On 'Ruin Porn' - exploitation in modern ruins photography

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by ianference, Feb 1, 2011.

  1. Hey all, I just published a response to the recent slew of criticism that has been leveled against modern ruins photography, designating it as 'ruin porn' - necessarily exploitative in nature. My article is here:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ian-ference/on-ruin-porn_b_816593.html
    I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the topic!
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  2. Hi Ian,
    I personally feel that ruins represent a great opportunity to capture an essence dilapidation that would be foolish to ignore. Those who dislike it can surely avoid looking at it? I am afraid that I live in a country where there is much preservation of the old and what is not preserved is boarded up in the name of health and safety. If you get the chance, make the best of it.
     
  3. Ian, it is good to see photographers like you taking such an interest in the work of others and in responding to critiques that they may not agree with. I cannot wrestle myself from my work long enough to read your lengthy article, but having read part of it and also the article that prompted it, I have to say that these are not porn in any sense. or what is inaptly called ruin porn (perhaps ruin obsession or ruin dispossession, or some other term, might have been better). I agree that they are what they are, mainly devoid of any comment other than what we already know. I was watching a program on French Canadian TV the other day that showed small towns in a southern and a mid-western state that had born the brunt of both disaffection and the effects of the recession. I came away thinking that yes, for these towns that is so, but it doesn't give an overall picture of the state of life in the USA. An exaggeration if taken in a more general sense.
    Burtynsky has shown his "manufactured landscapes" that are not always affluent, often rundown remnants of former or degraded industrial life. There is a beauty in many of them. We have seen such images as the Detroit images in those of many contexts and times. The images in question do not provide a response for the future, only a bleak awareness of the present, so that I guess is the criticism of some. Europe was devastated but rebuilt effectively in most cases after the wars. The ruins are but transitions (although terrible ones for those involved. who paid with their lives and not only with their jobs).
    I enjoy making images of dead trees, old abandoned buildings, uninhabited or rejected places, continuing but weary architecture. They say something to me, and their structures are often visually more apparent and powerful at, after, or near the end of their life cycle. They have a character that is masked in the former pristine building or natural object. They are to me more like (a glass of) port, than porn. My furniture is largely antique, not the highly polished smart antiques, but rather primitive and simple, colored and yet with lots of wounds of time. Somehow thay are very comfortable to live with, like the somewhat flakey yet warm office of Lionel Logue in the recent King's Speech film of Tom Hopper.
     
  4. I don't think of current ruin porn as a form of exploitation as I do a titanic, yawn-inducing cliche.I see its potential for documentary value, but a lot of it isn't that.
    [For the record, Burtynsky's work reminds me of former President Bush's fly-over of Katrina. Who else could have gone to China and made the whole thing seem so disgustingly clean and sanitized? Worse, it was mostly done from the perspective of the Eagle's Nest POV, from a position of dominating, distanced power.]
     
  5. Luis, Burtynsky has a social message (I'm referring to his North American work, or panoramas of East Indian boat breakers) that goes well beyond so called ruin porn and incites us to reflect on the efffect of man's industry on man. The Detroit images, of which I've seen but few to date, I admit, seem to me to be simply curious decayed architectural ruins. The connection with the problem is not there for me.
     
  6. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    So long as it satisfies the intellect of the people making this sort of photograph, it doesn't matter whether it means anything or not. If others like it, well fine; if not, let them find something they do like. Its no more porn than pictures of birds, or modern architecture , or sport. Just because something isn't enjoyed doesn't mean that one has to seek out a nasty label to stick on it in justification of dislike.
    I like this sort of photography as much as anything else I do. There's not much of a commercial outlet for it for me at least, so as far as I'm concerned its pure pleasure, limited only by the availability of accessible and interesting sites.
    I like Burtynsky's work a lot. Inevitably I like some work more than others, and the China portfolio mentioned above is not IMO his most interesting work ( though its more interesting that the two portfolios I saw in London two weeks ago of Gulf oil spills and prints made from polaroids that had become stuck together. However, the manufactured landscapes, Quarries and Australian mining series , especially when seen in the flesh rather than on-screen, are often very beautiful. Reading about Burtynsky's work gives the impression that he considers himself a conservationist. I'm not terribly concerned, and can accept the photographs (or not) as a pure visual treat.
     
  7. Arthur, I understand what you are saying about Burstynky having a social message, and understand and agree with the effects of industry of man. I also did not mean to give the impression that I see his work primarily as ruin porn. My problem with him (and it is my problem, not his) regards aesthetics for the most part. It is beautiful, strongly formal and skillfully executed work.
    David, I dislike the dyslogistic term "porn", but realize the relative usefulness of using such terms, which is why they are with us.
     
  8. Luis, I think I may understand where you might derail from Burtynsky in regard to aesthetics. Although I admire what he is doing in many cases, for its social value, I don't relate fully to his precise yet physically detached approach, made technically possible by the large format negatives or transparencies. Man is also a minor character, although we are dealing with his industrial realisations. Perhaps an American artist would see the subject in more human terms (although I dangerously generalize). Is it too much to suggest that perhaps we are seeing a somewhat more detached northern view? Much traditional Canadian painting excepting folklore painting seems to me to physically exclude the human and just suggest his presence or not at all.
     
  9. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the topic.​
    Okay, I'll be happy to oblige.
    1. It's a non-issue.
    2. No one gets 'stimulated' by photos of old buildings, so calling such photography 'porn' is inaccurate at best.
    3. The article is well-written, and you get an 'A' for promotion.
     
  10. LOL - deep thoughts there.
    1. Saying a thing does not make it so. I can say abortion is a non-issue, and plenty of people would disagree with me. This has been a contentious topic in the ruins photography community for several years now.
    2. Did you even read the article? 'Porn' is used metaphorically - "Leary makes clear that the 'ruin porn' usage is centered on exploitation" - not to indicate sexual arousal.
    3. Thanks, I guess?
     
  11. Arthur, yes, I think you are seeing what I mentioned about Burtynsky. I'm not going to speculate or negate it, but wouldn't touch the idea that it's a "northern" thing without researching it. Interesting thought, though.
    _____________________
    Ian's article is beautifully written. His own writing points out many of the issues I have with this genre. For example: "Since the invention of the daguerreotype, photographers have been studying ruins; Rome and Egypt were very common destinations for lensmen. Modern ruins are no different, and indeed, are often studied with the same historical and documentary intentions as these early explorers."
    An insightful remark, because that is exactly how they come across: As a form of Neo-Orientalism, with all the shortcomings of the original works. Worse, they are drowning in self-evident Sentimentalism.
    Richard Nickel's work, which I have seen in person on several occasions, is an entirely different thing, both in style and documentation. Nickel intimately knew what he was looking at, had devoted his life to it and understood its historical significance and context, and in his case, racing against time, as his subjects were disappearing rapidly. He and Vinci physically saved outstanding decorations from these buildings and found them homes. He also lobbied to save the buildings, and protested their destruction. Something most people don't know is that when all of this started, while Nickel was in school at the then-Institute of Design, his partner in the budding project as none other than Aaron Siskind.
    Where is this level of commitment among Ruin Porn Photographers?
    Sadly, Nickel died in the act, when a part of a building collapsed on him. His partner in crime, architect John Vinci, faithfully rescued Nickel's 15,000 negatives, architectural documents, library, etc., and on his own began the Richard Nickel Committee to help preserve, house, make available to researchers, and display the work, which later moved into the Art Institute.
    Nothing like the huge majority of current photographers working in that genre. Most of the time, the work being done today gets a generic, usually sentimental (or faux apocalyptic/anthropological/archaeological/post-capitalist) foreword.
    It is easy to see why Leary perceived the idea of exploitation, though I don't see that as the major shortcoming of the genre.
    Mr. Nickel's work can be seen here:
    http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&biw=791&bih=396&q=Richard+Nickel+photographs&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=fmFJTd36EYeglAeP473dDw&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=2&ved=0CDQQsAQwAQ
     
  12. jtk

    jtk

    I often enjoy masterful and highly detailed (as 8X10 fillum or multi-file-stitched) work. Why, since it's rarely more than technical exercise? Because I find it often to be beautiful photographically.
    We've recently experienced a tremendous amount of gorgeous Katrina and Havana peeling-wallpaper and crumbling elegance. Is that stuff superficially redundant? Yes. Is it any less redundant than a century of "nature" and "street" and "architectural graphics" and "figure studies?"
    Seems to me that "aesthetics" most commonly has to do with "looking pretty," has little relation to "significance."
     
  13. When looking at Nickel's work, commitment is not an inept description. Maybe that is what separates the well-researched and intended imagery from the less memorable quick fixes (sorry for the pun).
     
  14. LOL - deep thoughts there.
    1. Saying a thing does not make it so. I can say abortion is a non-issue, and plenty of people would disagree with me. This has been a contentious topic in the ruins photography community for several years now.
    2. Did you even read the article? 'Porn' is used metaphorically - "Leary makes clear that the 'ruin porn' usage is centered on exploitation" - not to indicate sexual arousal.​
    YOU ASKED for MY thoughts. And I gave them to you. Are you so insecure in your views that you have to attack those with an opposing position? Or are you so narcissistic that you actually believe that your musings about photographing old buildings are on par with a discussion of human reproductive issues?
    Regardless of anyone's position on abortion, most reasonable people would conclude that it's a more serious issue than photographing urban decay. The only thing that you've accomplished in your response to my comments is to make your silly 'porn' analogy look marginally more respectable by bringing up a morbid, emotional, and politically charged topic like abortion to deflect a bit of honest criticism, WHICH YOU SOLICITED.
    I suppose that I could understand your reaction if I had hurled some mindless insult at you (e.g. 'you stink and so does your stupid article, you little weasel!'). But I didn't do that. I did exactly as you requested and shared my thoughts on the subject. You might have considered that response thoughtfully and used the lessons of the feedback when writing your next piece, but instead you elected to indulge in a pissing contest.


    3. Thanks, I guess​
    You're welcome. Too bad it didn't help. Good day, and good luck.
     
  15. YOU ASKED for MY thoughts. And I gave them to you... blah blah blah... You might have considered that response thoughtfully and used the lessons of the feedback when writing your next piece, but instead you elected to indulge in a pissing contest.​
    You didn't "give me" any intelligible thoughts; you first stated that the issue I was writing on was unimportant, then you stated that the thesis of my article was clearly wrong without providing anything resembling an argument for why it was wrong, and then you snarkily accused my of self-promotion for soliciting opinions on the matter.
    There was nothing in your response that merited thoughtful consideration, nor are there any "lessons" in your feedback - you were clearly trying to provoke a response with your derisive tone, and I responded in kind, because I have a low tolerance for pompous idiots.
    In point of fact, if my goal had been to self promote, I would spam the forums every time I posted on my actual blog, hoping to promote that, since my blog provides me with income and a theoretical article on the notion of exploitation in abandonment photography does not. But my goal was not, in fact, "promotion", but rather, the solicitation of intelligent feedback. I've refreshed the page frequently and read the other responses and considered them - everybody besides yourself has written a response which was thought-out and useful. You, on the other hand, decided to take the time to write condescending crap.
     
  16. I agree with the thoughts of David henderson (above) on this.
    Adding the word '-porn' to a genre really doesn't bring any insight to the discussion and just seems to be a perjorative term meaning the speaker or writer does not like that kind of photo.
    For myself ruin shots speaks to me most about the subjects of failure and of end-of-lfe. Consideration of both these and related subjects is valuable in modern society so I am happy for wrecks and ruins to be photographed. I don't see it as more exploitative than comparable subjects.
     
  17. I didn't read Leary's article, but having read yours, I think I might agree with him in at least one respect. When it comes to telling a story, the notion that a picture is worth 1,000 words is wrong. In fact, when it comes to telling the story of how a specific place turned out to be a derelict, it may not be worth ANY words at all. It's just plain silly to think it would. You could have saved yourself a lot of ink and aggravation by simply saying so.
    You almost have to see such a place for the art it has within it. Visual form alone carries the day. I thought the photo of the circular staircase was interesting visually. I have no idea what took place there or why the facility was abandoned. I have no opinion about whether or not it should be remodeled or simply torn down. Perhaps there's no reason to do anything to it at all. Politics aside, these places offer an opportunity to see things you don't necessarily see every day.
    I have never heard the term 'Ruin Porn' until this evening. It's a funny term, isn't it? I think it's value is the evident contempt it conveys. It suggests that someone or something is being exploited, but I think it suggests that photos it might describe are more successful that they truly are. I have to admit that when I saw the wheelchairs I thought, "Wow. Those things are expensive! How can they just be sitting around there? Someone should collect and refurbish them because they look too good to be trash." Perhaps I got the wrong message. That's the problem when a picture isn't worth any words at all.
    I suppose it's a good thing for people like you to try to defend people like me from crackpots who like to get things wrong. Although I really don't care who might have been housed in the facility or what happened to it. I have gotten used to the fact that I will never know the story behind most of the things that fill my everyday life, and it is pointless to ask about them. Inventing explanations is one of the things fiction is good for.
     
  18. I really don't understand how photographing decaying buildings is exploitation. How, or what is being taken advantage of for gain? And, what is the gain? If anything, they are documentary photographs. In the case of the Detroit photographs, I can relate directly to those as I was in many of those buildings when they were active and vibrant parts of the city. As for "porn" please, give the sensationalism a rest. They're no more porn than school pictures are insightful portraits.
    If there is such a thing as "ruin porn" how and when does the photgraph become exploitation and not documentation? "Ruins" can be found nearly anywhere one cares to look.

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  19. Exploitation is like porn. I know it when I see it. Some pictures of people who live on the streets are exploitive. They often go for a generic kind of pathos (as Steve says, sensationalism), missing the person completely. The exploitation is most often of the form: I want to make a good photograph, one that people will respond to emotionally, so I will use this guy's hard luck and pathetic looks to wring some feeling out of people, all the while staying (hiding) safely behind my camera. [I can often tell when a photographer is hiding. I get it wrong sometimes and the hiding itself can be poignant sometimes.] Some pictures of old, wrinkled people are like that, too.
    I agree that the idea of exploiting a building is a little odd but I think some pics of old, decaying buildings exploit viewers. They prey on quick symbolism and easy emotionalism to get a quick but ultimately unsubstantial rise (excuse the pun). Wheelchairs are often used as one of those kinds of quick and easy symbols. Oh, the pain! The question of what makes something documentation and not just exploitation is a difficult one. It's like asking what makes any photo something other than a snapshot or something more substantive than a grab for facebook. Long discussion. No quick, easy answers.
    Albert makes a good point about the difficulty of telling a certain kind of (biographical) story with a photo. There are other kinds of stories. It strikes me what a paragraph or so of words might add to a few pictures of decaying buildings, or what a few pictures of the buildings would add to some words about them. Much documentary work benefits from accompanying descriptions with even the barest information.
    By the way, Ian, +1 on your response to Dan.
     
  20. I should add for clarity that I don't find Steve's Texas photo exploitive. It seems presentational without manufactured emotion, thoughtful even in light and composition without being self conscious or falsely manipulative.
     
  21. Exploiting people is sometimes very evident. Exploiting old architecture? Not at all, I think.
    How? If it reflects on the state of life in that area, well that is not exploitation but simply reporting, what you see is what exists. The only exploitation in architecture I believe is in the original design, when the symbolism or forms are construed in a manner to exploit certain human conceptions, while ostensibly producing humanly compatible living or working environments. For example, early 20th century bank buildings exploited in their design the notions of strength, fortress like security, etc. The buildings of the Nazis reflected power, domination, etc.
     
  22. Arthur, here are three photos that I think use the symbolism of decay to elicit pathos, somewhat superficially and obviously. They seem meant to draw out a very particular sort of emotion in the viewer (one fairly easily obtained) rather than to be about the buildings themselves.
    ONE
    TWO
    THREE
    BTW, I don't think exploitation is necessarily bad. I'm not sure I don't know a photographer who can't, on some level, be said to "exploit" her subjects. Much like Sontag suggested we are all voyeurs, yet we still know more and less superficial and disrespectful levels of voyeurism, a case could be made that we all exploit (with different degrees of respect, need, and honesty).
    The pics I've linked to remind me of the wheelchair pic Ian showed us above and also remind me of many pictures of old people. They seem dependent on easy, symbolic pathos, rather than committed to or actively being engaged with something.
    Compare that to Steve's approach here, which I would say is much more genuine and documentary-like, even as it's a bit more distanced. I have little doubt that Steve could have approached his photo with more emotion and poignancy, even intimacy (had he wanted to, which I sense he did not) and still not have approached the level of exploitation I experience in the photos I just linked to.
     
  23. Yes, three good examples of using decay and disorder to create a response, but as you say, it has less to do with the architecture as such. The decay is an "actor" in the photo. The exploitation is not of the architecture as such but of the symbolism of decay. It can be argued whether that is porn or exploitation in an abusive sense. I think not. We "exploit" everything if one uses the more global and less weighted (less negative) general definition of the term.
    Steve's photo of the old water tower (I presume) concrete base doesn't use decay in a symbolic manner as your examples do, as it is presented purely for what it is, without much if any symbolism of anything else. Much like those two German photographers who made images of iron blast furnaces and other former industrial architectures. I could make an image of a brilliant glass faced skyscraper with a poor person in rags below. The architecture is not being exploited (in a negative sense), except to be used as a convenient symbol of power and richness, compared to the difficult situation of the poor person. I would not find that as "porn", but simply the use of symbolism to make some point, to generate pathos as you mention. "Ruin porn", I think am slowly disliking the term. it is too glib, and often meaningless in use.
     
  24. jtk

    jtk

    IMO the element that most characterizes this sort of image (intricately detailed, "of" crumbling structures), when reasonably-well-executed, is photographic beauty. Much like photos of old barns, rusting vintage cars, but perhaps less frequent. Photos like that rarely have much consequence of themselves, beyond sometimes exquisite execution, but they do often lure me into them, even though they're rarely of much consequence.
     
  25. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    but they do often lure me into them​
    That is a consequence.
     
  26. jtk

    jtk

    David, it's a small consequence, not "much consequence." I notice them and if they're technically superb (eg shot large format or incredibly-spliced digitally) I invest a moment or two in them. Not a minute or two, the way I might if they had a lot of consequence.
     
  27. Photos of old, decrepit or disabled architecture can have a lot of consequence, just like any other photographed subject, provided they also have context. The same relation applies I think to an image of a Chicago skyscraper, a circus clown, a meadow, a pepper, a tree or a Yellowstone mountain.
     
  28. jtk

    jtk

    Arthur, as you know we differ. A photograph "of" a Chicago skyscraper, a circus clown, a meadow, a pepper etc is likely to have zero consequence unless it's done well ("better" than a snapshot in some mysterious way, not just "composition" and the usual claptrap). You did mention context... many otherwise adequate photos are mere illustrations so have near zero consequence without the context: those photos may actually be unnecessary once the context is provided. Why bother with a photo if the context is presented well (written concisely and well)? My own prints usually come with notes providing context, so I'm admitting right here that this is a conflicted dynamic for me. I dislike mere graphics in photography, and I dislike schmaltz.
     
  29. Unfortunately I did not read the whole article as my attention span is incredibly short. However. this Leary fellow seems think that every one thinks like he does (loser). I have seen many Ruin Porn series and love them. I don't care what happened or whatever he purports that everyone thinks, I just think it is a really cool area of photography with some amazing opportunities to express oneself. Sc$#( him is my honest opinion.
     
  30. John, I think you should re-read my last post. What I was saying in terms of context is not a written accompaniement to an image, but the context of the architecture in respect of other elements of the image, or those sugested by the way the photographer has photographed the subject matter. In successful images of that sort, there can be a lot of consequence. Contrary to what you said, my examples of a Chicago skyscraper and all were given not to show consequence but to indicate the lack of it in many such images. I think you will see upon re-reading that we are in full agreement about consequence being dependent upon context being developed in the image. This is a bit off the subject of porn and my dislike of the use of that term that is taken out of context itself, rather than the columnist using a more apt term to describe what he feels about the depiction of decay or disabled architecture.
    The ability to photograph old or disabled architecture and to make it say something visually and otherwise is seemingly quite rare. I have trouble seeing context in many such images, which are also sometimes just cookie cutter photographs of something already done
     
  31. I didn't read the article.
    The way I see it, the fascination that some people (myself included), have with urban ruins, is that, "One kind of experience has been completed supplanted by another. The change has been subtle, and a long time in the making. If you're younger than about 35 or 40, it means nothing to you because you don't have the context for "what was". You've been sold on the idea that this new experience is "better", and that will work on someone who lacks the historical perspective and context. The truth is that, for most working class people, the experience is NOT better." Maybe that's sentimentality. If I'm sentimental for a type of experience that is gone forever, then so be it, I've been called much worse.
    The way I see it there are some things that may be worthy of debate and/or are worthy of being "intellectualized", like say Pro Life vs. Pro Choice, the history of conflict in the Middle East, or one economic school of thought vs another. However, someone's choice of what subject matter they like to shoot and/or look at is NOT something that one has to defend. The way I see it, the point of art to be subjective? To have no "right" or "wrong".
    You like to shoot pictures of butterflies and your daughter's soccer games. Wonderful for you, but both subjects bore me cross-eyed.
    I shoot the exteriors of abandoned buildings (they're not even in the ballpark of the images from the article), and I love to look at photos of urban ruins.
    I shoot ruins for several reasons, and none of them may be deemed "intellectual", but mainly I do it because I enjoy it regardless of what anyone else likes or thinks. Americans as a whole, are notorious for their low brow tastes and proclivities, from watching absolute hot garbage on TV to their reading tastes to their absolute fascination and preoccupation with 4th rate pseudo-'celebrities'. Given the low brow tastes of so many Americans, it seems hypocritical and disingenuous to focus on something as harmless as this.
    I also think that from a historical perspective, it will be important for future generations to know: "There once was a time when buildings were made by artisans and craftsmen, and not everything was just thrown up, like a concrete box." (referencing specifically the image of the IRT substation)-----"In the, 'throwaway' "Made in China" society that has predominated in the past 30 years or so, it IS important for future generations to know, "That there once was a time in this country when 'ordinary' people made things, things that were built to last for 50 or 100 years. Things that were often kept for their beauty, design, etc. long after they could no longer serve their intended use. Ever watch "Antique Road Show"? In the 1930's or whatever, a toaster wasn't just something to toast bread, some of them were virtual works of art. Examples of form following function. Devices that while they may no longer make toast, are still collected because of their beauty. And, they're often worth thousands of dollars today. The same can be said about a lot of items that were built 50, 70, 100 years ago. It's bigger than the item, it's about the process. Where was it built? How was the assembly line set up? How many people worked there? How many widgets did they churn out per hour?
    Rhetorical question: Do you think your $9.99 "Made in China" toaster from X-Mart will exist in 10 years? Will it be worth more than you paid for it? Will there be masses of people talking about it? The same can be said of your car or the artless, prefabricated, ugly, square, hastily constructed building that you work in?
     
  32. jtk

    jtk

    Arthur, what you thought you "said" was not what you actually said. Rather than asking me to re-read something you didn't say. Re-read what you actually said :)
    Beyond that diversion, we generally agree.
    As to "porn" ...that was a reasonable and effective metaphor for "cheap shot," IMO. An image of something so popular (orchids, Yosemite's Half Dome, Ferrari, beautiful woman) that it will inevitably turn on the most careless viewer.
     
  33. John, we differ about use of language, I guess. You understand it differently, but that's OK (although it changes the meaning expressed). Porn or porno can be combined with graphic to indicate the "treatment of obscene subjects" in literature , or even "inflammatory literature". I see little connection of that or other accepted definitions of porno with the images of the OP andeven less with the word exploitation. Sloppy language usage that is I think only useful if you want to obfuscate something.
    OK, language police, have a go at it if you will....it may elucidate matters.
     
  34. jtk

    jtk

    Arthur, the term was used to convey an idea..he described cheap thrills, easy turn-ons. Like pretty pictures of old trucks, abandoned farms, glorious clouds etc. Those "subjects" often substitute for significance.
    We don't live in the world of Webster. Webster simplifies a few ideas and has almost no interest in evocative language.
    You're free to dislike the simile (that's how the term was used), the poetic license. It obviously inspired attention, even from you, and some participants here seem aware that it was used for that specific reason.
    Webster deals in definitions, not poetic license. It's standard on this very Forum for some to rely on Websters when it serves their needs, rely instead on unique personal alternatives to proper word usage when Websters disagrees :)
    Poetic license (routine in journalism) fully explains the use of "porn" in this context. Obviously a very successful tactic.
     
  35. I agree completely with Ian's response. He quotes Leary: "what is most unsettling . . . in [Andrew Moore's] photos is their resistance to any narrative content or explication." A photograph does not need to imply narrative content or explication. Leary's statement reminds me of the old saws about a picture being worth a thousand words or every picture telling a story. A photograph stands on its own. If the viewer wants to infer narrative content from a photograph, s/he is free to do so, but that has to do with the viewer, not the photograph.
     
  36. I think the article might have had more credibility were it not on the (paint) Huffing-ton Post.
    What's next, the DU or the Daily Kos?
     
  37. Of course it is exploitative.... just as all photography is to some extent. Is it more so than photos of the Acropolis? Or Machu Picchu? I do not think so. There are good photos that are interesting and aesthetically pleasing. There are photos that are not. All of this indignation about subjects is self indulgent, self important nonsense
     
  38. Ian, you'd be way ahead to merely indicate you grasp "Lost America"'s point.
     
  39. @Everybody - thanks for the thoughts! A lot of great stuff to chew through; I'm glad to see all the various opinions presented in an intelligent and respectful way!
    I think the article might have had more credibility were it not on the (paint) Huffing-ton Post.
    What's next, the DU or the Daily Kos?​
    I don't see how the venue in which the article appears has any influence on the validity of the points made. I'm not familiar with the DU or the Daily Kos, but if they wanted to hire me to write on abandonment photography, it's unlikely that I'd turn down the job.
    Ian, you'd be way ahead to merely indicate you grasp "Lost America"'s point.​
    It should be pretty clear that I grasp his point about the usage of the term 'ruin porn' having previously been neutrally used in the photo community to denote pretty pictures of buildings by my second response to him. However, I am not inclined to agree - whether or not a narrow community uses the phrase a certain way has no application to what I am writing about, which is the broader use of the term which has become commonplace in the last few years. The term 'hysteria' once meant a disease in which a woman's uterus would attack her brain; it is now a gender-neutral term denoting irrational panic. Likewise, 'ruin porn' is a term used far and wide outside of the photo community and it does indeed carry exploitative weight. Lost America's semantic argument fails, and he cannot "defend" the term against Leary's usage when the latter is prevalent in discussions of this topic in general.
     
  40. jtk

    jtk

    Ian, good thread, good responses. Perhaps "ruin porn" is like the pretend-empathy of photographers who stalk the photogenic homeless or the schmaltz that passes for sensitivity... like the nature photography that goes over-the-top exaggerating beauty (purple skies, blurred water, HDR). More photographers love soap opera images than would care to admit.
     
  41. Exploitation is like porn.​
    No. Exploitation is like mining coal. If it's not done carefully, it damages section of the earth and surrounding water tables. Porn, on the other hand, regardless of how carefully it is produced, has the very likely effect of damaging the human beings to are used as its raw materials. Or as is more often the case, exploits those who have already been damaged either by sexual abuse, substance abuse, or desperate financial circumstances.
    When I point my camera at a building, I don't do it physical harm. I don't corrupt its plumbing system. I don't depreciate its sense of self-worth. I don't complicate its ability to have healthy relations with other buildings. It my photos and others like it gain recognition, the old building may profit from revenues from other photographers and tourists, perhaps in some cases even up to the point of a restoration project.
    I know it when I see it. Some pictures of people who live on the streets are exploitive.​
    Perhaps, but is taking their photo as damaging as getting them to do some sort of pornographic act for money?
    Mr. Leary's use of the word 'porn' was unfortunate. Photographing buildings has nothing in common with pornography. I don't see how further exploitation of Mr. Leary's poor choice of words brings value to anyone or any photographer, or to any building for that matter. Non-issue. Go take a photo of some old bricks and be happy. Nobody cares.
     
  42. "Nobody cares."
    Good observation, Dan.
     
  43. jtk

    jtk

    "nobody cares" is hilariously wrong. Everybody who posted here "cared."
    The metaphoric use of "porn" was like a spotlight (Google similie). In addition to drawing attention to an aspect of photographic subject matter, it highlighted readers' ability/inability to understand an essential part of language (central to poetry). Some of the responses have an amusing defensive flavor, as well.
    The author wrote for people who were willing to entertain an idea. Some found it impossible to get past the similie, which tells a tale. The anxiety-making term focused attention on elements of a photograph that are routinely overlooked by some: significance, and/or the matter context.
    "porn" worked perfectly: it turned on everybody who posted, whether or not they "liked" the use of the term. Say 100 hail Marys.
     
  44. And once again Dan South steps onto the stage with pomp and grandeur, not to join the discussion, but to belittle the discussion on the whole. Pete Seeger wrote that "to everything, there is a season", and I would posit that to every internet forum, there is a self-righteous jackanapes that gets a thrill out of posting incendiary comments and then patting themselves on the back for it.
    Leary appropriates the phrase 'ruin porn' for use in his article, but he did not coin it; the phrase has been around in the Greater Detroit area for a good while now, and has been prevalent in various bodies of literature surrounding both cultural studies of the cities and ruins photography on the whole for a couple of years. It already exists, is used, and has a meaning, which everybody can agree is not the same meaning as the word 'porn' when used to denote provocative imagery of humans designed for sexual gratification. As I am very clear about in my article, the 'porn' component is clearly metaphorical - "Leary makes clear that the 'ruin porn' usage is centered on exploitation" - you do understand metaphor, yes? So acting as a blustering White Knight for poor abused women really does nothing, since they're not the topic at issue here. And besides, I rather think that Sasha Grey would take issue with your characterization of the porn industry, as would plenty of others.
    But that's really not important, since you've demonstrated no interest whatsoever in actually discussing the topic at hand. Perhaps if you disagreed, for example, that the objects of exploitation in some ruins photography were either the historical & cultural context of the structure or the viewer of the image, you might offer an argument as to why this is so, but instead, you've written off the argument as a "non-issue" and ranted that "nobody cares". Congratulations. You're that schoolboy we've all had a class with that doesn't understand the lesson, and therefore belittles the topic of the lesson in order to assure his own ego that he's better than all that.
     
  45. Fighting words. Maybe a bit of overkill, no?. From my remote (from Detroit) situation, Ian, I believe that Dan was treating the matter in a general way and not with specific reference to what you describe as the definition of "ruin porn" in the familiar to you Detroit context of that term. I wish you had stated the initial part of your last middle paragraph in the OP, as some of us unfamiliar with Detroit situation (yes, we know the city has taken some hard hits because of the poor choices of the auto industry) were trying to see the term in the more general light of photography of decaying nature and architecture.
    In the general sense of old or degraded architecture photography, I think Dan is making some sense, as in his final comment which has also been similarly stated by others before:
    "Mr. Leary's use of the word 'porn' was unfortunate. Photographing buildings has nothing in common with pornography. I don't see how further exploitation of Mr. Leary's poor choice of words brings value to anyone or any photographer, or to any building for that matter."
    Like Dan, some of us unfamiliar with the on-going situation in Detroit, and the exasperation of the constantly in your face destruction to Detroiters, his response is not unexpected, especially as your choice of title of the OP is a very generic one. In the very specific context of the testy Detroit situation, ruin porn seems to make sense.
    Notwithstanding this avoidable clarity issue, I think that the OP has allowed many personal and detailed comments on the perception photographers have of the general case of ruins photography (even the definitive one-liners).
     
  46. I realize the intent of my response to Dan may not have been clear. I was throwing Dan's observation that "nobody cares" right back at him, not agreeing with it.
     
  47. @Arthur - what I take exception to is the generall derisive and dismissive tone in which Dan posted. Comments like "Non-issue. Go take a photo of some old bricks and be happy. Nobody cares" reek of pompous egotism; while a number of posters have disagreed with my viewpoints and the viewpoints of others on the matter of 'ruin porn' to greater or lesser extents, they've all done so in a tone that encourages respectful discussion. Not so with this sort of blustering suggestion that the entire discussion is worthless. Obviously, some people do care, and obviously, it is an issue, or there wouldn't be debates going on about it. While I've generally tried to sit back in the bleachers and watch, to genuinely see where other photographers' opinions on the issue lie, I take exception to this type of internet forum know-it-all who just shows up to beat their chest and posture.
    Personally, I don't much care for the 'ruin porn' terminology - I think it's loaded in certain ways, and that a more descriptive phrase such as 'exploitative ruins photography' might do a better job of conveying the message. But 'ruin porn' is now so widely used that it has escaped the more narrow discussion on Detroit and has been applied to ruins photography in general; this was one of the arguments I discussed in the article. But regardless of my feelings on the terminology, it seems to be inescapable - it's been used in discussions about ruins photography for a couple of years now, and whether or not it was the best phrase that could have been picked to discuss exploitative abandonment photography, it is the most common phrase used for this denotation at present. Since it has, in a sense, escaped the narrow realm of "Detroit analysis" and been discussed frequently in regards to ruins photography on the whole, it seems unavoidable to just accept the general intensional definition of 'ruin porn' and move the discussion to the concepts underlying it.
     
  48. Detroit is beautiful, and beauty is not "porn".
     
  49. To believe some of you, the statement 'nobody cares' is impossible to make truthfully, as if the utterance was enough to disprove the claim.
    And that just makes me suspect of your understanding of language, at least partially.
    Nobody cares, is just a common device to bring the larger world into the picture. Think of it like an 'establishing shot' of sorts.
    But yeah, as an intellectual, I hate it when people say *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* like that. It's like a tourist telling me where to focus my lens. But then again, you have to wonder why they make the effort to say it.
    Don't you?
     
  50. Iain, maybe the odd term "ruin porn" will be as passing as outdated terms like "stick-up artist" or "humbug" (one of our local colorful politicians, trained at London's LSE, still uses that one, in a quaint but effective way).
    For something to be "ruin porn", does not the image content have to reflect that (the porn aspect, even in the non-sexual sense), instead of just being descriptive or documentary of old or degraded architecture or nature? The latter can convey other meanings or significations than "porn", and are sometimes a lot more powerful, but they too have to be evident in the image (or trigger our imagination).
     
  51. John: "Seems to me that "aesthetics" most commonly has to do with "looking pretty," has little relation to "significance." "
    This sort of thing bothers me more than the 'no body cares' ones.
    You appear to be saying something but all your key terms are "special."
    And you know, you often bandy around the term significance, but I'll be damned if I've ever seen you justify "significance" in any "objective" sense. At least nothing that would warrant your apparent command of the concept.
     
  52. jtk

    jtk

    Thomas, sorry. In my experience "significance" has been pretty well explored by many photographers (beginning with Minor White's people, for me), but in a nutshell it seems commonly applied to imagery that elicits something beyond the personal (beyond "photo of Mom") and aren't lightweight (not just pretty). Reverence, anxiety, questions, motivation seem associated with "significant" for me. Like most words that stand for ideas, it's substantially a matter of association with other ideas. Or..maybe it's just weighty, important, not enough when glanced at quickly.
    I can't help you with the "objective" sense of the word as I don't think it exists (nor do I think anything "objective" exists).
     
  53. "Ruin porn" can be a question of semantic discussion, as to my knowledge at least it hasn't been defined in any erudite dictionary. That doesn't mean the term is invalid, just that some group (small or very large) of persons acknowledges a specific meaning of that term. A commonly accepted definition simply hasn't yet made it into a learned dictionary for public consultation.
    But "significance" is a word also that has been defined, quite apart from this camp or another camp giving the word a different meaning or rejecting it completely.
    From one erudite source (OED):
    Significance: n Being significant (itself defined - you can choose the one of the following you like - as having a meaning; expressive, suggestive, with pregnant or secret sense, inviting attention; noteworthy, of considerable amount or effect or importance), expressiveness; covert or real import, what is meant to be or may be inferred.
    These may refer to how John describes significance. Meaning, suggestive and expressiveness and the other definitions cover a lot of ground.
    As this is not the first time we risk being bogged down on word use, is it not useful to acknowledge that unless defined in some different (and specified) manner, words are taken in their accepted dictionary sense, whether the dictionary is Webster, Oxford or another?
     
  54. jtk

    jtk

    Arthur, Word! (I think that's antiquated rap usage)
    Dictionaries aren't the best resources for poetic or other evocative writing. Strunk and White might be more helpful on this Forum.
    "Educated" people can approximate Webster's and Oxford's definitions for most of their words, and tend not to stray too far. On the other hand I don't think Webster's or Oxford's is much good at slang (of course my editions are at least fifty years old).
     
  55. John, you might not find many today who value Strunk and White (In any case, they did not prone poetic or other evocotive definitions):
    Strunk and White – a few critiques:
    Specifically, Prof. Pullum (Prof. of Linguistics, Edinburgh University, in his paper (17 April 2009) "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice”) said that "Strunk and White misunderstood what constitutes the passive voice, and criticized their proscribing established usages such as the split infinitive and the use of which in a restrictive relative clause. He also criticizes The Elements of Style in Language Log, a linguists' blog about language in popular media, for promoting linguistic prescriptivism and hypercorrection among Anglophones, referring to it as "the book that ate America's brain.”
    The Boston Globe newspaper's review, of The Elements of Style Illustrated (2005) edition, describes the writing manual as an "aging zombie of a book . . . a hodgepodge, its now-antiquated pet peeves jostling for space with 1970s taboos and 1990s computer advice."
     
  56. what I take exception to is the generall derisive and dismissive tone in which Dan posted. Comments like "Non-issue. Go take a photo of some old bricks and be happy. Nobody cares" reek of pompous egotism​
    Well, this thread has finally turned out to be good for something: a good belly laugh.
    Think of it this way. Before Mr. Ference wrote his article, buildings decayed and photographers took images of them. The buildings weren't being harmed, exploited, or damaged in any way (possibly neglected, but not by the photographers). The photographers made (hopefully) interesting images, and their audience got to enjoy those images. Everyone went about their business and no one was the worse for wear. I'm quite certain that the bricks didn't mind the attention.
    Can we at least agree on this much? The status quo was fine. No harm was being done to anything by anyone and art was being made. That sounds like a win-win situation to me.
    Then a couple of articles were written, first by Mr. Leary and then by Mr. Ference, expressing strong feelings on the subject. If Mssrs. Leary and Ferrance have strong feelings about the photography of decaying buildings, that's entirely permissible. And if they want to write about those feelings that is their right. Still, neither the buildings nor the photographers nor the communities where the buildings reside were being harmed. Agreed?
    If Mr. Ference wants to announce here that he has written and published his article, that is completely fine as well. I don't believe that he was acting in violation of any photo.net guidelines, so good for him and good for his readers. Again, no one is being harmed, no resources exploited.
    However, here's where things become thorny. The author asked for comments. He asked this directly. He stated that he was "curious to hear [our] thoughts on the topic!" And he received several responses including mine. Well, I didn't see what all the fuss was about. As stated above, the photographers aren't harming the buildings that they shoot. I don't sense any degree of exploitation anywhere in the process. Where is the foul? Why the concern? Why is this an issue at all? And how could one possibly compare it to something as personally harmful as pornography?
    Well, that opinion received quite a reaction, didn't it? Mr. F appears to be fiercely proud of his article and seems to want nothing more than to express moral outrage toward anyone who questions his position. That's all well and good. We are adults here, we enter into these discussions of our own free will, and if there were no debate allowed, discussion would be pointless. But please don't accuse ME of "pompous egotism." I'm not the one mounting a fierce and caustic defense of an article about exploitation where no such exploitation actually exists.
    Now, I'm sorry, but I must be off to write my article about Shutter Porn. It has come to my attention that every time a photograph is exposed, a shutter sustains measurable wear and tear. If photographers persist in exploiting their shutters in this manner, I want to make certain that they are doing so only while making meaningful and important images. The problem is widespread and there is much work to be done. Please join me in lobbying for exploited shutters everywhere!
     
  57. What is all this harm that pornography is supposedly causing? Child pornography, a different story. Harmful for sure. Inexcusable. But pornography done by consenting adults. Where's all this harm? Sure, some percentage of pornography is exploitive, perhaps even abusive. A problem that should be dealt with in terms of exploitation and abuse. But pornography per se is neither. Way too much sex-phobia, as far as I'm concerned.
     
  58. Arthur, thanks for your comments. I'm not from Detroit, but I grew up in the rust belt. I watched our factories being torn down and cut up for scrap metal, our local economy reduced to rubble. I watched as the population of my home city dropped by fifty percent in two generations. I have some firsthand familiarity with urban decay, but admittedly not as much as the citizens of Michigan.
     
  59. Perhaps Ian demands more than the status quo out of photography and art. I think, regardless of the words used (and regardless of the dictionaries cited in which those words are looked up), the point of the article was the creation of photographs that have some significance. It's about a lot more than not doing physical harm to buildings. It's about vision. It's about making photographs.
     
  60. "I can't help you with the "objective" sense of the word as I don't think it exists (nor do I think anything "objective" exists)."
    Thanks for the response.
    Why don't you think "objective" exists? What about 'objective?' Or, what about the concept objective? Don't all three exist as each one is sustained in your mind? Isn't that how concepts generally exist, John? Even if only a myth, it still exists as a myth, and as such, has a particular power to inform human experience...wait for it...siginificantly. By the way, it's mythical status is what I meant to convey with the scare quotes.
    At any rate, understood as a myth, with a particular range or power to "make sense" of a particular range of human experience, we needn't get bogged down with theoretical arguments concerning the ontological status of concepts...not unless you force the issue.
    So then, a more objective sense of significance, at this point, would consist anything remotely resembling a reason for holding the notions you do.
    Are you simply a significance meter? Or are you saying that when we appreciate a photograph, if in doubt as to its significance, we can consult a table comprising the official list of significance?
    I am asking you about your knowledge and why you feel it really is something you know as opposed to something you believe or advocate.
     
  61. Did anyone see the ad during the Super Bowl yesterday supporting Detroit as a place one can still find culture? This whole thread clearly began with a reaction to a Detroit booster who is unhappy with what he sees as a current trend to characterize the city as a post industrial urban wasteland. He is frustrated and worn out from seeing images of Detroit blight and decay. He thinks they distort his city in the eyes of others and would prefer to have some civic pride, however difficult. He is disgusted with pictures that promote the notion that Detroit is not a fit place to live, and he calls them "ruin porn."
    I think that the centerpiece of the discussion is the City of Detroit and its decay rather than the photograph that finds ruin and destruction fascinating. Surely the photograph is not the problem, and a term like "ruin porn" should be seen as a characterization of civic disrespect rather than as some sort of movement in new urban photography. It's nothing to get worked up about. I think that for someone to make an issue of saying that photos of Detroit's current misery show ruin and not porn is somehow missing the point. The photo isn't the problem; it is the relentless frustrating urban reality it shows.
    Surely images of urban destruction hold a fascination for us. Life in the aftermath of atomic war continues to be a popular vision of the future in movie entertainment. "Mad Max" is one example. Who would ever believe that the foreign customers we wanted for our exports in the '80s would turn out to be fierce competitors now? Who would think that our industrial leaders would be so motivated to lower production costs that they would sacrifice US commerce to have them?
    The bleak post atomic age is arriving now, but without the threat of atomic fallout. Although the original writer Ian references at the beginning hates the idea, Detroit is becoming the poster child for an super-accelerated urban decay. The fact is that the time honored response for people to obey when things go bad in their home town is to go someplace else to find a better opportunity. This is where the ghosts in ghost towns come from.
    We live in scary times, but with regard to the focus of this debate, porn without sex shows a great misunderstanding of the genuine issues facing the people who must try to make a living in a place like Detroit today.
     
  62. Surely photographing ruins depends upon why and how it is done. I watched a program on a Normandy village that was bombed almost to nothingness by the allies as they attempted to chase enemy soldiers from it. The population suffered greatly, as did many other cities during that war. 65 or so years later the remainimg citizens and their offspring and others are still retaking possession of the village. The program showed the ruins of the central church,one which had one of the highest steeples in that part of Europe, and the work of local young researchers to recreate what little is left of the tower, by using a software to recreate what was once there, and its surrounbdings, using pre-war photos and documents as ressources. Modern technology is recreating the village and solidifying the pride of its citizens. The village, like many after such destruction, is redefining itself as well, with new commerce.
    Detroit was once a French outpost in New France. It has a long and impressive history. Our local rural church in Canada possesses a painting by Frère Luc, once the King's painter (Louisa XIV) turned monk, who spent a few years in North America to decorate the new churches. The Detroit church received one of his religious paintings in the late 17th century. That is only a minor part of the overall history of the motor city, which is more varied and a part of the foundation upon which to renew. Image of current desolation could be used in a positive manner, as a turning point in the reconstruction of the city. Just like a small plant growing in the middle of rubble, the Detroit images can be used as a turning point in its regrowth and be thought of simply as a temporary benchmark in that progress. What sort of commerce can be re-injected into the city? I am not in a position to know, but perhaps new commerce types like the IT industry or those dealing with services might develop from the ashes of former businessess no longer profitable in the current world situation. Priority might be given to new government labs or offices, when they are needede or to universities or colleges that are particularly concerned with regrowth issues. Some industries that can capitalize on temporary lower wages, like the film or TV industry, might grow in that situation. Why not site new foreign car final assembly plants in Detroit, as in other regions?
    Pride of place can be mirrored in the way the destruction is perceived and the approaches to re-development. The European postwar model shows that ruin porn is only temporary. The images are turned around into pride as the new structures and life replaces them. Exploitation in a positive leaning sense of the term is a role that photography can play.
     
  63. Oops, double....
     
  64. Understandable as Detroit's current situation is, photographers do not have an inherent debt to help Detroit rebuild, or portray/forge a particular kind of image.

    The depiction of ruins in art has a long history, going back before the invention of photography. I wish either Leary or Ferrence had edged into that, because I feel it is important to the argument. The only exploitation I see in "RP", is the constant playing on knee-jerk reflex viewer reactions.

    In all fairness, this extends well beyond the realm of RP. How many times have we had our emotional chains yanked by the very same few dozen beat-to-death-in-exactly-the-same-way locations in landscape photography? The same serious, head-on documentary portraits of the dispossessed? The head-on, deadpan close-ups, dripping with gravitas? The beautiful, silken-skinned, sad-looking nudes lying around gritty industrial trash? Or traipsing along railroad tracks? Brown bears catching homeward-bound salmon as they unwittingly leap into their maws? Nude teens frolicking in rockpits or forests a la Ryan McGinley? I can go on and on, but you get the point: RP is not alone in this. And, to be perfectly clear, I am not talking about the very few creatives that make familiar topics and subjects distinctly their own.

    What ails RP is also ailing a majority of the medium as well, and always has.
     
  65. Luis is persuasive here. There's a discussion going on in Street and Doc about the exploitation of homeless people in a lot of street work. The a photographer comes along and posts a really good photo and I do a double-take. Most of these "genre" discussions boil down to good photograph vs. bad photograph, clichés employed, independent vision involved. We're probably often finding fault with genres when we should be critiquing photographers.
     
  66. What drives a photographer or photographers to continually direct their attention at the same phenomenon, like the decay in Detroit, the beaten to death similar viewpoint landscape photos, nudes traipsing along railroad tracks or railroad tracks glistening in the low sun, or thew thousands of other clichés (my term, admittedly not always applicable) as Luis has mentioned.
    There are two reasons that come to mind: dullness of creative spirit and political-social agenda.
    Yes, these are strong classifications, but I think often valid ones. My objective of digressing into the history of a small unnamed French village and that of Detroit, and my hopes for their future, is not to responsabilize the photographers in any way - art and communication need not be bound by political, moral or social intent - but to show that there are other ways to depict a town, city or other subject matter, and ways than can be just as significant, or more so, than the omnipresent (and ultimately counterproductive in many cases) ruin porn images. The analogy is our TV or radio news, that is bolstered more by what wrong or disastrous event is occuring, rather than the contrary.
     
  67. A lot of people aren't using the camera as a creative tool. Many like to record visual memories of what they see. I wouldn't characterize them as dull creatively or as having a particular agenda. (And I'm not suggesting Arthur is doing this.) I might not know anything about their creative spirit from the pictures they take if they're just taking pictures and not trying to create something.
    I've done some tried and true clichés and I make no apologies for them. I've done them because I want one of my own. There is significance, at least as far as I see it, in honing one's craft and in wanting to make that craft personal.
    This also relates to the discussion next door on artists and art and bodies of work. There are times when I feel the body of work I'm developing (a series, a project, the entire body) is calling out for one of these clichés. A cliché taken individually is very different from a cliché within a particular context. I have done a couple of very traditional nude studies. Nothing unique in and of themselves. But they have a place in a bigger picture and I find them quite necessary to what I'm putting together.
     
  68. Fred, my point relates on the one hand to the dullness of copying (yes, I know that plagiary can be a stepping stone to further realisation - like the Japanee industials who employed the practices of a US guru to achieve high quality products, long before they were finally applied in the States, and developed those to an art) as an easy way out from actually perceiving and photographing something unique. The other point was the ruin porn image motivated by anagenda, with the professional photographer reflecting the desires/needs of his client newspaper or other client body. At least the latter has the quality of expressing something significant beyond the "eye candy" or curiousness of the ruin porn.
    I'm not sure what you mean in a cliché taken "individually". Some basic compôsitional clichés or clichés of form, like a serpentine path, dramatic diagonal, strong image point, and the like, are really just tools in our kit, but oft seen similar nude poses (and I find really successful and non-cliché nude poses very appealing) are perhaps fun but I think really need to be placed with other elements or in a particular strong context in order to escape the ho-hum reaction.
     
  69. Arthur, what I mean is that the same photo that might seem just a dull cliché when it is looked at as a single photo might very well serve a different purpose if it were intentionally made as part of a body of work or particular series. In other words, as part of something greater than just an individual photo, the cliché itself could be significant or help a series be significant. I've used them that way.
    Besides that, even as individual photos with no greater context, there are some clichés I simply want to do for myself. Maybe even need to do for myself. Not as a stepping stone and not as a learning experience, but just because I want to do it and have it. I think sometimes I just have to muster the confidence in what I'm doing and what I want to do to withstand the possible criticism by others that it's a cliché. I think one of the keys to clichés is awareness. If I default to clichés that's very different from setting out to do my very best at one that I'm well aware is one.
    I also think that, in some cases, when cliché meets craft, there can be a transformation.
     
  70. Fred - "We're probably often finding fault with genres when we should be critiquing photographers."
    Yes. An individuated photographer, not necessarily a genius, can make work that is distinctive in any genre.
    Arthur - "...my hopes for their future, is not to responsabilize the photographers in any way..."
    I said what I did in reaction to Albert's post, not Arthur's.
    Arthur - "The analogy is our TV or radio news, that is bolstered more by what wrong or disastrous event is occuring, rather than the contrary."
    For me, on most days, TV news itself is more of a disaster and wrong than the terrors it portrays.
    Fred, I think even illustrative photographers can be quite creative. One key quality to make this happen is to consistently push oneself towards a distant horizon. I've seen it in a few snappers who reached out beyond their abilities, or their comfort zone. Look at the work of Karl Blossfeldt, whose scientific illustrations unwittingly launched an era in photography.
    A lot of people use the camera as an appliance, and we see that here on PN often. People wondering how much improvement in their work a new camera will 'provide'. A Miroslav Tischy with a home made camera out of cardboard and TP roll lens barrels did infinitely better (and this work rolls back in the direction of both porn and cliches).
    http://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/artist,show,1,124,249,1246,0,0,0,0,miroslav_tichy_untitled_.html
    We all engage in cliches at some point in our lives. It's the genre default, if you will. Or a point of departure, depending on how one looks at it. Some of us use cliche's to transplant visual memes, like warriors hidden inside the Trojan Horse, into the mind of the viewer. Most, failing to grasp the basics of art and/or individuation, seize on reproducing the default itself. A simulation of the art of others.Or an approximation of a predetermined ideal.
     
  71. Fred, I have no problem at all with that and don't criticize it. I just think that we have to be a bit aware of clichés if we are to do something that is unique to ourselves.
     
  72. Whether cliché or not in his approach, which in this case is arguably unimportant for the reason you point out in your last paragraph, the sensitivity of Tischy's photos in respect of his subject matter may be in the direction of porn, but never reaches that, I think. They are some of the most sensual, beautiful and provocative images of women, of a type often are not within the grasp of men to realize, but only women photographers (Bettancourt, etc.). His homemade camera, which I once had the privilege of seeing, makes the Diana appear like a Hasselblad. It should be required viewing for all obsessive gearheads. An amazing photographer.
     
  73. jtk

    jtk

    Because I think in terms of "the print" I have an affection for the physical medium and the quality of its execution. Or vice-versa :)
    In any case, I'm reluctant to assign much value to unprinted "images," including slides in files and relatively brief online wonders (as in soundslides.com, many of which I do admire). They're transitory, after all. Film (& video) is less transitory because it demands a lot of time.
    The difference (the art) that distinguishes one scenic (or street or whatever) photographer from another is the print, IMO. For example, Galen Rowell's early work was printed beautifully and directly for him via internegs. His post-mortem work is printed badly for someone else. That the same "image" appears in each demonstrates something about photographic values. One is Galen Rowell's work in full, the other isn't. I've seen this with Avedon too...some of the prints have been lousy post-mortem knockoffs, but those he supervised are stunning. On the other hand, HCB's best prints, by far, were made recently...digitally, by printers better than those he knew of.
    " I am not talking about the very few creatives that make familiar topics and subjects distinctly their own. ... What ails RP is also ailing a majority of the medium as well, and always has."
    - Luis G
    That is precisely what I've been trying to convey about the promiscuous use of "art" by "photographers" (camera owners). Note "promiscuous." Related to "porn."
     
  74. Detroit, in a Chrysler ad, answers to ruin porn, clings to its great art and architecture for a sense of identity and civic pride & tries to rise from the ashes:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKL254Y_jtc
     
  75. A sense of place. Anti-porn. "Imported from Detroit". Not bad at all, what?
     
  76. jtk

    jtk

    It's superb work, amazing. I've always felt that the best photographers (which includes film makers of course) often work commercially, and that Chrysler ad proves the point.
     
  77. Except, perhaps, the Chrysler ad may really be the work of an art director (who may also be a trained photographer. Possibly).
     
  78. Fascinating topic Ian, I think there is much to be said about society by viewing such elaborate yet dilapidated buildings. If these photos (more so the shots of the theatres, etc) were more in the public realm, people might start to question what direction we are heading.
     
  79. My only complaint is that the hospitals shots appear set up or staged. When the implication of ruin photography is, this is the way that it is.

    The wheelchairs in the Hospital pics notably appear to have been placed there(by the photographer) for context. Not only do the wheelchairs appear to be a different vintage than their surroundings, but how does a patient wheelchair get conveniently into a boiler room?

    My impression is that the photographer scavenged some wheelchairs from elsewhere, wheeled them over in the back of a van, and had assistants place them about the scene.

    Those hospital shots must be the "Naughty Nurses" version of ruin porn.
     
  80. http://www.thecoolist.com/abandoned-places-10-creepy-beautiful-modern-ruins/
     
  81. I've sent you an email re the use of other people's photographs and seemingly passing them off as your own...
    Thanks,
    Ben
     

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