Matthew Christopher started photographing abandoned places after hearing about an old mental asylum near where he worked.

There were 160 acres of decay: 40-odd buildings and a bunch of underground tunnels.

He became hooked: "I started looking for other places that I could go to, and that branched out to power plants, hospitals, schools, churches."

The ruins, he says, are reflective of something larger.

"Buildings are not just physical objects. They are representative of systems. A factory is representative of industrialization and capitalism. Churches are representative of religion. Schools are part of the social contract to educate people. So, when you're looking at an abandoned building, you're not just looking at its death, but the death of a larger way of life."

2013-09-12

Co.Exist

These Photos Reveal The Hidden Beauty In Abandoned America

Don't call it "ruin porn." Photographer Matthew Christopher finds he's opening up an important discussion about our country as he snaps photos of vacant factories, hospitals, and other ghosts of the nation's past.

Matthew Christopher started photographing abandoned places after hearing about an old mental asylum near where he worked. There were 160 acres of decay, including 40-odd buildings and a bunch of underground tunnels. He became hooked. "I started looking for other places that I could go to, and that branched out to power plants, hospitals, schools, churches," he says.

The ruins in his Abandoned America project are reflective of something larger, he says. "Buildings are not just physical objects. They are representative of systems. A factory is representative of industrialization and capitalism. Churches are representative of religion. Schools are part of the social contract to educate people. So, when you're looking at an abandoned building, you're not just looking at its death, but the death of a larger way of life."

Christopher, who lives in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania, blames manufacturers for leaving to lower-cost places to do business--though he admits "it's complicated." "The companies realized they could export things to places where they could employ a nine-year-old in a factory and pay them a nickel a day. I see that as the key roots of this phenomenon, because then you don't have the prosperity to pay for things like schools," he says.

People have criticized photography like Christopher's as "ruin porn"--a term that probably originated in Detroit. But he defends the work as opening up a necessary debate. "They're irritated and say 'you're only showing one side'. But the discussion wouldn't have been opened up at all without compelling images. We're inundated with information. If you don't grab someone with something, they're not going to pay any attention to it."

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4 Comments

  • James_Lesher

      Is it a photographer's responsibility to show images and subjects from
    every possible angle? Or is it possible that they can start a discussion
    without having to provide a definitive answer to the subject
    photographed in a series of images or a body of work? Shouldn't it be
    your responsibility to find out a way to get out 'other parts of the
    story' (vague as that is) if that's what you choose to do? Isn't your
    comment itself somewhat one-sided, attention seeking, and emotionally
    charged without saying much of anything meaningful?

  • Megan Amadon

      People have criticized photography like Christopher's as "ruin porn"--a
    term that probably originated in Detroit. But he defends the work as
    opening up a necessary debate. "They're irritated and say 'you're only
    showing one side'. But the discussion wouldn't have been opened up at
    all without compelling images. We're inundated with information. If you
    don't grab someone with something, they're not going to pay any
    attention to it."

    Usually, Detroit is the posterchild.  The
    problem isn't ruin porn, but about not telling the whole truth. You're
    providing part of the story, letting someone see a place from a narrow
    lens. Its about an emotionally charged, attention-seeking mindset
    disquised as something aesthetic and meaningful.   Stop with the
    melodrama and give the opportunity to see both worlds-- side-by-side.
    Then we can have a serious conversation about the reality.

  • Megan Amadon

     People have criticized photography like Christopher's as "ruin porn"--a
    term that probably originated in Detroit. But he defends the work as
    opening up a necessary debate. "They're irritated and say 'you're only
    showing one side'. But the discussion wouldn't have been opened up at
    all without compelling images. We're inundated with information. If you
    don't grab someone with something, they're not going to pay any
    attention to it."

    Usually, Detroit is the posterchild.  The problem isn't ruin porn, but about not telling the whole truth. You're providing part of the story, letting someone see a place from a narrow lens. Its about an emotionally charged, attention-seeking mindset disquised as something aesthetic and meaningful.   Stop with the melodrama and give the opportunity to see both worlds-- side-by-side. Then we can have a serious conversation about the reality.