On photographing decay…What it is, why do it.

I’ll post two times on this subject.  This one will examine decay that is more natural — mother nature at work — while the second one will look into decay caused by what mankind does (or doesn’t do) to cause it.  That second posting will also examine the practice of photographing urban decay — the so-called URBEX (urban exploration) and its practitioners’ habits of entering (sometimes illegally) and photographing abandoned sites and buildings.

This will not be a depressing blog — even though I’ll be writing about the downhill side of a thing’s existence.  And I will not explore the leftovers that have been in the refrigerator too long.  (Although I am sure the scene would be magnificent if examined under a microscope.)

So…what is the fascination with decay?

Many photographers (I’m one of them) think that there is a beauty — a sort of naturalness — in decay.  Just as nature blossoms and develops, so does nature move in an unstoppable pace to reclaim that which was created by nature — or man.  It’s a fact.  And…it can be beautiful.  Decay is a part of the life cycle — of anything.  A thing in decay is just a bit further along the cycle of its life.

Now you may be surprised to find out that you already like things in a state of decay.  Need I remind you of the beauty of autumn leaves?

NZ0810.jpgThis is a tidal pattern left on the beach on the South Island of New Zealand.  I believe that the coloration comes from the decaying plant material and the minerals of what was once a woodland.  Tree stumps and other features tell me that this is a newer beach.  The area of this shot is only a square foot or so but the action of the tides provided the apparent aerial view.

Could man create such a pallet and sculpture?  Maybe.  But there are acres of variations of the theme on just this one beach.

Greece No. 306Here is another example.  Weather conditions have been working on these doors for who knows how long.  The photo has good exposure and adequate composition.  Soft, directional light presents the texture favorably.

But there is more than just weathered wood and rusty hardware.  Look for the elements of a story.  Although the doors are hardly sound, someone has applied a patch to the inside of the one on the left.  What is behind these doors that a padlock was felt to be necessary?  And what is the function of those wires coming out of a hole and connecting to the chain?  The escutcheons seem pretty fancy and the horizontal boards show that a grove was milled into each edge.  The evidence is that these were once better than average doors.  What is their history?

Only decay brings these questions.  Had they been new, well fitting doors with modern hardware I wouldn’t have made the photo and we wouldn’t be thinking about it.

Decay offers many possibilities for the photographer wanting to get into the art side of photography.  Try close-ups.  Try black and whites.  Unless color is part of the story, I lean toward processing in black and white.  I find that subjects abound close to home.  My photography club had a field trip to an outdoor railroad museum a while back.  Lots of rust and thousands of possibilities!

Decay isn’t a bad word (unless your kid is at the dentist).

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Guy Davies - I totally agree, John. Decay can produce some wonderful ‘art’. I recently spent a day at an outdoor mining museum which had rusting heavy machinery in the open. Some of the patterns of flaking paint and rust, when shot in close-up, created aerial maps and animal faces as well as abstract patterns. I would urge anybody to explore decaying ‘stuff’ in close-up. It really is amazing what you can find.

skeeter - Thanks, Guy. I hadn’t thought about using the really close-up approach to rust. I’ll give it a try.

landscape la - That’s really some thing very special.Its like blessing in disguise for some people like u that decay also produce some wonderful stuff.

skeeter - Very kind of you, Maria.

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