Don’t Call It “Ruin Porn”: Amazing Photos of the SS United States

Photographer and workshop leader Matthew Christopher, who runs Abandoned America, has a two-part code of ethics when it comes to photography. In fact, it may extend to an all-out life philosophy. First, do no harm. Next, “If you care about something, you have some obligation to do something about it.” This goes a long way toward explaining what he and 15 photographers were doing onboard the SS United States a couple weekends ago.

The SS United States is the massive ship whose iconic red smokestacks rise from the Delaware right across from IKEA. A former cruise ship that broke speed records and played host to presidents and celebrities of all stripes–from John F. Kennedy and Sean Connery to Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly–it’s now a hulking, deteriorating mess, despite the best efforts of advocacy organizations.
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Earlier in April the SS United States Conservancy announced that unless it reached its $500,000 fundraising goal in June, the famous ship’s future is in serious question. So photographer Christopher worked with the Conservancy to plan an exclusive photography workshop to benefit the cause. Considering Christopher’s following and the mystery surrounding the ship, it wasn’t surprising that the event sold out rather quickly. Attendance was capped at 15 photographers who each paid $150 for access and coaching by the renowned photographer.




The shoot was one in a series of photography workshops Christopher has hosted at decaying sites. He feels the resulting photos pose important questions about preservation. "They make you think, 'What's going on? Why is this happening?' The dots are not all that hard to connect."

And don't even think about calling the photographs by the unfortunate--and ubiquitous--term "ruin porn." Christopher and others who are interested in preservation prefer the term "urban exploration" to draw a line between simply posting photos of decay online and using photography to illustrate very real issues like urban blight and abandoned industry. "I think the urban exploration scene and the preservation scene go together like chocolate and peanut butter," he says.



Photos by Laura Kicey

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  • Prsbirds

    Wow… That is spectacular

  • Prsbirds

    Wow… That is spectacular

  • http://www.facebook.com/ColleenWilliams13 Colleen White

    Just amazing!! A picture really does say a thousand words!! I would like to see pictures of this pre-deteriorating mess.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ColleenWilliams13 Colleen White

    Just amazing!! A picture really does say a thousand words!! I would like to see pictures of this pre-deteriorating mess.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathy.knese Kathy Knese

    My Mom and Dad traveled on the ship “Georgia” when they emigrated to America from Ireland. When the US United States came into sight from the east, everyone on the Georgia came out onto the decks to see it on its maiden voyage. My Dad says that it flew by them on the fastest trans Atlantic crossing, that is still unbeaten.

    • Liz Spikol

      It’s hard to imagine a ship being that fast, right? But it apparently was. Thanks for sharing that story. That’s really neat.

  • Kathleen Knese

    My Mom and Dad traveled on the ship “Georgia” when they emigrated to America from Ireland. When the US United States came into sight from the east, everyone on the Georgia came out onto the decks to see it on its maiden voyage. My Dad says that it flew by them on the fastest trans Atlantic crossing, that is still unbeaten.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christa.barlow Christa Lydon Barlow

    stunning, just stunning

  • http://www.facebook.com/christa.barlow Christa Lydon Barlow

    stunning, just stunning

  • Peter G. Donald

    matthew’s work is so important

  • Peter G. Donald

    matthew’s work is so important

  • Betty Duvall

    I traveled from Germany to USA back in 1969 aboard this beautiful ship. My Dad worked for the State Department and we had been ordered to come home. The week we spent on that ship would end up being the best week in my life. I still have the passenger list and a few bars of soap still wrapped in the cover.

  • Betty Duvall

    I traveled from Germany to USA back in 1969 aboard this beautiful ship. My Dad worked for the State Department and we had been ordered to come home. The week we spent on that ship would end up being the best week in my life. I still have the passenger list and a few bars of soap still wrapped in the cover.