Ruinous Beauty


In an interview about their work photographing abandoned buildings, Rusty Tagliareni and Christina Matthews respond to a question about the ethics of what they do and why the things they capture are more than just “ruin porn”:

To us this is history. Perhaps at its most raw, but also at its most accessible. We have spoken at school seminars from elementary to high school levels, about the importance of photojournalism. If you can gain someone’s attention, through interesting photos and videos, then you open them up to learning. It’s really that simple. Case in point:

a while back we spoke at a high school, one of the topics was about documenting abandoned asylums. Of course abandoned asylums are of interest to teenagers, they’re mysterious and full of ghost stories. The imagery of decaying buildings is a hook, upon which you attach information. Well, by the end of the 45 minute session the class knew all about the history of mental healthcare, evolution of modern day pharmaceuticals, and the de-institutionalization of the country. We know this because after each session we heard people in the hallway telling others about not only the abandoned buildings, but why they became abandoned, and why there are no longer a need for such large facilities. They all listened to what we spoke about, and they retained the knowledge because it was linked with things that piqued their interest. Our website is just a history lesson wrapped up in some cool aesthetics.

(Photo of Pilgrim State Hospital in Long Island, NY, at one time the largest psychiatric institution in the world. Used with permission of Antiquity Echoes)