Architectural Decay Photography Essay

Architectural Decay Photography Essay

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Architectural decay was not always deemed to be an appropriate subject for photography because it was considered aesthetically unpleasant. That attitude began to change in the late 1800s when photojournalists began to see the need to photograph derelict buildings as an important component of social documentation, and since then architectural decay photography has evolved into a form of fine art.
One of the earliest photographers to be recognized for his photography of architectural decay was Jacob Riis, a photojournalist who documented the squalid living conditions in New York tenements in his book, How the Other Half Lives, published in 1890. Many of his photographs depicted run-down boarding houses and rat infested cellars where people could obtain a spot to sleep for 5 cents. Since Riis often worked in poorly lit interiors, he developed a method of illuminating the area with a bright flash by igniting a mixture of magnesium and potassium chlorate powder and he is thus known as one of the pioneers in the use of flash photography. His photographs were intended to educate those not familiar with the derelict slums in which some people were forced to live, and were influential in creating a mandate for social reform.
Years later, during the Great Depression, the Farm Security Agency (FSA) commissioned several photographers to document the plight of farmers living in poverty in rural areas throughout the country. This photography project resulted in 250,000 images of rural poverty of which around half survived and are housed in the Library of Congress. Although the purpose of the FSA project was to document people living in poverty, the photographs of run-down homes, sheds, and other examples of rural decay also played an imp...


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...idents consider the proliferation of decay photography in Detroit as exploiting the city's decline, and they routinely refer to the movement as "ruin porn.”
Not all architectural decay photography is as controversial as urbex photography. A gentler form of architectural decay photography, where photographers are almost always welcome, is the photography of picturesque rustic scenes that dot the rural landscape. Weathered barns in New England, ghost towns out west, and the nostalgic images of abandoned gas stations along historic Route 66 in the southwest have long provided photographers with a wealth of interesting subject matter.
CONCLUSION
As architectural decay photography has evolved from social commentary and documentation to artistic expression and sensationalism, many photographers have been lured by the intrigue of the built environment in a state of decay.

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