Tag Archives: decay porn

The Atemporality of “Ruin Porn”: The Carcass & the Ghost

This is the complete version of a previously posted two-part essay. Part one is here; part two is here.

Photo by Matthew Christopher

Objects have lives. They are witness to things. –This American Life, “The House on Loon Lake”

Atlantic Cities’ feature on the psychology of “ruin porn” is worth a look–in part because it’s interesting in itself, in part because it features some wonderful images, and in part because it has a great deal to do with both a piece I posted previously on Michael Chrisman’s photograph of a year and with the essay that piece referenced, Nathan Jurgenson’s take on the phenomenon of faux-vintage photography.

All of these pieces are, to a greater or lesser extent, oriented around a singular idea: atemporality – that the intermeshing and interweaving of the physical and digital causes us not only to experience both of those categories differently, but to perceive time itself differently; that for most of us, time is no longer a linear experience (assuming it ever was). Technology changes our remembrance of the past, our experience of the present, and our imagination of the future by blurring the lines between the three categories, and introducing different forms of understanding and meaning-making to all three – We remember the future, imagine the present, and experience the past. The phenomenon of “ruin porn” is uniquely suited to call attention to our increasingly atemporal existence, and to outline some of the specific ways in which it manifests itself.

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The Atemporality of “Ruin Porn” – Part II: The Ghost

This is the second part of a two-part essay; the full version of the essay — both parts — can be found here.

Photo by Jim Potter/Blind Owl Underground

In part one of this essay, I focused on the atemporality of the physical spaces from which “ruin porn” images are made. This may have seemed like a bit of an aside from a take that purports to be technology-focused, but I want to emphasize the importance of physicality here–one of the crucial – if not the most crucial – ideas behind atemporality in the sense in which I use the word is the profound connection between our perception and understanding of time and our relationship with the enmeshed physical/digital world that our technology is increasingly helping to create. In short, we cannot discuss the digital in this case without first establishing why and how the physical matters.

But now I want to focus on that move from physical to digital, the point of entanglement where one shades into another and the relationship between the two becomes truly complex. I want to talk about the image itself, both in terms of its production and its consumption.

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Faux-Vintage Afghanistan and the Nostalgia for War

The recent and popular Hipstamatic war photos depict contemporary soldiers, battlefields and civilian turmoil as reminiscent of wars long since passed. War photos move us by depicting human drama taken to its extreme, and these images, shot with a smartphone and “filtered” to look old, create a sense of simulated nostalgia, further tugging at our collective heart strings. And I think that these photos reveal much more.

Hipstamatic war photographs ran on the front page of the New York Times [the full set] last November, and, of course, fake-vintage photos of everyday life are filling our Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter streams. I recently analyzed this trend ina long essay called The Faux-Vintage Photo, which is generating a terrific response. I argue that we like faux-vintage photographs because they provide a “nostalgia for the present”; our lives in the present can be seen as like the past: more important and real in a grasp for authenticity.

If faux-vintage photography is rooted in authenticity, then what is more real than war? If the proliferation of Hipstamatic photographs has anything to do with a reaction to our increasingly plastic, simulated, Disneyfied and McDonaldized worlds, then what is more gritty than Afghanistan in conflict? In a moment where there is a shortage of and a demand for authenticity (the gentrification of inner-cities, “decay porn” and so on), war may serve as the last and perhaps ultimate bastion of authenticity. However, as I will argue below, war itself is in a crisis of authenticity, creating rich potential for its faux-vintage documentation. (more…)