The Art History Newsletter

‘Ruin Porn’

by | 30 September 2009 | Photography

Thomas Morton recently wrote for Vice:

… Detroit is being descended on by a plague of reporters … The interest in coverage is legitimate … [but they all] write the same story as everyone else. The photographers are the worst. Basically the only thing they’re interested in shooting is ruin porn.

On The Media‘s Bob Garfield interviewed Morton:

BOB GARFIELD: … At one site in particular, Morton noticed that photographers were essentially cropping out the adjacent prosperity.

THOMAS MORTON: And so, he took us on top of this mound where he had taken one of the pictures that really, really evokes this desolation, but if you tilt the camera even just like a little bit to the right or to the left on one side [LAUGHS] there’s this really well-kept food factory building with a nicely manicured lawn out front, and the other way there’s an office building that when we there everybody was out like eating their lunch; it was bustling. There was all this activity.

BOB GARFIELD: A wider shot would have spoiled the mood, eh?

THOMAS MORTON: That is true. Michigan Grand Central Terminal, which is a huge, dilapidated old train station, it’s been that way since the ’80s and there’s been a lot of pictures of it, but it’s kind of considered like an iconic shot to be matched up with the current stories about the bottom falling out of the automotive industry, and such. But it’s just, it’s disingenuous. It’s like going to the base of Roosevelt Island and taking pictures of the old mental hospital from the ’50s to underscore some point about “Obama Care.”


THOMAS MORTON: I think when you’re presented with a photo and then a little bit of description of it, the image stands so strongly that it’s almost hard to argue it; you’re throwing what seem like minor quibbles at this shot of utter desolation.