Sunday, 22 November 2009

Beauty of the Decayed

I remember the day I became interested in Photography.

I had always been engrossed by art and film, always finding them rather magical in a way that almost seemed sordid. As if receiving such pleasure from a film screen or canvas was somehow naughty in its frivolity. But it was not until I was visiting MOMA in New York during my year out before University, that a fascination in photography ignited instantly. There was a Cindy Sherman exhibition, her untitled film stills, and it captured my imagination so strongly, that I left New York that snowy January in 2001, dreamily determined to purchase an SLR manual 35mm film camera as soon as I got home. It was like someone had switched on a light in my brain, or rather, pressed a shutter release and captured the split second my life had been opened up to a whole new world of expression. Only this image of myself did not upset me at how fat my brain had gotten around the intrigue zone.

Despite Cindy being one of my early main influences, I became fascinated with a different branch of photography. One of the main themes of photography theory that captured my own interest, like a snapshot, during University, was the theme of death and decay - the strong bond between the medium and the idea of death.

One day I was surfing the Internet for random online photography galleries, and stumbled upon, quite by accident, a series of photographs taken of and actually inside, a derelict former asylum. I felt a strange buzz of excitement in my stomach, a thrill of viewing something that seemed to make my eyes smile and my heart awaken. There just seemed to be something so beautiful in the images of empty buildings, decaying walls, a true athesthetic in the empty and abandoned. You could sense the aspect of danger - was the building out of bounds? Was the building likely to disintegrate and collapse at any moment? It was almost like looking at stills of a horror film. Only it was real.

Aside from the quite magnificent victorian architecture of the photographs, the images of abandoned, random objects - a decaying shoe, a broken chair, a coat-hanger with a former patient's name covered in mold - hit me with such a melancholy and tragic force, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The sight of a solitary object forgotten about, amidst a decaying building of emptiness, seemed to contain a lost story forever, confined to a past abandoned. It also highlighted the incredible way photography tends to raise more questions that it answers. Who did the object belong to? What was their story? The connotations floating around, simply because it was an asylum, were mammoth. High emotional intensity, tragedy, pain, suffering, and yet maybe also hope things turned out ok.

After I finished looking at the photographs of the derelict asylum, I knew I had found a new love, and I quickly discovered that many photographers felt the same way, dedicating themselves to the exploration of decayed urban buildings, an entire medium on its own. I knew I had to try it.

When I began taking my own images of abandoned buildings and objects, it raised much a bemused face from others. Particularly if I was out with them and spotted a derelict building. I would have to photograph it. I could almost see what people were thinking - why can't you take pictures of nice things? But to me the beauty in the decayed goes beyond what is simply in front of the eye. Nothing excites me more than an abandoned building. It doesn't have to be a hospital, or even big, but any building that has been left to ruin. The images become a record of things about to be demolished or disintegrated.

As Marc Augé wrote, looking at ruins makes you contemplate time itself - periods that seem to transcend record and exist in their own world, absent from our consciousness. It makes you aware of your own existence, your own pointlessness in the grand scheme of things. And it is something that can only possibly be recaptured, or examined through art - and in this case, photographs. The image of a decayed building, a dead moment, symbolising a dead place - beauty in the time that has been lost, the inevitability of life. And death.

My images of urban exploration.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your style of narrative and topics are as diverse and as captivating as you are. Your comedic quality shines through as a shield to your modesty: modesty belies genius - Ergo: there you are. May you be as famous and as appreciated as you should be.

Best wishes, as always - Diana

Jose said...

Once again a beautiful and enlightening post. I am always interested in hearing about the origins of another's obsession, and it is a pleasure to read about yours.

One day I will get around to joining you in taking photographs of the derelict and the decayed. I have loved looking through your photographs for some time and take a real pleasure in seeing through your eyes.

Long may it continue.

Paul said...

"I love old things, they make me feel sad.."

"What's good about being sad?"

"It's happy, for deep people."

You are Sally Sparrow, and I claim my £5.

Seriously, though, I agree with Diana. Photography, art & writing is obviously your passion as well as your talent. Given time, those can combine to produce something fantastic. Go for it!

two said...

www.guestofcindysherman.com