Less Death, Than Life: Photography & Decay

by Oct 29, 20150 comments

I’ve been thinking lately about what kinds of things grab my eye and prompt me to raise the camera to my eye and take a shot. So often it’s old and weathered things, what I’ve sometimes heard referred to as ‘Decay Porn.’ There’s certainly something beautiful about things that have been weathered or broken down but I have to take issue with the idea that it’s some kind obsession with decay and, to extend it further, death.


Can you imagine the day that air conditioner was installed in this shop? They must have been stoked to not sweat like crazy any more. How did they choose this particular model? Bonus thought experiment, what’s all that stuff stacked up inside that window and how long has it been there?

To me what makes these things interesting is the stories behind them that I’ll never know. How, at one point, this scene was brand spanking new and someone was putting a lot of attention and effort into arranging things in such a way and may have been proud of it when they were done. Then time passes. Small adjustments get made. Things break and are mended so that they’re not quite so perfect, or replaced completely and now there’s something new in there that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of what came before.

I'll bet this cigarette vending machine was the cat's meow back when it was first installed! This shop owner was probably totally hyped.

I’ll bet this cigarette vending machine was the cat’s meow back when it was first installed! This shop owner was probably totally hyped.

So really, when I take a picture of something that’s old, or falling apart, or kind of dirty, I think it’s maybe not exactly that I’m trying to photograph what I’m actually seeing there. It’s that I’m intensely curious about the (probably completely banal) history of how this setting came to be as it is in the moment I release the shutter.

These little vignettes, even though they often don’t directly feature any humans, are somehow a reflection of the process of life. Not every moment of our days are a momentous occasion. So much of our environment is shaped by the tiny moments of daily routine and that’s the kind of ‘visual echo’ that I think I’m drawn to in images of ‘decay.’

I haven’t really figured out the how and why of how the photographic process figures into my own wanting to know more about these little things that just don’t matter. I guess that’s part of the point of any medium or art, to facilitate movement toward understanding rather than waiting until you have it all sussed out before lifting a finger.


For my part, I’m in it for the long haul most likely, trying to move toward understanding just what it is that keeps catching my eye.

To be honest, I’m kind of hoping I never figure it out.

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