandoned places and certainly did not envision a traditional space as a wedding backdrop."
The couple paid $400 to use the Admiral's House. They paid $1,000 for ferry services to get to the island. But aside from finding the perfect location, they did something else that made everything even better. They got married in the off season.
Married During the Off-Season
Governors Island is only open to tourists from June through October. By getting married in the off-season, they could use the whole island for their photos. But that wasn't the only thing that made their wedding so special. They also had another advantage...
The Milovas had a friend who had once worked at the island. Through that friend, they got access to structures not normally open to the public. That allowed for some unique photographs. Their friend was also invited to the wedding, of course.
Their photographer was Jake Murphy. He's from the photography collective LOVE + WOLVES CO. They have offices in San Francisco and Brooklyn. And Murphy was very supportive of the shoot, and vocal about how excited he was to experience the location firsthand.
Making the Perfect Picture
“I love the vacant aesthetic, and the kind of like broken down feel of it,” said Murphy. He also said he appreciated the "eerie vibe" of the photos. It was a special experience for him. He said the location provided "an embarrassment of riches. I was like a kid in a candy store.”
That didn't leave the shoot without challenges, though. For one thing, the location wasn't that safe. The couple and their photographers had to avoid weak flooring that they could fall through. They also had to avoid exposed wires that were a major electrocution hazard.
It wasn't only their safety that the space affected. It was the photographs themselves. “Lighting is definitely an issue that you have to work around, because you can’t just click the lights on, you have to create your own light, and be creative,” said Murphy. "“We had to open all of the emergency exit doors and like prop them open with garbage cans we found in the theater and let all of that light flow.”
The Movie Theater
The movie theater was particularly challenging. "[It] had no power and was pitch black, so we had a few people prop open the doors and hold out flashlights while Jake captured some incredible shots," Dasha said. And it worked; the results are amazing.
The Original Plan
The couple had originally thought of doing a destination wedding, but decided against it. They "also wanted to be surrounded by those closest to us," Taylor said. Given the results, it seems they made the right choice. There are no disappointments there.
Love For Governors Island
"With family and friends coming from around the world, Governors Island was an obvious choice given the proximity to our home," Taylor said. And it worked out. As Taylor describes it, "It was a total dream come true." The photographs certainly have a dream-like quality.
The couple wasn't alone in their choice. It's part of a growing movement called 'ruin porn.' 'Ruin porn' focuses on spaces which are abandoned, decaying, or in disrepair. Chernobyl and parts of Detroit are also examples of places of interest that people flock towards to capture this kind of photography.
While taking pictures of abandoned spaces isn't necessarily new, what's new is the wedding element. More couples are seeking abandoned spaces for their wedding photography. Some feel like doing something unique; others like the contrast.
For Taylor and Dasha, it was a mix of reasons that drew them to 'ruin porn.' "The juxtaposition of something old and abandoned in front of the Manhattan skyline felt really special and unusual to us," Dasha said. On top of that, they felt like the space "reflected their personalities." And if there's anything that comes shining through in these photos, it's personality.
It was a special for the Milovas. "It was incredible to have a whole island five minutes from Manhattan to ourselves," Dasha said. "It felt like a surreal New York moment that we'll never be able to recreate." Aside from her feeling, that might be literally true.
The Admiral's House, where they took the photos, is currently undergoing a restoration. Although it is an important historic landmark, it will lose a bit of its current charm. "I think abandoned areas give people the ability to stop and reflect on the history of a place," Dasha said. And if there's one thing these photos do, it's make the viewer reflect.
"It's nice to have something that has a life and history of its own. There is something a bit mystical about ruins that intrigues people," Dasha said. "I think people are always searching for authenticity in a world of perfect, Instagrammable backdrops." Though the backdrop isn't 'perfect,' it certainly is Instagrammable.
Part of the reason why people avoid abandoned spaces, however, is that their imperfection isn't just dangerous— it can ruin a photo. Most of the spots had dirt on them, which is fine for an Instagram shoot, but can ruin a wedding. Luckily, for the Milovas, it wasn't a concern. "Getting a little dirt on our outfits wasn't even a thought while we walked through the muddy grass to get to the fortress or were jumping in a tub where the ceiling was peeling away from the structure," Taylor said.
Everything Was Perfect
"Once they have been left to the elements, we can create our own stories to fill the halls that we explore," Taylor said. Dasha shares her wife's sense of poetry about the experience. "I feel very lucky to have a partner who has the same vision as I do, not only for our wedding but our life overall," she said. This perfect couple had their perfect photoshoot.
A New Generation
The couple got married in 2017 and they've had a baby since then. They can't wait to share their experience with her. As Dasha explained, "We can't wait to take her to Governors Island to show her all of our favorite hidden spots."