When I was a teenager, I came across an abandoned house in the woods on my way to a pond to go ice
skating. Personal effects were strewn about, having been abandoned for unknown reasons. There was
something about this site that intrigued me, as I could not help but wonder why the house was abandoned
and why the people who lived there had left it this way. It was the beginning of my interest in abandoned
structures, though I would not photograph such places for many years afterwards.
As renowned photographer Matthew Christopher stated, photography about ruins is fundamentally about
death. "The subject involves many elements: art criticism; history; preservation advocacy; and sociology.
Abandoned structures are functionally dead spaces. Those who view this type of photography expect that
the images will be presented with respect and that the subject will not be exploited. While a derelict
building may not be a corpse, in some ways it is just as significant. A dead factory, for example, may have
had deep personal significance for hundreds if not thousands of workers. Buildings such as churches are
symbols in addition to being once functional.
It is important to tread lightly; these subjects are the bodies of hope and ambition. The most common
expectations of the photography of ruins are that the history of the site will be disclosed; that the impact
the loss had on it will be discussed; and that there will be advocacy regarding the preservation of similar
historic structures to prevent future loss.
These sites offer a sobering glimpse of what our future might look like if we do not address the problems that
created the situation. These ruins are indicators of impending social collapse. Our actions over the last
several decades are having catastrophic effects on our towns, our national ecomomy, and our environment.
These ruins illustrate the spirit not only of their architects, but of those who live, love, work, and suffer
within them. They demonstrate shifts in values, finances, and ambitions."
I am going through what is commonly referred to as a "midlife crisis". At this point in my life, I am thinking a
lot about my own mortality and eventual death. In a way, these ruins represent mortality, and that is part of
my fascination with them. Exploring them in some ways is akin to exploring ourselves, and in contemplating
the life these ruins once had, we are confronted with the inevitable extinction of all things.
* Not affiliated with the DC Urban Exploration Meetup.
A website dedicated to abandoned places in the Washington, D.C. vicinity.*
April 26, 2017