Beautiful Decay: Three Collections


Norwich State Hospital, Piano
"New England Ruins"
Rob Dobi, 2005

Three quietly stunning collections of photos mix the ache of loss with the unintentional but undeniable beauty of decay. First, Rob Dobi's "New England Ruins" documents abandoned buildings in various states of abandonment. His compositions vary from grand (abandoned stages and performance halls) to mundane (a chair fallen down a flight of stairs, the back of a derelict television). Norwich State Hospital, Piano (above) captures a broken piano, its innards undulating like the skeleton of a grilled trout, under a crude mosaic of the Dutch countryside.

The infinite variations in peeling paint alone are sufficient justification to tour this collection. Dobi says, "I find as a photographer I am able to give these abandoned structures a second life of sorts, preserving them in a picture for others to see and interpret their history for themselves."


perca fluviatilis
"Touched by Fire"
Martin d'Orgeval, 2008

When the venerable Parisian taxidermy shop Deyrolle was destroyed by fire a year ago, Martin d'Orgeval documented the remains. Amidst charred parquet and blackened wood, d'Orgeval found instances where displays were virtually untouched or only half-consumed.

These juxtapositions are surprising and fraught with meaning: the fire at Deyrolle doesn't represent a loss of life - all these specimens were already dead, of course - but rather a reinstatement of the natural process of decay, delayed for years by artificial means. d'Orgeval says,

That which Man and science had taken from the natural cycle of life and death and fixed forever for our wide-eyed pleasure was partially brought back to its original destiny: the fading and disappearance that awaits any creature. Time had been made to stand still, and Nature had reclaimed its rights.

"Touched by Fire" is showing from March 21-April 30, at Adamson Gallery in DC (Dupont Circle).


Richmond Power, Philly, PA
"Naked City Spleen"
Miru Kim, 2008

Finally, this 2008 talk by New York artist Miru Kim explains the philosophy behind her nude self-portraits set in the urban ruins of Paris, New York, London, and other cities - including train tunnels, power plants, asylums, bunkers, and a network of tunnels below Columbia University used in the Manhattan project.

I wanted the human figure in the picture to become a part of that nature. . . When I got comfortable in the space, it also felt like a big playground; I would climb up the tanks and hop across exposed beams as if I went back in time and became a child again.

Kim may have felt childlike in these spaces, but the viewer is likely to feel a frisson of vulnerability as she poses naked amid rusty, broken, polluted shards of architecture - even kneeling amid the dirty instruments on an autopsy table in an abandoned hospital. (One hopes she has a current tetanus vaccination.) In the London sewers, she had to wear a gas mask. But her only complaint was about the cold: "I don't recommend sitting on a gargoyle in the middle of January, naked."

Miru Kim, via TED via Greg Laden's Blog.

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Nice, mordicai! You appear to be on the cutting edge of grungy steampunky chic.

I'm kind of embarrassed by how riveting I found that talk and accompanying photos. Where will she crouch next???

Good to see that someone else blogged about this. The Deyrolle is such a magical place and deserves all our support, methinks. x