I confess I have a thing about photos of abandoned institutions — prisons, hospitals, amusement parks, shopping malls, etc. — and photographer Matthew Christopher has exactly the kind of thing I like: detailed and haunting shots of all kinds of crumbling churches and schools across the US. He posts them on his website, Abandoned America, but also on Instagram and Twitter. One of my favorite newsletter writers, Luke “Welcome to Hell World” O’Neill recently interviewed Christopher. As Luke put it in his intro:
You probably have your own local variations on the theme. Abandoned factories that made god knows what with glass hanging like jagged teeth in the windows after years of tossed stones. Town buildings left in bureaucratic limbo ripe for sneaking into. An old library with empty shelves or a squat little brick shit house of an elementary school whose halls echoed no children’s voices but our own surreptitious whispers. The “old firehouse.” The “old” whatever. Something was always the “old” something. A place where important things happened and now do not.
In the interview, Christopher talks a bit about what the ruins in places like Detroit and Chicago, or even smaller towns, say about the American dream:
When people say, like, oh the demographics changed in that area. Well, no. All the wealth was taken out. It’s not the demographics, it’s the wealth. The other thing too is there’s this kind of sense of if you’re poor it’s because you’re bad. You didn’t pull the bootstraps hard enough. That’s the whole central ilusion we work on. You have a bunch of these towns where they’re really struggling financially, but there’s this sense of stigma around it rather than saying, no, this is kind of everywhere because we’ve been sold a false bill of goods.
Here are a few more of Christopher’s excellent shots that I picked more or less at random from the galleries on his site, which are categorized by purpose — churches, prisons, hospitals, schools, etc:
And if you like this sort of thing, you might also like the work of Romain Veillon, a French photographer who also specializes in taking pictures of abandoned places, including concert halls and towns that have been taken over by the desert, and has collected some in a project called “Ask the Dust”
And another Paris-based photographer named Thomas Jorion spent a decade or so taking photos of abandoned villas in Italy — he won’t say exactly where, but most are likely in Umbria and Tuscany, a few hours north of Rome