Pictorial History

Photographs of old buildings that were once busy factories, populated schools, adored homes and so much more hang on the wall. These buildings now sit abandoned, left to decay and be taken over by nature. Some of them are partially collapsed while others have been demolished since the photos were taken and now there’s nothing left but an empty lot or the looks of what used to be the foundation.

These are the Hudson Valley Ruins, a photography exhibit currently on display at the New York State Museum. (And I do recommend going to see this instillation.)

The photos are beautiful. From an artistic standpoint I loved the use of lighting, attention to detail, the textures and angles at which the pictures were taken. They capture the essence of the buildings – still beautiful with it’s boarded up doors, partially collapsed walls, broken windows, torn wallpaper, peeling paint and overall abandonment.

Each photo leads to a sense of wonder and, possibly, nostalgia. As I stood in the museum looking at these photos I found myself envisioning what they looked like in their prime – busy, bustling schools and factories, lavish homes.

Historically the photos capture a place that once was a prominent and important piece of the past. These buildings once produced goods, educated children and housed families among other things. Some of the buildings were repurposed before being abandoned while others were forgotten long ago.

I think that’s the sad thing about these places. While still beautiful in their own way, they’ve been forgotten and left to the forces of nature to destroy what once was grand. A lack of care has turned these buildings into so-called “eye sores.” I don’t believe they’re ugly sights to be seen. Instead, I think they’re interesting pieces of history. They’re meant to be preserved as best as possible so we can learn from them.

Any photograph, if we look closely enough, can be a learning tool. Every picture tells a story. They depict specifics about a person – their clothing, their personality, their inner being. Pictures capture a lifestyle. Photographs freeze the horror and/or the beauty of a moment. They’re a window to the past and hope for the future.

It’s said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Maybe the saying is a bit cliched, but I believe there’s truth in those words. We can learn a lot from a photograph, if we’re willing to listen, look carefully with our eyes.

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