The ruins within the working bodies of our cities have left so much territory to become, once again, uncharted. The geography left for those in an over-populated world to explore is often the ruin, the abandoned factory, the decaying house. I’m sure it is no coincidence that I am interested in both post-apocalyptic literature and urban exploration. Enter an abandoned building and you will find yourself in the setting of the post-apocalyptic novel, inventing stories of your own as the objects left behind whisper to you of their past lives.
When I found Beauty in Decay Volumes I & II—a complete coincidence in the quickly emptying English hall at the Frankfurt book fair—I bought them. The seller made a deal for three beautiful art books, and I assumed I would have some eye candy for all the urban exploration itches that I can’t scratch with a 2-year-old so often in tow. Hip hip…
Oh, the romance, no the Romance, of urban exploration! It’s the capital “R” Romance, the promise of ghosts, of secrets, of whispering phantoms, that has always fascinated me among abandoned buildings. Nature, halfway through the process of reclaiming the work of man contains a beauty I almost find more stunning than nature alone. And this volume of Beauty in Decay captures that with accompanying texts that get right to the heart of the hobby.
The photos are beautiful, though there were a few that made me wrinkle my nose: I don’t like staged photos—the gas-masked woman in a ball gown among the ruins, the gas-masked (and they are almost always gas-masked) visage of a person in jeans and hoodie sitting behind the teacher’s desk in an abandoned classroom. Any outside element added to the scene of an urban exploration site creates dissonance in the image for my eyes and removes some of the wonder and beauty. But the collection manages to remain beautiful, and I am glad to have procured it for my shelves to flip through again and again. Despite the gas-mask romance.
And then, near the end, the most embarrassing typo OF ALL TIME. *Lays head in palms, shakes head, weeps over the grave of P.K. Dick* Ever heard of kipple? Well, in case you haven’t, I’m here to tell you: it is a word that Philip K. Dick coined in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to describe the way the universe tends toward entropy and chaos without the mad obsessive ordering of human beings. More than once I have considered having it tattooed on my arm. I love that fucking word. So you might be able to imagine my derision at seeing this lovely book refer to it as “kibble.” Dear, dear sweet pod. Did a spell check error and/or an ignorant editor reduce another instance of Dickian genius to fucking dog bits?! *Weeps again.* It is a mistake that loses this book a lot of points with me, beautiful photos be damned.
7/10 gas-masked squatters in ball gowns. (More of those isn’t a good thing. Just saying.)
This volume was a bit of a disappointment. The photos were lovely, and with one exception, lacked the neo-squatter romance of gas-masked prom goers. But the text fell flat, contained none of the passion for or the philosophy of urban exploration that made the first volume so enjoyable. On the upside, it provided more information about the locations that had been photographed, which I had sometimes wished for (though not too hard, it is always a fun exercise of the imagination to guess) in the first volume. But the text was dull, read as if it had been written by someone who had never been caught up in the magic of an abandoned building themselves, and seemed to have an agenda about the mental asylum closures that took place in England in the 80s. There were a handful of photos that made the purchase worth it, but the price doesn’t make a recommendation worth it.
3/10 asylum fanatics
Where I got them: The Frankfurt Book Fair