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New Tourism

This project documents architectural destruction and decay. We know there is a long interest in photographs of ruins. over the ages, in what has been termed 'ruin lust' or, rather more problematically, 'ruin porn'. This last label refers more, in my mind, to photographs that exploit poverty and trivialize socio-economic decline--and they typically rely on stock or clichéd imagery (the broken down chair!). For good reason, urban archaeologist Tim Edensor has compared the rather banal, repetitive images of urban exploration to the 'reviled' genre of tourist photography. 

 

What of the history of these reviled genres? What does the ruin mean, now? How could ruins have different meanings or roles? How can portraits of place become what art historian Dora Apel describes as 'forms of historical witnessing and potential tools for resistance'?

 

'Obscenery', a term used by Iain Sinclair to describe abandoned sites such as strip malls and multi-storey carparks, is a sub-genre of ruin photography as historical witness. Eyesores, edgelands, blights on the urban landscape, speak of environmental change, economic decline, global capitalism, and sometimes upheaval, community breakdown and personal and collective trauma. 

Not all buildings are worth saving. Our nostalgic desire to preserve may at times be misguided. Some historical buildings should be left to decay, to be reclaimed by nature. Recently, cultural geographers have challenged the compulsion to physically conserve for the sake of it. Instead, we might live with slow ruin, with loss, with disintegration. 

More than anything, though, the appeal of ruins is the stories they embody. As Caitlin DeSilvey says it, so simply: ‘We live in a world dense with things left behind by those who came before
us’. Ruins, and photographs of them, narrate lives lived. What if they could suggest other ways of witnessing, resisting, and living?

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