Climate Change Porn

Anthropogenic Crisis No. 175024 (Melting City) copyright 2022 Douglas Stockdale –

While evaluating some of my recent documentary photographs of the Marshall Fire’s destruction, black and white here, a color version here, I am becoming aware that these photographs are taking on the attributes of ‘ruin porn’. Ruin porn can be described as “a sexy name for a contentious genre of photography. It consists of images of abandoned places, photos that are hauntingly beautiful, that take us inside off-limits structures and let us lust over hot and wet images of decay. Like real porn, it has been called exploitative, amoral, a form of prostitution, and maybe just plain wrong.”

Nevertheless, painting decaying, old and collapsing structures is a very, very old art genre that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. So it should be no surprise that photography and modern artist would use these broken down structures as metaphors to represent memory, aging, and various types of decay.

The issue for me is about viewer engagement; the realistic and documentary ‘ruin porn’ artwork do not seem to have a lasting impact. Case in point is Yes Marchand and Romain Meffre’s Ruins of Detroit, a photobook that I have reviewed but I have never had the need to look through it again. My documentary images, captured in the aftermath of a real event, such as the Marshall fire that swept through Superior Colorado at the end of last year, become one of many such environmental and fire disasters photographs. We see these searing images often on the TV and News whenever a wild fire breaks out and individual’s homes are seen burnt to the ground. Sometimes the News captures these structures while still in the mist of the fire storm, flames still roaring out of various parts of the houses.

Instead I am using the odd color and pictorial structure of my surreal images, such as the one above, which are not meant to appear ‘realistic’, but disorienting and can be difficult to read. I hope to create a visual metaphor meant to have more emotional impact to slow down the viewing process. To ask the viewer to consider what is this image is meant to reveal, what is going on and why might this be something to think about. That the underlying image of the burnt-out and collapsed home in the image above is tragic and has had a substantial impact on a family. Essentially everything that they once owned is gone, devoured by the wind blown flames due to climate change. And maybe my surreal image will have a bit more memory staying power; once seen, you cannot seem to forget it.

Thus I am finding that while the realistic ‘climate change porn’ may be momentarily engaging, I am thinking that these photo documentary type images should be a very small subset, if I use these at all, in my Anthropogenic Crisis project. Leave a comment as to what you think.

Peace

Doug

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Workshop:

Colorado Photographic Arts Center (CPAC): Developing a Creative Photo Book, a virtual (Zoom) workshop I will be leading on: May 14 & 15 – 21 & 22nd, 2022, from 1PM-4PM (Mountain Time). More details and sign-up available now at Colorado Photographic Arts Center.

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