Tuesday, April 18, 2017
The Fascination With Old Building Ruins
Even as we dream of new futures, many people are also captivated by images of old, decaying, crumbling buildings that will never again serve as homes. But why are we so fascinated by the art and architecture of the recent past? And what can we learn about our past and ourselves from looking at pictures of these modern ruins?
So why are they so compelling? Certainly, there's an aesthetic component to decaying buildings, an opportunity to enjoy these buildings outside of their original context and stumble upon unusual images that don't present themselves in intact structures. In his book Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality, Manchester Metropolitan University School of Science & The Environment Professor Tim Edensor writes: "For me, however mundane they may seem, ruins still contain the promise of the unexpected. Since the original uses of ruined buildings has passed, there are limitless possibilities for encounters with the weird, with inscrutable legends inscribed on notice boards and signs, and with peculiar things and curious spaces which allow wide scope for imaginative interpretation, unencumbered by the assumptions which weigh heavily and highly on encoded, regulated space".
So many images of modern ruins come across the Internet with little or no context. Some critics believe that images of the interiors of decaying buildings are in and of themselves a legitimate art form and feel that analyzing images of abandoned structures has a lot to teach us not just about our recent past but also about our present. "You might look at a photograph of the Loews King in New York City which is an abandoned movie palace in the heart of Brooklyn and just analyze what you can from the photographs, the architectural clues, the state of ruin, etc, and you can read a lot into the photo, even not knowing where it is, about the notion of a movie palace during the era where no more than one new film would ever be released in a week because the movie industry was new. You could get 3,000 people together to watch a film on a Friday night because that was the only game in town. It was like a night at the opera. And, you can also look at the intricate architectural details and realize that this is the place that people would get dressed up for, a cultural event not unlike going to the opera. Then, you should consider going to a local Cineplex in jeans and a t-shirt.
"Contemporary ruins are also sometimes considered to represent the accelerated change of late modernity," Harrison and Schofield point out in their book. They use the term "auto-archaeology" to describe archeological actions related to the present and recent past, including photographing "modern ruins".
Through these images below, we can study, not bygone eras, but ourselves, recording ourselves, our lives, and the structures we left behind for future generations. And, Harrison and Schofield note, auto-archaeology has a low barrier to entry; when archeology is as simple as documenting buildings you can travel to without the hassles of excavation, anyone willing to risk traveling inside those buildings with a camera can be an archaeologist documenting this modern era.
Harrison and Schofield also use the term "rescue archaeology" for actions that document aspects of our culture that are in danger of being lost. In cases where buildings are demolished or allowed to fall apart in obscurity, modern ruin photography can fill in the potential gaps, can provide future archaeologists and anthropologists with a record that wouldn't exist otherwise. And the truth is that it's not just future historians that can benefit from this sort of documentation. Even photographs of buildings abandoned just decades or years ago have a great deal to teach us about our present.
Images Of Buildings Which Are Now Ruins