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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