Post-Industrial Chic

Posted: May 29, 2010 in Artistry, Environment, Industrial Collapse, Taste

Surfing around the web, it’s becoming commonplace to find blogger-photographers chronicling the ongoing collapse of industrial civilization, though few characterize their subjects that way. The ruins and wrecks of past civilizations have always held a strange fascination for us, whether they be Egyptian pyramids, the Moai statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Stonehenge, the Roman Colosseum, the Greek Acropolis, Machu Picchu, the lost Mayan cities, or any number of others scattered through time and across the globe. The poignancy of such sights is usually the absence of people in what appear to have been thriving, bustling hubs of human activity. The plethora of modern ruins have none of the mystery of ancient archeological sites but point instead to how short-lived many of our monuments truly are and how quickly they fall into ruin. Photographing them has become a fetish, and the aesthetic is developing into post-industrial chic.

None of the links I’ve provided over the past few years have come close to Modern Ruins for the number of click-throughs. However, it’s only one of many websites offering photography of ruins: see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. (This group doesn’t even include Flicker galleries.) No modern U.S. city can surpass Detroit, Michigan, for the sheer grandiosity of its decline and the number of sites devoted to it (see here and here and here and here and even a video here). For other examples of city-wide abandonment, pictures of Centralia, Pennsylvania (see here) and Chernobyl, Ukraine (see here) are worth a look. Two more lengthy treatments are given here on rural Japan and several bike trips across of North America, the second of which includes quite of few images and videos of the effects of heavy industry on the landscape.

Of course, many districts in many U.S. cities have the same bombed-out, abandoned look as Detroit in the wake of recent financial destruction and business collapses. While many techno-utopians and market fundamentalists believe we’re only suffering a temporary setback, doomers believe we’re seeing the early stresses of peak oil playing out. I’m in the second camp. That’s not to say that there won’t be further technological development and some temporary trend reversals, but the overall trend is almost undoubtedly more like J.H. Kunstler’s long emergency.

  1. I’m not saying we don’t deserve this, just that it makes me sad.

    • Brutus says:

      While it’s possible to be philosophical about the world we’ve made and destroyed, I share your sadness, which is really an inadequate word for the incredibly profound grief some of us are feeling. As Americans, we’ve felt that grief when major destructive events occur such as the Challenger disaster, Oklahoma City bombing, and 9/11. We feel a loss of innocence at the failure of our technologies and ideas. To make an aesthetic out of the destructiveness of civilization strikes me as perverse.

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