Updated: Jun 27, 2020
El Pais recently published a comprehensive feature on the photography of ruins, “Ruinas, los reinos abandonados” Several photographers were asked to discuss their inspirations and motivations on the subject.
Ruins, abandoned kingdoms turned into poetry and denunciation
Artists who portray forgotten spaces question the public about the (broken?) Dream of progress.
CLARA LAGUNA|AUG 24, 2014
Finding beauty in the most grotesque things is a gift ». It was written in 2010 by the artist hidden under the pseudonym Seph Lawless. And the expression has become a motto for the community of so-called urban explorers , who have developed their documentary desire for abandoned spaces under the cover of social networks. This artivist - as he defines himself, combining the words artist and activist in English - began to address this issue after the 2001 terrorist attacks. “He wanted to document a different side of the United States. A vulnerable one », he remembers.
He now self-publishes the book Pearls Before Swine , devoted to abandoned churches, identical in character to his two previous works: Autopsy of America , which collected snapshots of current American ruins, and Black Friday: the Collapse of the American Shopping Mall, a reflection of the decline of the system through mammoth shopping centers relegated to oblivion, a complaint that went viral and reached 26 million visits worldwide.
«I use the global reach of social networks - on Instagram it has more than 100,000 followers - to show the world the reality of what is happening in my country. America is very weakened and slowly crumbling towards its disappearance, "she explains.
The media (somewhat voyeuristic ) fascination with the photography of remains of buildings, especially industrial ones, has been referred to by some media as ruin porn. Among the references there are names such as the French Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. In 2011 they published The Ruins of Detroit , which portrays the bleak situation of one of the largest American cities, declared bankrupt and still adrift today. Or that of the American Matthew Christopher, who began photographing abandoned psychiatric hospitals to record the decline of the hospital system. His project Abandoned America ( abandonedamerica.us) shows hundreds of half-ruined buildings, has almost 77,000 followers on Facebook and will be published in book form in November.
Claiming art . Admirer of other artivists like Banksy, Lawless regrets that some of these works encompassed in the vile porn fashion be "cold and disconnected, without passion or message." Another detractor of the word, for what it implies in passing aesthetic fashion, is Esperanza Marrodán, Doctor of Architecture and expert on the subject: «The idea of ruin has been exhaustively analyzed by philosophy,» he argues. There are wonderful texts on what the approach to this abandonment means for man, from Georg Simmel to María Zambrano or Rafael Argullol, passing through John Ruskin. Through the contemplation of the remains, man faces himself, his limits. Photography tracks these spaces and offers them to the viewer, who can be carried away by nostalgia or take a more introspective journey.
His attraction to sneaking into abandoned places led Óscar Carrasco, a Barcelona resident based in Algeciras, to visit the closed Carabanchel prison for three years. "Its decline left an indelible mark on me, to see how it was disfigured but it resisted tenaciously with the passage of time." For him, "the ruins of today are often victims of a savage capitalism that accumulates surpluses and that has been transforming the environment without scruples, promoting the uprooting and dissipation of collective memory." A supporter of the aesthetic experience "as an emotional vehicle to reactivate an anesthetized gaze in an era of overinformation", he traveled through Europe in search of those "places that awaken us from the dream of progress." His work culminates with the traveling exhibition Madrid off, which opened a few months ago in the capital.
For his part, Xavier Nuez - whose series Callejones y Ruinas , which began in 1991 and continues today, referred to by The New York Times as "a masterpiece" - finds some comfort in these deconstructions. "They are an oasis where you can escape the stress of the big city, while at the same time harboring some danger," says this self-taught man of Spanish descent, who was born in Montreal and lives in Chicago. Its night landscapes with added lighting and color filters to create a "fantasy version" require you to stay in one place for up to five hours, causing you some gang trouble. Its objective? "Dignify what has been rejected and reveal the beauty hidden in alleys and ruins", something that helps deflect part of his fears, such as becoming homeless.
In the case of Iñaki Bergera, architect and photographer from Vitoria, the decision to portray the remains was not premeditated. The idea of immortalizing abandoned Route 66 gas stations , Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations , arose spontaneously as a tribute to the work of artist Ed Ruscha ( Twentysix Gasoline Stations ), and Bergera presents it as an opportunity for future transformation, which mentions “ a system failure ».
Absorb modernity. Industrial ruin is almost a common thread this year at the Venice Architecture Biennale, which aims to reclaim history and tell how in the last 100 years buildings have been globalized. The 66 participating countries have been compelled to explore the concept of "absorbing modernity". As a result, photographic works have emerged such as that of the Pavilion of the Dominican Republic, in which the architect Gabriel de Jesús Castillo has documented disused spaces "for no reason."
Another author, Fausto Fontana, presents "architectural debris arising in the flow of the tides that define a civilization rocked by abrupt and dramatic technological, political, social and economic changes." He integrates characters into the daily life of these places and alludes to "ruin within ruin: places repopulated by the excluded and marginalized, to which society turns its back just as the city does. Right out of that crucible all these ghosts come out ».