Like a Ruined House – North St. Louis – Images and a Reflection on “Ruin Porn”

Some of my best received images are artful depictions of ruins. One such piece hangs above my mantelpiece and fairly often elicits praise. The pictures below, from an afternoon last week, fall into the same category.

And, yet, while I am quite obviously drawn to this subject matter, I am also quite ambivalent about taking such pictures. What is it about depicting and viewing such brokenness that draws us? For me, it is principally because of how ruins work as a metaphor of neglect and its consequences. I relate it to the concept of dissipation, of letting oneself go, for whatever reason. In many ways I can relate it to tendencies I find within my own soul, and that is cautionary, instructive. I also like the juxtapositions that one can sometimes create in such settings, like pairing a dilapidated house with a church, though it also may be in some state of decline, or with a still living tree.

In some ways with such maneuvers I am taking the particular and abstracting it or generalizing it. And perhaps therein lies the problem. In doing this am I ignoring the particularity of a neighborhood? By drawing attention to its brokenness do I run the risk of diminishing its dignity or the dignity of the people who live in it? More pointedly, do folks who live amongst these conditions, or other analogous ones, find the same “beauty” and meaning in such scenes? I suspect that they do not. I do not know that I have any answers, but these are the questions that I carry with me as I, from time to time, reflectively allow myself such photo shoots.

In a bit of a corollary, what is it with the “pornification” of our vocabulary? In this post, I have used other words to describe what is sometimes referred to as “ruin porn,” with “poverty porn” being a closely related term. On Instragram folk use hashtags such as #foodporn and #sunsetporn. Of course I get it. Folks are analogizing a way of seeing and correlating it with how actual pornography is viewed: with obsession, with addiction, with even a sort of hunger. And yet this semantic trick is a bit of a trouble to me, one who struggles to avoid the moral harm caused by the real thing. And even the mere existence of all these new obsessions, fetishes, peccadillos, too, is perhaps a bit of a trouble in and of itself. The great writer C.S. Lewis, seemed to inadvertently presage some of these things when addressing a Christian view of sexual morality.

OK. Enough philosophizing! Here are the images:

ruined house and church-6 small

tree and ruined house-7 small

tree and ruined house-6 small

ruined house and church-8 small

ruined house and church-7 small

In Ruins II – The West End – St. Louis – The Artistic Appeal of Ruin – Lomography

I drive by this house and I am drawn to take its picture. You will have come to this blog and you will be compelled to “Like” this post. And I do not mean to say that as a sort Jedi mind trick, as in “You will like this post.” But sometimes I am perplexed by my own fascination with such scenes.

Despite having what I feel is a laudable desire in myself to find beauty in broken things, some of my appeal for such images is culturally conditioned, I am sure, and perhaps is a byproduct or even a luxury from living in relative affluence. Do people who may have to live in such places, or other types of squalor, feel any sort of artistic draw to them, except perhaps for a nostalgic or reflective aesthetic draw later when they have escaped from them? Paging Dr. Maslow…

I once had a friend who was bi-polar and so suffered from a fair amount of ruin and fracture in his own person. He was also from another culture which seemed to give him less of a tolerance for things not overtly beautiful being set up as art (the discussion of culture and beauty and art will have to wait for another time). He would look at my some of my pictures of urban ruins and broken glass and say that they made him feel bad.

I am not sure what to make of my own ramblings here or if I have found a satisfactory place for them to land. In the meantime, enjoy (?) these two shots of a ruined house in my neighborhood. The color palettes are slightly different in each of these images, though both are rather stylized in the lomo style.