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: