Ten years ago Philadelphia photographer Matthew Christopher began a photo series attempting to document the decline of the state hospital system. Today his evocative and beautiful collection, “Abandoned America”, includes images of asylums, institutions, military, hospitals/health care, prisons, schools, power plants, factories, mills, quarries, hotels, transportation, theaters, houses, churches, and graveyards. The photos are beautifully composed and shot and are totally captivating in their emptiness.
“There is an undeniably artistic element to decayed sites, and an immense number of social, theological, and philosophical questions they pose. Abandoned America’s aim encompasses not only the historical and photographic cataloging of such sites, but also on a larger scale a eulogy for the lost ways of life they represent, a statement of their emotional, spiritual, and metaphoric relevance to our everyday lives, and a sense of the visceral experience of entering a parallel universe of silence, rust, and peeling paint.”
The pictures of abandoned spaces seem to want to create a narrative. They ask questions: What is the difference between a place abandoned temporarily and permanently? Is it a matter of chance, of luck? When you walk out the door, are you certain that you’re coming back? What sort of artifacts does a person leave? There is a poignancy to these spaces, a haunted voyeurism, a solemn quality to their emptiness. What lives were being lived here, and why were they interrupted?
“There is something magical and mysterious about spaces that are no longer in use, where nature and time and man’s presence have combined to create something absolutely unique,” says Christopher. “I hope that people reading my book can experience that sense of the transcendental and sublime that I did when I photographed these forgotten places. This book is a chance to examine why we are losing so many sites that are critical to our identity and culture.”