Friday, January 21, 2011

Modern Ruins; Portraits of Place in the Mid-Atlantic Region by Shaun O'Boyle

Summary (courtesy of   Shaun O Boyle has been photographing ruined landscapes and buildings, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region, for more than twenty-five years. This collection of photographs represents some of his best work. The book is divided into four sections, each representing a type of site now abandoned—prisons and mental health institutions, steel production facilities, coal mining and processing facilities, and a weapons arsenal. These photographs are hauntingly beautiful; they are also instructive, both historically and culturally.
                Modern Ruins begins with an introduction by architectural essayist Geoff Manaugh, who offers insight into why people are so drawn to ruins and what they might mean to us in a larger psychological sense. Brief essays by noted historians Curt Miner, Kenneth Warren, Kenneth Wolensky, and Thomas Lewis offer social and historical contexts for the sites documented in the book. These sites include Eastern State Penitentiary, Bethlehem Steel, and the Bannerman Island Arsenal, among others. The book concludes with an interview with the photographer that touches on his fascination with ruins and explores some of the processes and procedures he uses to document them. Modern Ruins is a compelling collection of stunning and melancholy photographs, one that helps us hear these abandoned places speak.

And here's what I thought:  I received this book for the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program, and was really excited when it arrived (because, of course, I had completely forgotten about being notified that it would be coming).  I have always had a fascination with old buildings, decaying factories, asylums.... something about them always makes me want to poke around, find hidden things ... and take photographs.  So when I saw this book listed on LibraryThing, I jumped at the chance to take a look.   Beginning with the section of institutions, such as state hospitals and penitentiaries, filled with peeling paint, and iron bedsteads, and progressing to steel and coal factories, O'Boyle progresses through remnants and shells, documenting places that have been left behind.   I loved that most of these photos were black and white, letting me focus on all of the details.  Really my kind of book.

I was intrigued by this book, so I looked for more from Mr. O'Boyle and found his site, which is filled with amazing photographs.   I also found myself thinking about photos I had taken back in the late 1980s, of an abandoned factory in the town I was living in.   I'm completely tempted to find that album and scan in a few of those photos (maybe for a future Wordless Wednesday?).    These kinds of subjects, of abandoned places, and ruined buildings, might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found myself completely inspired. 

Beyond the photographs in this book, there is some thoughtful writing. Geoff Manaugh's introduction was interesting, and there are accompanying short essays by historians that offer some social context to what O'Boyle is showing us in his photographs.  These were a nice addition to the photos, lending depth and explanation.    

First sentence (from the introduction by Geoff Manaugh): "It's often hard to tell when we are surrounded by ruins."

Thoughts on the cover:  Perfect black and white shot that sets the mood for what's inside the book.


Digital Flower Pictures said...

Sounds like something I would be interested in. Thanks for the link to Mr. O'Boyle's site.

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