In a recent essay from the wonderful website Places, Jerry Herron denounces what he calls “ruin porn” photography. Calling out photographers such as Andrew Moore for fetishizing Detroit’s collapsing infrastructure, Herron argues that these admittedly beautiful pieces remove the social burden we should all bear for Detroit’s failure.
“What does it add up to, all this abandonment of lives and buildings, neighborhoods and property,” Herron writes. “It doesn’t seem to add up to anything, other than the decontextualized spectacle itself and the demographic souvenir-hunting opportunities it provides.”
For Herron, the biggest problem is that these works of art remove the “troubling conclusions” we might make about our own culpability in Detroit’s collapse, and replace them with matters of “taste and technique.”
“The ‘naked’ facts of Detroit, in all their frightening and accusatory detail, are turned into museum-piece ‘nudes,’ their spot-lit on the gallery walls; their titillating perhaps, but also unreal, just like a centerfold image is unreal; and the more gorgeous the better.”
I have frequently used an old grain elevator near my house as backdrop for portraits. The simple reason is that “pretty” gets boring, even for portraits, and the power plant offers an interesting alternative. As I walked through the grounds this morning, I thought about Herron’s article. Yes, I do love Moore’s photographs because they are just so damn gorgeous. But I disagree with Heron’s assertion that they isolate the artifice of city’s collapse to the point of abstraction. In fact, what makes Moore’s photographs so meaningful is the history documented in them; the human element with which one can connect. His pictures are not only about civic failure, as Herron suggests, but about connecting with people who were here before.
What I love about the power plant is not its dereliction, but the traces of human activity it contains: old boots; broken motors; rusty turbines; graffiti; all these add another layer to the story I can create about this place.
Ultimately what draws me, and I am guessing many other people, to what Herron characterizes as “clichéd photographs of rot, dereliction and decay,” is not the abstract fantasy of ruin pornography, but the specific human artifacts that make these places real. This project, that I hope to update every week, explores sites of industrial Columbus as living landscapes, rather than abstract ruins.