Over the past years, this metropolitan disaster has attracted a lot of examination, thanks to the spectacular images produced by a number of photographers who have captured the singular beauty that is born of decline. From this a trend, Detroitism, has emerged, and a new kind of sensory pornorgraphy, Ruin Porn. One of the most popular practitioners is Matthew Christopher, [a photographer]who focuses not just on Detroit, but travels the United States registering architectural and urban abandonment. According to his website Abandoned America, his project does not have strictly aesthetic ends, but is an attempt to retain the history and essence of the abandoned places before (and after) they disappear. His Facebook page already has more than 52,000 followers. Why is Ruin Porn so popular? Because it shows the decline of the United States’ power.
American Ruin Porn is attractive because it openly shows a kind of ‘B-side’ of the great American city. For years, [the United States’]culture industry has bombarded us with big movies, television shows and photographs that show American life in all its splendor, ‘the American dream’. However, it turns out the United States, the world’s biggest exponent of capitalism, the standard for a certain socio-economic model, is portrayed in these images — a bit sensationalist and pornographic – in all its wretchedness. And the image of a shining 50s Ford is broken by splatters of paint and leaves the skeleton of the same Ford, abandoned 50 years later in a vacant lot.
We have lived dystopias through books like ‘Brave New World‘, ‘Fahrenheit 451‘ or ‘1984‘. We have been witnesses to many post-apocalyptic scenarios through film, like the recent ‘The Road‘ (based on a book by Cormac McCarthy) and ‘I Am Legend‘ (also, in fact, based on a book by Richard Matheson). Finding a real-world example of these fictional dystopic worlds turns out to be very attractive.
This phenomenon of geographic reminiscence is not so powerful in places that are not our own, but it is strong in familiar places, for example in our former homes. There is a scene in the film ‘Nebraska’: Although he does not want to believe it, the gruff Woody Grant can almost see himself playing as a child in that grey, rotting living room. The website Detroiturbex offers up a multitude of pictures like the one above where we can pull back the curtain and see the evolution of a place.
If ‘Ruin Porn’ reaffirms the inexorable nature of time, it also exercises its power by showing the transitory nature of human existence. We experience life, the world, from our own perspective. We are the point of reference, the standard for everything. The world is our world; life, our life. Because of this, we feel a kind of catharsis when we step out of our shoes and see the world and life from a global perspective. We realize our insignificance, our vulnerability, our transitory nature. We will be dust, and the world will continue. The images here are also from the Detroiturbex website, and they superimpose the students of this high school with what now remains.
Alex Kafiristan Translated from Spanish for Interntional Boulevard by Brian Hagenbuch
09 Jul 2014