First, a movie recommendation, then a photographer who I think is the bee’s knees. Finally, a phenomenon I call “ruin porn”.
Stalker. Amazing. Don’t expect a nuanced discussion of the themes, a biopic on Tarkovsky, or an even-handed assessment of the film’s strong and weak points. Instead, get ready for lots of big, fuzzy, warm, drooling praise.
This film is easily in my top 5. The narrative is sparse, but dense. The scenery hideous, yet beautiful. It’s noble themes and spiritual revelations are stained by the three sad men depicting them. It’s definitely not this or that, hence the reason I’m doing a piss-poor job at describing it. My failure has nothing at all to do with the calibre of my writing. This I promise.
Anyhow, it’s set in an abandoned village wherein a mysterious presence lurks, waiting to consume unwitting trespassers. Maybe. This place is a visual feast. Poetic, foreboding, mystical, what have you. Tarkovsky takes creaking light fixtures, crumbling walls, peeled paint, and rivers strewn with filth and transforms them into the sacred artifacts of a three-hour long high mass.
The colors are mute, the takes are long, and the story often takes a backseat to the cinematography. But it’s never boring. I consider it Tarkovsky’s best. If you, like me, are a visual person, I’d suggest taking the time to watch it.
When browsing through past issues of Deep Sleep Magazine, I came upon the work of Vincent J. Stoker. Much like Stalker, he takes what was once great, inviting, and whole and shows the eery void it has become. Nature has reasserted herself and these once grand halls, church pulpits, and factories have lost their vitality and sense of purpose, their only use now being to testify to the wills of their creators and stand in stark contrast to nature.
Forgive my grandiosity, but these pictures speak well to their themes. They also stand alone. Artifacts of artifacts I guess. They are a cut above what I like to call “ruin porn”, which I’ll come to in just a moment. Two of my favorites from the series: here and here.
Now, ruin porn. Not the most offensive sub-genre, but still plumbing the depths in some cases, I call ruin porn every picture of abandoned, wrecked buildings that tries to survive by merit of “I went here” or “look at the sad beauty of ugliness”. If I’ve seen one dilapidated wreck of an office building in Detroit or abandoned Korean amusement park, I’ve seen them all.
Not all depictions of abandoned places are ruin porn. For instance, if you use it as the background of a poetic narrative (Stalker), or take pictures of places with similar characteristics that go beyond decrepitude (Heterotopias), or even add a figure (Miru Kim) I’d say you’ve left the boundaries of ruin porn. Which is good. Because if you don’t have something that reaches beyond the boilerplate of “dilapidation is beautiful” your pictures end up being as empty and purposeless as the places themselves.
I guess good composition can go a long way in making vacant spaces shine too. But I won’t talk about that, as I’m not so good at it.
In fact, I’ve taken my fair share of ruin porn shots. I was quite proud of them for a time too. I like to think that I’ve since gotten wise. Perhaps I’ll venture back into the fenced-off abandonedness when I have reason to.
My final words on the matter: If you’re making pictures of wrecks, you’d better make them interesting. Otherwise what you’re peddling is, quite literally, smut.