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Thread: Article - In Defense of Ruin Porn

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Article - In Defense of Ruin Porn

    From Next American City: http://americancity.org/buzz/entry/3319/
    interesting reading.
    Many people are not shy in expressing disdain for the kind of photography that has been branded as “ruin porn.”
    How do you react ?
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I don't hate RP if done in the right context. I do hate the snot-nosed kids who see it and come into the poor neighborhoods and decide to break into buildings, smash windows and make the area much worse off than it was before. Most of this stuff exists because these areas are not that great to begin with. RP plants a seed that it is somehow okay to break into these places and cause even more havoc in areas that have already seen more than its fair share.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  3. #3
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    I'm not sure that the act of photographing and documenting the decay of our urban structure is what is responsible for hooligans (I love that word) contributing to blighted conditions. Those same hooligans would likely cause mischief and destruction in any venue if the opportunity presented itself.

    Personally, I find ruin photography to be quite striking and an important critique of our society. These images can address so many different attributes of the world we have built and sustain (or do not sustain as is often the subject of RP).

    I guess I have never really heard someone critique RP and have any measurable points. Perhaps a Cyburbian can shed some light on their arguments for me.
    Occupy Your Brain!

  4. #4
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    I definitely don't have a problem with people photographing urban decay as long as they're not messing up anything. The ones I find most fascinating though are the ones taken in places that are literally forgotten like North Brother Island in New York City, Battleship Island in Japan, or even Chernobyl. I don't necessarily think photographing urban decay in a major urban area contributes to history in the same way as someone going to a place that has been closed off to the outside world.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Many people are drawn to ruins just as we are to a great historic district. I regularly cruise the back roads on my cross country trips, seeking out the crumbling buildings and ghost towns along the way. We now design parks to retain elements of the buildings that once stood there, and I have two such parks under my belt. Retaining ruins, I think, can be an economic development strategy. A national park containing a ruined section of Detroit would attract countless visitors - assuming there was a way to assure their safety. Places like Colorado, Texas could rebuild their economy on ghost town tourism.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    Personally, I find ruin photography to be quite striking and an important critique of our society. These images can address so many different attributes of the world we have built and sustain (or do not sustain as is often the subject of RP).

    Interesting. What critique, exactly, do you think is driven home by "RP" photography?

    The vast majority (all?) the photography I’ve see that would count in the "RP" category seems to make one of two points:
    1. There is a visually arresting, quality, once-important building being left to moulder while we spend money on some cheap piece of tack. This critique seems potentially reasonable.]
    2. Society or the economy have changed and that is sad and somehow wrong. That critique seems less useful or likely to lead to anything.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Ruins stimulate the imagination. We try to picture them in their heyday. What were they like? Who worked or lived there? How were they used? They provide us glimpses into history. At some point the building was abandoned and, wxcept for the ravages of time, it has not been altered from how it stood deades ago.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca View post
    Interesting. What critique, exactly, do you think is driven home by "RP" photography?

    The vast majority (all?) the photography I’ve see that would count in the "RP" category seems to make one of two points:
    1. There is a visually arresting, quality, once-important building being left to moulder while we spend money on some cheap piece of tack. This critique seems potentially reasonable.]
    2. Society or the economy have changed and that is sad and somehow wrong. That critique seems less useful or likely to lead to anything.
    The way I interpret RP that I have enjoyed is more holistic than that and less time-centric (yes I did just make up that word). I think for the majority of RP to mean anything to the viewer, they have to have at least some context to understand what they are seeing. For example, looking at images of a 1920s hospital in ruins is much less thought provoking than looking at the same image and knowing that it was a leper colony (as in Blide's link above) or a mental health asylum. The more context the better and good RP provides some context, IMO.

    There is an endless possibility of critiques that one can make from RP, but often I find myself feeling one of a few things and making the following critiques:
    1. Sadness, Anger, or Pride/Justification. Not because society has changed and that is somehow wrong, but because society changed and that is really good. A lot of good RP documents places that were abandoned intentionally because society no longer would support their functions. Many asylums, hospital, prisons, and even churches fall into that category. In these instances the viewer is meant to critique the function of the space and what society was like when the space functioned. The RP acts as our visual history book.

    2. Disappointment, Affirmation, Etc. This may more closely relate to what you were getting at in both of your points. Another frequent subject of RP is beauty and values. Often some of the most architecturally beautiful creations are left to rot and demolish by neglect. Not everyone is a historic preservation advocate and not everything historic is worth preserving. But, when you look at our species on a global level you will find evidence of holding onto the past in every culture, be it through customs, traditions, or spaces and places. Often our history is completely mysterious, romanticized, or misunderstood, but we still tend to cherish the icons of the past. Finding beauty in the RP subject is a critique of what our society values enough to hold onto and what it does not.

    3. Reflection. I think increasingly RP is being used to provoke the viewer into critiquing themselves and our society, trying to get the viewer to understand consumerism, capitalism, and how/why most of our creations are disposable as well, which is similar to your first point. Our wear once and toss it mentality. This is a more time-centric critique and an important one. IMO, everyone should spend time thinking about who we all are (as a species and as a society), why we are like we are, and how future generations will critique our society in the RP and history books of the future.

    4. Chaos. This is often very abstract and seems to be completely open to the viewer's interpretations. However, I do frequently feel that chaos is the subject. Perhaps this is meant to remind us of how little control we have over life? time? events? A nudge that says eventually everything seems to fall into chaos, even molecules and atoms. I could just be totally making that up too though.
    Occupy Your Brain!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    As an historian by training, I find RP to be evocative of other times that are hard to imagine in our world today, be they the ruins old farmhouses on country roads, decaying grain elevators on the Buffalo waterfront or the ruins of medieval castles in France. The old, the forgotten, the ruined speak to me. So do old cemeteries and battlefields.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  10. #10
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I don't hate RP if done in the right context. I do hate the snot-nosed kids who see it and come into the poor neighborhoods and decide to break into buildings, smash windows and make the area much worse off than it was before. Most of this stuff exists because these areas are not that great to begin with. RP plants a seed that it is somehow okay to break into these places and cause even more havoc in areas that have already seen more than its fair share.
    The people who participate in urban exploring (and photography) are not the ones who go and graffiti abandoned places. Their goal is to visit, document, and then leave. There are people who like to make a ruckus, but they do that anywhere.

    I personally have not done any of the ruin porn stuff (it is far too dangerous and illegal) but I do like seeing the photos. It's amazing to see old places that have been left to wither away. I've seen photos from old insane asylums, old coal factories and other types of industrial plants, as well as Chernobyl. The photos are just are intriguing. They strike the imagination, making me ask "what was it like when ___?" as well as "why was it just suddenly abandoned?" Some places still have old papers, books, etc laying around, as if after one weekend everyone decided to never return again. And with the abestos and lead paint, it's far too much work to try and demolish some of these buildings. Out of sight, and out of mind.. perhaps.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dw914er View post
    The people who participate in urban exploring (and photography) are not the ones who go and graffiti abandoned places. Their goal is to visit, document, and then leave. There are people who like to make a ruckus, but they do that anywhere.

    I personally have not done any of the ruin porn stuff (it is far too dangerous and illegal) but I do like seeing the photos. It's amazing to see old places that have been left to wither away. I've seen photos from old insane asylums, old coal factories and other types of industrial plants, as well as Chernobyl. The photos are just are intriguing. They strike the imagination, making me ask "what was it like when ___?" as well as "why was it just suddenly abandoned?" Some places still have old papers, books, etc laying around, as if after one weekend everyone decided to never return again. And with the abestos and lead paint, it's far too much work to try and demolish some of these buildings. Out of sight, and out of mind.. perhaps.
    Prypyat, Ukraine, a city of about 50K, was abandoned in just that manner when the soviets did their 'oopsie' at the Chernobyl power plant. It was a 'clothes on your back' evacuation and nobody has been allowed back into their homes since. The city is literally like a time capsule.

    Mike

  12. #12
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    absoultely love RP though i view it more as ART......To me decay is beautiful and a intergal component to live. Why ignore it.....Also growing up in LA where the city reinvents itself every twenty years we do not have a lot of structures and or areas in a level of decay that I would call RP.

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  13. #13
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Article In today's Detroit Free Press

    http://www.freep.com/article/2009092...sed-ruin-porn-

    Another article, about the demolitin of the historic Packard Plant.

    http://www.freep.com/article/2012030...text|FRONTPAGE
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  14. #14
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    I love RP as well, mostly for the reason that craines has already stated, but to me it also represents a raw, silent, alien, and unsanitized reality that is refreshingly visceral. I've spent many weekends in Detroit exploring various sites, never really interacting with the environment or documenting anything, just experiencing it. Many of the sites are so large that the thrill of immersion and exploration is overwhelming to me. Taken to its furthest extent, its a getaway into a dystopian world. I recall there was a show on the history channel called "Life After People". It examines what would happen if everyone on the planet suddenly disappeared. Detroit was featured on several episodes for its incredibly unique condition. It saddens me to hear that they are tearing down the Packard plant. For what? more vacant land? We have more of that than any city on the globe. These ruins are one of the few assets that Detroit has left and gives the city uniqueness and character. Sure you always hear about the hordes of hipster photographers but there are so many sites and the sites themselves are so large that I very rarely run into them, and they aren't there to cause trouble anyway. Sanitizing the area of its RP and structural value for no other point than providing a few temporary jobs to deconstruction workers is eerily similar to the shortsighted policies by public and private leaders that made the city the way it is in the first place.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Wow. I had actually never heard of Ruin Porn. I love it though and I don't really know why...

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