13 January 2010

2. Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America

2. Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America by Brian Vanden Brink; introduction by Howard Mansfield (2.5/5)

Ruins are dear to me; they are a subject of which I would make a book, so I'm biased. Very biased. This is not the book I would make, which is good in one respect, but also made looking through this published book of photography irritating.

What draws Brink to ruins is not at all why I love them and am fascinated by them. His rambling photographer's statement, a series of "but that's not why I'm drawn to them" type sentences find their way to mortality and impermanence.

Then there are the photographs only one to two-tenths of which I would consider ruins. His book would be better titled: Abandoned: Photographs of a Vanishing America. Most of the houses just look like they need a fresh coat of paint. And nearly all the photos are wide shots so you don't even see much of the decay in detail. An unmown lawn does not a ruin make as far as I'm concerned.

Brink also goes to the trouble of pointing out a couple sets of photos that were done on assignment. Mansfield's introduction also makes it clear that Brink's 30 year professional career has been shooting swank architectural spreads. So when Brink whines about a decommissioned weapons storage area in the middle of nowhere with no power being dark inside, how hard it is to compose upside-down and backwards in the viewfinder of his camera, and how it takes all day to make 4 interior photos with 10 minute exposure timeswith flashlights, my hackles are raised. Seriously, just writing about it, I feel like I should have blood vessels pulsing on my forehead ready to pop. This was one of his old assignments no less! They make fucking generators and battery operated lights. And you're a fucking professional photographer! If composing upside-down and backwards in your fancy camera's viewfinder is not second nature to you after 20 years, what. the. hell?!

OK. Deep breaths.

If you skip all the text except to read the captions with locations and the year photos were shot, and just look at the photographs, they are okay. Most weren't that interesting to me, but some of the locations were pretty cool with shots I rather liked. Maybe 20% of them. Maybe.

So... if abandoned, worn houses, factories, churches, and school houses interest you, maybe give it a flip through to see what you think. But if you miss this one, no big loss.

Two years ago on TTaT: The other iTunes meme


  1. Okay, as a fellow ruin-lover, I have to ask: What DOES draw you to ruins?

  2. The juxtaposition of texture and geometry. New patterns that occur or disrupted patterns in architecture. Whether it's ancient Egyptian temples or collapsing roofs, I find them pleasing to look at, oddly welcoming.

    There's no I-wonder-who-lived-there analysis or fictional attributions (or very little), perhaps because they already feel familiar to me. Where I grew up, signs for defunct businesses & their buildings can stay up for a decade amidst open shops. I spent my formative years in an old house whose stone basement this guy might easily have considered a ruin.

    It is the beauty of things themselves I like. No doubt also the quiet and solitude of them. Their imperfections make them unique. Texture. The fall of light and shadow.

    How about you? Mortality, impermanence, & what was it like before are all valid reasons, just in the context of a photography book, they seemed to miss the photographic reasons to me.

  3. p.s. This photo site or urban ruins has some very cool shots:

  4. Texture, definitely. But also the narrative questions you mentioned, coupled with the fact that they're usually not answerable. And ghosts. I'm always hoping for ghosts.

    Thanks for the heads up about Opacity--great blog.

  5. You're welcome! Opacity is very cool.