Thursday, January 14, 2010

Urban Decay

Spoiler alert! This post is not about nail polish!

I've long said that I'll watch just about anything with an apocalyptic/heavy doom premise. I have sat through the crappiest movies just to see stuff get destroyed or to some two-bit directors vision of an abandoned metropolis. As a kid, I loved reading about ancient Egypt and the Titanic. In other words, I'm a #1 giant-foam-finger fan fallen giants and always have been.

This beautiful and fascinating photo essay of abandoned mental asylums on the New York Times has left me completely enthralled.

Autopsy Theater, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Washington

Aesthetically, the photographs are stunning (side note: look at those gorgeous modern plastic shell chairs - someone needs to rescue those babies!). Loveliness aside, I'm fascinated by how the essay illustrates the literal abandonment of the asylum approach to mental health. The "beauty salon" photo suggests attempts to make asylums more personal, while the collection of "patient toothbrushes" shows that they were anything but. These once very private and personal institutional spaces now lie dormant. The remaining, but decaying fixtures tell us tales about the treatment of mental illness not-so-long-ago; the empty rooms offer a distance - as both viewers and as a culture - from these approaches.

'Bathtub', Fairfield Hills State Hospital, Connecticut, USA

The accompanying text and stories are an interesting a quick read. Summed in a few words:
"Society can be judged as much by what it abandons as by what it builds."

Even more of Christopher Payne's Asylum photos on his webpage:

More urban decay:

Flickr Urban Decay group

Yves Marchard & Romain Meffre - The Ruins of Detroit

Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us


  1. beautiful beautiful destitution choices tate! seriously so cool. i love hearing about what obsessions people had when they were kids. this will be turning into an emo blog soon if we don't keep up with posts like the burrito bros. i kid i kid. we are only mere mortals in a world full of pain anyway R.I.P. 2012

  2. funny you say we're emo because the post i'm working on takes place in a cemetery...

    tot- you're posts thus far have been wicked cool. hard to follow them. i've been curious about detroit for a while, and have wanted to take a road trip there sometime for exploration purposes.

  3. That quote totally made me think again. hah. Seriously though, I feel you on the abandoned asylums. There is something so interesting and startling about how still they are when you can imagine how hectic it must have been at times.

    I just read about a girls correctional facility that was recently shut down and how it went through staff changes based on who was in office. Some girls said it really saved them from abusive households where a relative (usually the father) was abusing them (only to be told it was their fault when they had the guts to report it). Some girls who lived there under a different staff said it was the worst experience of their lives. One example was about this insanely horrible head lady who basically took them on a field trip to get sterilized...

    Anyway, I'm in love with that theatre!

  4. I wasn't being sarcastic about the quote either. I really do like thinking about it.

  5. Thanks ladies! Glad you can share my enthusiasm for doom. I'm all for the emo blogging; gotta let it out somewhere... while we CAN.

    Detroit is a living, breathing metaphor of a city. Keeping in line with the quote above, it's wild to think that cars are still manufactured in America, but - whether purposefully or otherwise - not THERE. Detroit could be the set of a sordid special called "Capitalism Gone Wild" - cities that were loved hard, abused, and then abandoned by their partners.

    There's so much to just about the United Artists Theater (pictured above) - a once treasured movie house built in the 1920s, now fallen into disrepair. But I've typed for long enough, so I'll just point out that I love the way the natural light is pouring in through the crumbling roof.