Down East 2013 ©
Photograph from Brian Vanden Brink’s new book, Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America .
Often it is only once something — or someone — is gone that we fully comprehend their importance. This is especially true when it comes to vacant buildings. Whether it’s a Mansard-roofed house in East Machias or a row of Cold War-era bunkers in Limestone, removing the people from these impressive edifices strips them of their context and turns them into mere structures of wood, concrete, and brick. The inhabitants are gone, but the traces left behind become somehow more poignant — the vase of artificial flowers left on a windowsill, the rusted metal sign warning of a dog long dead. In his latest book, Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America  (Down East Books; 144 pages; $65; www.DownEast.com ) photographer Brian Vanden Brink has gathered together striking images of abandoned buildings, a collection created over thirty years of photographing some of the most luxurious modern homes in America. “To me [these structures] are mysterious and melancholy, hauntingly beautiful in some strange way, and more fascinating than the new buildings I shoot professionally,” Vanden Brink writes.
“Maybe these buildings fascinate me because they represent all of us; maybe they are symbols of our own impermanent status here on earth — metaphors for our transient lives and inability to stop the passing of time.”
Indeed, impermanence pervades each of these abandoned structures, with their rotting sills and sagging ridgepoles, but there’s also an element of resilience in every one: the intact asphalt shingles that still ward off winter snows, the wrought-iron fence that tries to keep weeds from overrunning the lawn of a cupola-topped home where children once played. Those children have left the scene, but their memory lives on in this house.