My spouse recently asked me why I was so fascinated with photographing places and things which had been forgotten and were falling into disrepair or ruin. As a middle-aged man I thought the question was perhaps an arrow aimed directly at my own personal decay. I then looked in the mirror and realized that some forms of ageing and deterioration are more interesting than others.
As it turns out, unsurprisingly perhaps, I am not alone in my fascination with “old stuff,” as a friend calls it, although he uses a somewhat more colourful term for “stuff.” There is something about observing the vestiges of the past, places that have been abandoned or are being reclaimed by the earth through the relentless forces of weather and time, or by man through neglect or active destruction, that reminds us of our own mortality, and tells a story of a bygone era.
'Cuba Living' by Trygve Bjørkli
For me, there is a feeling when I see an abandoned homestead sitting in a field that makes me want to know who called that place home, who farmed the fields around it...and another, perhaps untold story, about why the homestead was abandoned in search of greener pastures, as it were. Progress? Drought? Bad luck? It may be unknowable, but there is something about documenting the way a place is now that says something about what it once was and a hint as to where it is going.
There is no shortage of excellent and compelling images on 1X that illustrate this point. I am relieved to know that I am not alone in trying to find the beauty in decay. It is also interesting to see the differing styles of the authors in their presentations: colour, faded colour, film, monochrome, and infrared images all have something to offer in adding to the drama or feeling of the subject.
But the subject doesn't need to be a building that has been abandoned or the dusty desolation of a ghost town, it may be the face of an elderly man or woman that tells its own story, documented with deep lines formed by worry and toil, or just the inevitable effects of time.
Sometimes, the photography of decay reveals a deeply layered or forgotten beauty that can draw the viewer into a romanticized past world that we can only imagine. But by documenting the history of the place, we bring life to it. Just in the seeing and acknowledgement of a faded beauty, or better said, a different beauty, we infuse it with the colour of its former station through our imaginations.
Maybe those of us who photograph “decay” are trying to give voice to the ghosts of the past whose stories and voices are being lost to time. Or maybe we just like the look of old things. Either way, photography captures a moment in time, even if that time was long ago, and the image itself is a reminder of what “once was” as seen through the lens of “what is.”
Then again, perhaps I am simply becoming nostalgic as I observe the world at this point in my life that so interests me in decay. The stories of the past become more relatable and powerful as we realize that we, too, will someday be the part of a story. A story that would fade like an echo were not for the curiosity of those who will come after us and document the world in which we lived as it will appear to them through their viewfinders many years from now.
Thank you very much Yvette and Rob; a great article. Thank you very much also for choosing one of my photos. Greetings.
Rob Darby PRO
Congratulations to all of the fine authors who made my jog of curating images of “decay” and “ “decomposition” enjoyable and inspiring. I didn’t realize, or I hadn’t paid enough attention to the fact, that there are many 1X photographers who enjoy images of things as they look now, weathered and aging. I hope everyone is staying safe during this time. Warm Regards, Rob
Wicher Bos CREW
Great article Rob! Stunning examples, enjoyed it 😃
Piet Flour PRO
indeed , once more, a very interesting variation on a single theme. Excellent work and selection
Marco Tagliarino PRO
Many thanks to Rob and Yvette for selecting two of my photographs. I am proud to have been an inspiration in writing this interesting article about decay and oldness, which for me are often a source of inspiration and beauty.
Vito Guarino PRO
A very beautiful gallery. Thank you so much, dear Rob and Yvette, that my photo is part of it.