I’m currently at the beginning of working on a draft on urban decay and ruins in the TV programs I study. This inspired me to start a new series/category that I have been thinking about for a while: Abandoned, empty and disused places.
I came to think of some interesting questions concerning aspects of urban exploration and so-called “ruin porn”, the fetishization of uninhabited places that are seen as profoundly beautiful.
I empathise with arguments made about the beauty and aesthetics of ruins and decay. To a certain degree they fascinate me, too. I am curious as to what came before, what processes created the present condition. Decay and ruins are like the past superimposed onto the present yet they hover somewhere in between past and present, disjointing both. They echo sentiments of fragility and destruction, yet also the chance to see them in progressive and utopian terms. As mesmerising as they are, I am also interested in the counter-argument and try to keep an open mind to a more critical perspective that focuses on what could be called the exploitation and fascination with first-world decline.
‘So much ruin photography and film aestheticizes poverty without inquiring of its origins, dramatizes spaces but never seeks out the people that inhabit and transform them, and romanticizes isolated acts of resistance without acknowledging the massive political and social forces aligned against the real transformation, and not just stubborn survival, of the city.’ (Leary 2011)
My own category, which will hopefully expand with time, focuses on aspects of forgotten, abandoned and empty places in any form or shape. Especially forgotten or disused places in the middle of our city that we pass everyday without noticing. Personally, I have little interest in what is generally considered “proper” urban exploration – chasing a thrill, infiltration, trespassing… Besides, its general lack of interest in human inhabitants and everyday life and its decontextualised stance don’t chime in with me.
Although this is a super interesting aspect of urban space, I will keep this primarily a photoblog about my everyday life and I don’t want to talk too much about my work-related research. Nevertheless, there are some great articles and books on this kind of topic and I’d like to leave you with just a few follow-up links on ruins and Detroit, if you’re interested. Detroit is a great example that encompasses all the debates, issues and ideas of how to deal with the industrial “ruins” of our time. Make up your own mind!
A great article on Detroitism, i.e. Detroit as the Mecca for ruins, ruin pornography/photography and general sensationalism of first-world industrial decline. Brief article on the psychology of ruin porn by The Atlantic. An article by The Guardian on ruin lust and the photography of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre The Ruins of Detroit. An exhibition of their photos is currently at the Wilmotte Gallery, Lichfield Studios, London W10 6NE until 5 April 2012.
Similar photographic/filmic work on Detroit: Andrew Moore’s Detroit Disassembled and Austin and Doerr’s Lost Detroit, as well as Julien Temple’s documentary Requiem for Detroit? For generally awesome and fascinating work on derelict urban landscapes and urban documentary check out Camilo Vergara, who revisits the same sites over time and captures their transformations.
Disused petrol station Vauxhaull, Wandsworth Road. [Kodak Tmax 400, home-developed]
Photos of disused Hornsey Gasholder No. 1 taken on a sunny but freezing late afternoon in January.
The Victorian gasholder, built in 1892, is located close to Alexandra Palace/Wood Green. It is celebrated for its geodesic design, a lattice of equilateral triangles that forms a 3D structure (Sir Norman Foster for the Gherkin used the same geodesic principles). Unfortunately, it’s currently under threat of demolition to make way for housing as the council has taken it off the list as industrial heritage site. In my opinion, gasholders and many other industrial structures are beautiful and elegant, with their minimalist-geometric forms and as remnants of the spectacles of the industrial age.
An afternoon spent around Battersea Power Station. The distinctive landmark of London’s skyline, maybe most famous for gracing the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals (1977), has been derelict for three decades due to repeated funding issues. [Analogue: Kodak Tmax 400 & Ilford HP5 Plus, home-developed]