•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Idling Crane



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It has been dubbed, "ruin porn," identified as a currently fashionable genre of photography, and criticized for the irresponsible damage it does. The controversy was triggered by two photo books on the architectural ruins of Detroit, and much of the criticism came initially from champions for Detroit renewal. Detroit arguably shares with Chernobyl title to being the most spectacular collapse of industrial civilization on the planet. Detroit is more accessible than Chernobyl and has, therefore, become a small tourist mecca for the, "thrill seekers." To many Detroiters they are unwelcome.

I can't deny enjoying the thrill of exploring an old, abandoned site, and so it's appropriate to consider the complaint against photographs like mine and the reasons behind it. The crux of the argument as I understand it is that such photography is bad press, that it only makes matters worse for the real people who live amid the blight, and that it only serves to satisfy the frivolous yearnings of gawkers; it is, therefore, exploitive.

What is it that draws me to photograph ruins of all sorts, urban rural, industrial, or ancient? Is it a "thrill," only, nothing more than the pleasure of scratching an itch, or is it something worth focusing on? Does it have any power to unlock feelings or deepen understanding?