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#RuinPorn: travel trend inspires new appreciation for abandoned places

Greg Dickinson ponders the appeal of ruin porn

01 April 2018 - 00:01 By Greg Dickinson

I posted some porn on Instagram the other day. The subject was an abandoned London pub. The skeleton of an old gasworks loomed behind, framed against the bright blue sky - a perfect example of "ruin porn".
To me there was something compelling about the aesthetic of the scene within the London context: two crumbling carbuncles in an urban landscape of glimmering glass towers. I'm not alone in finding ruined architecture fascinating either.
In the past five years, Google searches for "abandoned places" have skyrocketed and #ruinporn has become as popular a social-media tag as #foodporn, #travelporn and #cabinporn.Of course, like most social-media trends, ruin porn is a manifestation of something humans have been interested in for centuries.
Ruin Lust, an exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2014, explored the art world's interest in ruins through time, from Turner to contemporary photographers.
So why, as a society, are we so fascinated with ruins? Tong Lam, author of Abandoned Futures: A Journey Through the Posthuman World, says "Ruin tourism helps to negotiate our growing anxieties over the existential threats we are facing, including climate change, globalisation, nuclear annihilation or simply death."Now, as the post-apocalyptic aesthetic gains ground, heritage sights and cities recovering from abandonment are having to make decisions on whether to restore or embrace the ruin.
Orford Ness on England's east coast is a good example of the latter. A military base during World War 2 and a secret atomic weapons testing site during the Cold War, today it is a nature reserve where the National Trust has decided to employ the policy of "continued ruination".Professor of cultural geography at Exeter University Caitlin DeSilvey says this is a good thing. "It shows that we don't always have to associate ruination with failure and neglect. Where the process of physical decay is going on, and nature is moving in, we can try to see this in a positive light."
Ruin porn like this feels not only harmless but also enriching. This is a place where the innocence of wildlife and the destruction of humans intertwine, which feels like a work of art in itself.
Then there are living ruins, where for some life goes on, such as Detroit. When the city declared bankruptcy in July 2013, media footage depicted a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Some entrepreneurial types started running tours around the city's top abandoned places, mainly for photography.
Other places such as Chernobyl and Havana, Cuba, though their contexts are very different, also attract such tourists.
For them, #ruinporn has been a positive force - blowing oxygen into the dwindling flames of tourism in destinations on their knees.As tourists, though, we need to be aware of the "living" aspect of the ruins, and not cross the line into straight-up voyeurism. If you feel at all awkward or guilty taking that photo, you probably shouldn't take it. - The Telegraph

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