2.02.2011

Ruin Pr0n: Histories Long Forgotten

I've come to realize I'm fascinated by urban decay pr0n--photographic evidence of decaying urban landscapes and structures that are abandoned, in disrepair, and in the process of being demolished.

I'm probably suffering the side effect from a life-long fascination with archaeological ruins at all the places I've lived in and traveled through. Observing the residue of a lifetime long ago gone, always inspires me to imagine and fantasize about how daily life and interaction was for those peoples.

An article yesterday on the Huffington Post, titled Ian Ference: On 'Ruin Porn' had me thinking about another, recent article on the HuffPost about an abandoned hospital on an island in New York.

I periodically also look up photo galleries of Chernobyl. National Geographic has a spectacular gallery.

Many think these abandoned settings are creepy. Their hair stands on end. They look away. I think they're beautiful. Peaceful. Rich in a history long forgotten.

Recent articles about abandoned settings are heavily influenced by our bad economy. Photojournalistic coverage of the half-abandoned city of Detroit is in abundance. Journalists like to use these for fear-mongering and as a sign of our worsening economy. It all paints a very apocalyptic picture.

I soak up the photo galleries that accompany these stories like a biscuit. Not because they're depressing, but because the photos and the places are rich in their silence. Pictures speak a thousand words.

There's the interpretation of the photograph, and then there's the intimate relationship the photographer had with their environment at the time they took the shot.

When I'm not scouring urban decay stories like those mentioned above, I pay an inordinate amount of attention to the setting of movies and television shows, where any ancient or abused locales and architecture are showcased.

Movies bring decayed settings up front and center the best, but few people in the audience will think about the building, when they are getting a healthy jolt from the characters' antics in the scene.

I have fond memories of staring at Psycho's house on the hill, Fright Night's house next door, The Lost Boy's California cave, the Klopeks' house in 'Burbs, the lofts in Eyes of Laura Mars, the nice converted depot in Secretary, the beautiful herbarium off the kitchen in Practical Magic, and the scary old mansion in Salem's Lot. There are hundreds more like these.

Old, decrepit mental hospitals and old and creaky mansions play innumerable and un-attributed roles in the history of film. The unspoken but rich world of film locations.

Some of us take movie settings further by researching and even visiting filming locations. Some others like to venture out and about on a more casual and serendipitous adventure--like the photographers form the Huffington Post articles and the Detroit photo galleries.

I like running into little discoveries myself. In 2009 I found a rotting, half-buried kitchen door and what looks like the ancient remains of a partial basement while out walking my dog. I was inspired by the setting enough to write a story called The Old Jeep Trail, published in National-Louis University's 2010 Mosaic literary magazine.

On a particularly busy corner of unincorporated Lisle, past which I commute every morning, there was a plot of wild, thickly-vegetated land with a tiny little white house. The structure was falling down upon itself: broken windows, long-lost gutters, boarded up doors...it was adorable. An oasis. Each time I passed by--or even better, when the stoplight was red--I ogled, stared, fantasized, and imagined. One day, someone razed it down to sell the land for commercial use. A memory lost forever.

Soon after I happened to watch Miru Kim's TED video. Ms. Kim snaps photos of herself nude in the middle of incredibly inhospitable and decrepit scenes under the city of New York. Miss Kim showcases an amazing audacity perching herself among the perilous and dirty residue of what once was. It reminded me of the underground settings fabricated in Beauty and the Beast--the old TV show from the 80s.

In March of 2010 we took a free (thank you Twitter!) Architectural Foundation walking tour in Chicago. Their in-house exhibits feature information about the loss of Louis Sullivan architecture examples, due to over-eager zoning commissions. One of the people who helped photograph Sullivan buildings prior to their demise--sometimes during the demolition--was Richard Nickel, a man equally famous for his passion for documenting and saving architecture, and sadly, for having died during a demolition. He inspired those who founded the Architecture Foundation.

I'm always drawn to art deco and art nouveau structures in particular. They are musical harmony for the eye. In the mid 80s I forever fell in love with the Queen Mary at the port of Long Beach in California. I always peek at murder mysteries, such as David Suchet's Poirot, to mostly gawk and ogle the architecture, the dress--the look and feel of an era gone by.

Although I can't use the right words to qualify and explain all the details I see and adore, and I don't retain any useful statistical information, I am merely an ignorant admirer...I am forever fascinated by what was.

Hopefully, more and more people support and partake in preservation societies and groups, to help us hold on a little longer to some of these old structures--and the magnificent legacy that the genius and foresight of architects and designers before us left behind for generations to come.