Ruin Porn

Friday, September 25, 2009

Transcript

Are photojournalists obsessed with "ruin porn"? Reporter Thomas Morton recently visited Detroit, where photographers have been flocking to take pictures of the city's decrepit factories and abandoned buildings. But Morton says these photos, which he calls ruin porn, paint a misleading picture of the city.

Comments [9]

sexy boy Sam from http://sexstories101.blogspot.com/

Thomas Morton is good man.

Oct. 09 2009 10:06 AM
Oneita Jackson from Detroit

I listened to this piece the other Saturday morning and appreciated the perspective; thank you NPR and Thomas Morton.

Ann @ #6: Mercury Coffee Bar closed in February.

Oct. 06 2009 05:21 PM
David Barrie from London

The Godfather of 'ruin porn' was artist Roberth Smithson. Whether we like it or not, it's a genre of creativity that can access and express the psychological mythologies of place. More here: http://bit.ly/2Z2m2Y

Oct. 04 2009 09:15 PM
Ann from Detroit suburbs

Thomas Morton, like the people he criticizes, dropped into Detroit and formed an opinion. It happens to be a contrary one, but it is no more subtle.
Stock photos of Detroit may be overused, but they are stunning. That an abandoned auto factory has been neither fixed nor destroyed in 50 years says something about a place. That a massive public building like the train station stands in ruins for 20 years is stunning. I have not seen anything like it in any other city.
They also are reasonable symbols of the devastation that is harder to document. Many blocks of Detroit look like any rural field...but they are in the heart of the city. To imply that Detroit is somehow thriving, and that the published pictures misrepresent that reality, is simply false.
There IS a real story in Detroit that is different from either cartoonish outsider view. Detroit is largely desolate. If you walk from that abandoned train station, you quickly encounter blocks of neighborhoods that have literally returned to grass, with a lone residence popping up now and again. You would walk past the lot that was once Tiger Stadium. You would pass boarded up pawn shops and abandoned bars.
Then you would see Slows, probably the best, tastiest, coolest, hippest barbeque place in the country. You'd see the Mercury Bar, serving coffee and locavore food. You'd find the crepe shop and children's bookstore nearby, or the Honeybee Market with its extraordinary range of Hispanic foods.
It is true that it is reductive to think of Detroit of a pile of ruins. It is also reductive to deny the ruins, and pretend Detroit is like any other city. Detroit is a city with 1/4 of its former population, largely burned out, abandoned, and left for dead. Yet it is not dead. People are constantly insisting on its survival, and putting their hearts and soles into making it a vibrant place to be. In the end, it ends up being cooler than most cities, because what springs up has so much energy and life.

Oct. 01 2009 04:14 PM
Eric Mesa from Baltimore, MD

As an ethusiast photographer who follows photojournalism, I was shocked and dismayed to hear about what was going on in this story. If news organizations continue to lie or deceive their readers (but taking shots of the same building or buildings that have been closed for decades) then we will only continue to end up in a world where they do not trust the media and will believe stupid crap like the birther movement.

Sep. 30 2009 12:23 PM
Ronald Rice from Detroit, Michigan

I agree completely with Don Fitzpatrick's comment. I have criss-crossed this country over the years and have seen desolation in most of the major cities, including Los Angeles. I have maintained for many years that the media, including our local press, has portrayed Detroit in a biased manner. Other cities that have had some of the exact same problems and stories of incidents have not been magnified in the press as those emanating out of Detroit. While it is true that there has been decay in areas, as Morgan's piece points out, there are many fine places located within the City of Detroit. Oft-times, we residents who have remained, get the feeling that there are those who would like nothing more than to see Detroit fold. If our feelings are on point, it begs the question; why?

Sep. 29 2009 01:27 PM
Don Fitzpatrick

Excellent story and a very interesting example of how bias can occur not out of some agenda or slant, but what amounts to a lack of effort, time and attention by the media (read the original article by Vice). Detroit, like all places, is complex, but when you write the story before you even go there, then of course you will look for the pictures that tell that story.

P.S. Rick, I can easily find photos of ruin in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia or any big city. I could also make each look like an urban paradise. As for LA, I rarely go there, but see plenty of lonely desolate looking places on various TV cop shows.

Sep. 29 2009 07:54 AM
Rick Wicks from Sverige (Sweden) -- Alaska voter!

Isn't the point about photos of ruins in Detroit that, if Detroit were thriving, those ruins would have been torn down and replaced with something new? The fact that there's something new next to them doesn't tell us much. When you look around a thriving city -- Los Angeles? -- how many ruins from the 1950s do you find?

Sep. 28 2009 03:48 AM
Michael Morse from Woburn, MA

I was interested to hear Thomas Morton's discussion of misleading photography in reports about Detroit. I've been thinking about the relationships between news stories and photographs of people for years. It seems like photographs of people are often chosen to symbolically match the story. But what if the media accompanies a story of decline in the presidents approval rating, for example, with a picture showing some discomfort on the president's face. The pictures often seem ambiguous to me. Is that sadness, anger, fear, uncertainty...? Like a Rorschach test, the picture seems open to interpretation. And the interpretation becomes a feedback loop that further effects the presidents approval rating. Take a look at the pictures of Ben Bernanke during our fiscal crisis. He always looked discouraged/depressed/uncertain/fill in the blank. It seems to me that this kind of recursion amplifies the problems. I was not a big George Bush fan. So when pictures of him in consternation accompanied stories about how the war in Iraq was failing I felt justified in my distaste for him. Now, however, I am horrified by pictures of Obama that depict his anger accompanying stories on health care reform. What I realize is that whether it is George Bush or Obama the pictures are literally moments that capture only one way each man feels about the situation in which he finds himself. So that these pictures, though contemporary, freeze the moment in time no less completely than a picture of a factory that shut down before I was born in a contemporary story about the decline of Detroit. I'm not sure how to solve this issue. But at least I am more aware of my own projections. Thanks for contributing to my thinking on the subject.

Mike Morse

Sep. 27 2009 09:23 AM

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