Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Rusting nicely

Having seen several similar books and owning some it seems to me they fall into two formats: those that are just photos with the shortest captions (location and maybe a date the photo was taken) and those where the photographer has taken the trouble to research some background detail about what is shown in their picture.

Fortunately Matthew Christopher is of the latter group and this gives his photo much more credibility because the text here adds to what we see.  Another great feature of the book is the range of ruins, admittedly mostly in the eastern US but you'll see factories, churches, prisons, power stations, hotels, hospitals, schools and more. 

The choice of structures reveals something about societies attitude to abandonment, the Bell Labs building in Holmdel, New Jersey (designed by Eero Saarinen in 1959--1962) was an office block and the photos show a deserted, tidy interior.  Basically the contents were easily removed but turn over the page to the next ruin, Carrie Furnaces in Rankin, Pennsylvania and this huge industrial building was just left to rust away in the countryside.  The Bell Labs could be used again, Carrie Furnaces really just needs to be (expensively) scrapped but in fact remains as a visitor attraction with guided tours.

I thought the most fascinating photos are those of factories where everything remains but slowly falling apart.  The Scranton Lace Company just stopped mid-shift in 2002 and the eight photos reveal machinery still in place.  Lebow Brothers Clothing in Baltimore closed in 1985 with hundreds of suits and coats still on the racks, they were still there when Christopher took the photos in 2008.  He makes the point that it's just too much trouble to sell off clothing.

The hundreds of photos nicely fit into the book's landscape format.  Christopher clearly has an eye for composition and doesn't need to resort to any gimmicks like shooting at an angle or extreme close-ups.  The scenes he captures are strong enough to capture any reader's attention.  A couple of minor points: it's a pity the printing didn't use a finer screen than 175 to help bring out all the amazing detail in these photos and the eight pages devoted to the bibliography seems excessive as so many refer to local papers.

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