Linda G. Hill

Life in progress

Ruin Porn – It’s a Thing

37 Comments

I’ve always loved looking at abandoned buildings. I remember going on long car trips with my parents and sitting in the back seat watching the scenery go by; nothing caught my attention quite like an old house with its windows boarded up and ivy threatening to consume it whole, or a broken down barn, its walls leaning off its stone foundation as though a good wind could transport it to Oz. Such sceneries inspired me to wonder who lived there, and what ultimately caused them to walk away. Even better were the houses with the front door left open. Traveling by at 60mph my nose would be pressed up against the glass, hoping for a glimpse of peeling wallpaper inside. Did it burn? Perhaps the dog got out and they ran after it, never to return.

I think for me its mostly about the history I can’t read about in a book. I can walk around somewhere like Canterbury Cathedral and think more about all the shoes that wore the floor into ruts than I pay attention to the plaques, telling me which king or queen was entombed where. That’s what imagination is for, after all. Pure inspiration.

And so yes, for these reasons I enjoy looking at photos of abandoned buildings, taken by photographers who love to go into such places. I’d seen the term “ruin porn” a few times around the internet, but it wasn’t until I discovered photographer Seph Lawless, just yesterday in fact, that I decided to look up the term and see exactly what it means.

According to Wikipedia and another article – The Psychology of Ruin Porn I found, the term “ruin porn” refers to the concept that there are photographers out there who take pictures of abandoned places without documenting the wheres, whys and hows in which the places became dilapidated, thus exploiting them much like pornography exploits its subjects. I beg to differ. And yet, can I?

The third (and final) definition in Merriam Webster’s free online dictionary – and the only one not mentioning sex specifically, is this:

3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction

There is definitely something to this in regards to “ruin porn.” In seeing a picture of belongings left behind in the aftermath of disaster, strong feelings indeed are provoked. There’s nothing quite like an abandoned teddy bear left in the mud to bring a tear to the eye. We tend to sympathize inasmuch as what if it happened to us? But what of an empty, abandoned house? Must we know everything about its previous owners and what kind of devastation, whether financial or physical, caused them to leave in order to sympathize with them? Is taking a picture of the structure exploiting their misery in the same way the pornographer exploits his or her human subjects, for the sake of money and lust?

It’s a tough call.

I won’t stop looking at ruin photography; it still inspires stories within me. Does that make me a pornographer? Or is this all just another case of oversensitivity?

I’d sincerely love to know your thoughts.

Author: LindaGHill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

37 thoughts on “Ruin Porn – It’s a Thing

  1. I love looking at photos of abandoned building and such. A photographer whose blog I follow once photographed and old, abandoned house where the coats of the owners still hung behind the door. I don’t understand how people can just up and leave their belongings behind but then I don’t know their stories. I love that photographers can capture feelings so well.

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  2. Hmmm, never really considered the term. Ruin Porn, Food Porn, all just modern phrases to sex up something, in these cases abandoned buildings and photographs of food, perhaps that what the terms is there for, to sex it up.

    But if you like that stuff then you will love – http://www.abandoned-places.com/

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  3. Ooohkay.. Now when I think of all the photographs of the ruins I have taken (and have enjoyed taking in fact πŸ˜‰ ) I wonder !!! But then at least I know the history of the place, even if I only explain it a little bit in my post.
    I learnt a new term today Linda πŸ™‚ Thank you

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  4. I don’t think of it as porn, so I’ll go with the overly sensitive. I love anbandoned farms and houses. But I do want to know more about them in the ” if walls could talk” manner. My heart aches to know who lived there, what human interaction or issues took place? And if there’s no info to be had… Yes, my imagination begins to provide it. I definitely think that’s an artistic trait, whether writing, photography, or visial art.

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    • It seems to me that those who wish us to concentrate more on the “what happened” don’t appreciate the artistic value… which is confusing to me because the soul can be moved by art. It’s a conundrum to be sure. If you haven’t read the article above, you should. It’s quite interesting.
      Thanks very much for your comment, Leigh. πŸ™‚

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  5. Look! Look at this http://tinyurl.com/o4cwmsw I came across this article when I was, um, browsing for ruins on the internet. Unusually, you get some of the story; it makes for tragic reading.

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    • Thanks very much for the link. πŸ˜€ It’s nice to know there are so many others out there who love this sort of thing. I think we do the previous occupants justice by giving their places of abode and where they might have worked such loving attention. πŸ™‚
      I appreciate your input. πŸ™‚

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  6. This is a Thing?? It’s not just me?? Not sure I think of it as porn, though I do have a particular fetish for abandoned farms. They’re among my favourite thing to photograph. It’s about the stories for me too, what happened to the people, why did they leave. Don’t go away, I have a link for you….

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  7. Sorry, referring to the wrong link. My fault, but it won’t let me edit…

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  8. Very interesting! I must say I don’t get the exploitation angle. To me it’s a nudge in the ribs that everything we value will end up like these images. But the way, the link didn’t take me to an article, but I found his portfolio. Great stuff.

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    • Isn’t Seph’s work great? The other link is under the word “article” in this sentence: “According to Wikipedia and another article – The Psychology of Ruin Porn…” There are some more great pictures there, as well as a further explanation on what the exploitation is all about.
      It’s true, nothing lasts forever, though many places are knocked down long before they have a chance to get dilapidated.
      Thanks for your comment. πŸ™‚

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  9. I have never heard the term “Ruin Porn” before, not sure I really get it, but whatever. On the other hand I really understood the article you tagged. I have a strange sort of love for old, deserted, abandoned buildings and vehicles. I confess I have a rather extensive Pinterest page dedicated to abandoned sites. I believe that abandoned places and things have a story to tell, that echoes from their pasts linger with them and those that are listening can hear them.

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  10. Interesting. I liked the connection btween photos of people and archetecture for the purpose of explotation.

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  11. Oh, I just love this post! It is so erotic. Ruin lust, yes indeed. Count me in. πŸ˜‰

    It’s an interesting debate however. People have said similar things about garage sales and estate sales. Aren’t we being a bit like vultures, gleaning so much pleasure from picking through the debree of someones life?

    I’m going with overly sensitive, but not dismissing the issue entirely.

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    • I think I’m leaning in the same direction as you, IB. I’ll keep my eyes open for a convincing argument that it’s exploitive, but I really don’t see it that way.
      Thanks for commenting! You made me smile. πŸ˜€

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  12. It’s totally not actually porn. There’s a site called earth porn. They’re doing it for attention. Like when I saw your title, I totally thought you were talking about destroying porn for people. Tease.

    Anyway, very cool. I would love to see things through your now functional eyes πŸ˜‰

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    • Ha! So have I ruined porn for you now? πŸ˜‰ But yeah, it did cross my mind to think they’re doing it for attention to their cause – the cause being the reason behind the decline of the world’s finances.
      My eyes are still fluctuating between bad and not-so-bad… I just got sick of not being able to communicate with my friends. πŸ˜›

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  13. I think they are honouring these old forgotten buildings. They ensure a longevity unencumbered by judgement of the who, what, why . . .

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  14. I’ve done the same, Linda…looking at old falling down houses as we drive along the highway. I want to know what happened in there, where did the people go…anyway I make up stories to myself of the history of these places. Do you do Pinterest? I have a board of these type of abandoned and ruined places. Some are actually beautiful in a weird sort of way, others just sad, or haunted looking.

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  15. Ruins are always mysterious, even with historical background, no one will ever know all the stories. I’d say I’m a fan as well.

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  16. Never heard the phrase before, but I don’t really see the porn/ruin photography connection. I guess there are similarities, which you can do with just about anything. For example, cooking shows are like porn because both can bring joy/pleasure. Think that’s a stand up comedians joke, but I forgot who. Personally, I think attaching ‘porn’ to a phrase is more to get a specific reaction from people instead of a belief that the two things are connected. Mention porn in public and you get intense opinions.

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