Photo essay ‘States of Decay’ about urban blight fails to prove political point

photo essay states of decay about urban blight fails to prove political point daniel marbaix barter 4

“If America is the Roman Empire of our time, then New York City is Rome. The pulsating heart of the West pumps greenbacks through the veins of Manhattan, the richest place in the world. Power emanates from its corporate brains and financial muscle across the whole surface of the globe. So how is it that even in the body of America, land of eternal youth, there is failure, death and decay hidden just beneath its glossy surfaces?”

So reads the description for States of Decay, a recently released and hardcover-bound 160-page extended photo essay featuring the photography of urban adventurers who captured the imagery throughout the Northeastern United States, offering a look inside generally off-limits but long-since-abandoned locales like hospitals, asylums, schools, and cathedrals.

And if that description should clue the reader into anything, it is that editors/photographers Daniel Barter and Daniel Marbaix intend the book’s title – States of Decay – to carry two meanings, serving as both a reflection of the pictured facilities’ general state of disrepair and the connection the book attempts to draw to what those abandoned structures say about the state of the country.

But to say the book is reaching for its message is an understatement. And its failures start with the imagery itself.

While the photographs are appropriately bleak and beautifully shot, the lack of variation in the style of the photographs already starts to feel mundane by the end of the first quarter of the book – States of Decay is divided into four sections, with text attempting to add context to urban exploration and the book’s forced message. And the photos lack a certain depth, so viewers won’t feel the desire to sit and look for every small detail in a photo, though most of the detail is usually the same peeling paint and rust.

But the bigger problem lies in the book’s political message, which – despite its description as a “visual poem” that allows readers to draw their own conclusions from the images – pushes readers toward a particular way of thinking when drawing parallels to the fall of Rome and generally taking a harsh stance against wealth, in and of itself, almost drawing a sick pleasure from the demise of the structures its images capture.

The odd thing is that while the photographs spanning from New York City to the country’s Rust Belt include industrial sites like power plants, steel mills, factories, hotels, and blast furnaces, the primary focus of this release from publisher Carpet Bombing Culture is – and the bulk of its imagery comes from – hospitals, asylums, schools and cathedrals. All of which – maybe save for the last, depending on where the skeptical reader’s religious beliefs lie – are institutions that were designed to help people. 

These facilities aren’t simply monuments to man, symbols of excessive American opulence and frivolous displays of wealth, but rather institutions – as large, abandoned and degraded as they may be – that were designed with others in mind. So the book’s message seems misguided, or at the very least is using the wrong arguments to make its point. More inexcusable, though, is that States of Decay is a book about photography, the images of which are simply boring.

(Copyright images via Daniel Marbaix and Daniel Barter)

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

How the headphone jack helps Samsung out-Apple the king

Samsung’s latest flagship phones and wearables unveiled at the Galaxy Unpacked event had plenty of exciting new tech. But one of the most useful features Samsung revealed is also the oldest: The mighty headphone jack.
Smart Home

Can new laws protect you from smart home security breaches?

To help combat smart home data breaches, state and federal lawmakers are exploring ways to protect consumers. California, Oregon, and members of the U.S. Senate all have proposals to protect people's data.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Computing

Lenovo’s Yoga C930 sale drops a $650 discount on its 2TB SSD laptop

Lenovo is offering one of its 2-in-1 laptops at a $650 discount. This Lenovo Yoga C930 laptop comes with a 2TB solid-state drive, a digital pen, a fingerprint reader, and a Dolby Atmos sound bar.
Gaming

Bethesda's sharp new Elder Scrolls mobile game is blunted by microtransactions

Elder Scroll: Blades brings elements of the most popular open-world RPG to mobile phones. It has many of the features fans will expect but, in its current Early Access state, lacks the real charm and depth of its predecessors.
Gaming

Age of Empires II thrives 20 years later. Here's what Anthem could learn from it

Age Of Empires II is approaching its 20th birthday. It has a loyal following that has grown over the past five years. New always-online games like Anthem would love to remain relevant for so long, but they have a problem. They're just not…
Smart Home

Alexa may be everywhere, but it’s Google’s Assistant I want in my home. Here’s why

The Amazon Alexa may have the Google Home beat in quantity of skills and compatibility with other products, but does that really matter when Alexa falls flat for day-to-day conversation?
Gaming

Devil May Cry is Fantastic, but I still want a DmC: Devil May Cry sequel

Capcom's Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best games of 2019 and a welcome return for the series, but its success should not discount just how wonderful Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry really was.
Gaming

DMC 5’s greatness is a reminder of all the open world games that wasted my time

Devil May Cry 5 modernizes the stylish action combat while retaining its storied PS2 roots. More so, though, it reminded me that we could sure use more linear, single player games to combat the sea of open world games.
Gaming

Don't get the hype over Fortnite? Let us change your mind

Fortnite arrived very quietly but after launching Battle Royale mode it became a cultural phenomenon. Today, Fortnite is one of the most content prolific online games and it's starting to change the meta.
Mobile

Hey Google, why did you kill off Allo, your best messaging app in years?

Allo, Google's messaging app, has shut down. I convinced my closest friends and family to switch to the app two-and-a-half years ago when it debuted, and we've been using it since. With its death, I'm feeling pain and sadness.
Mobile

Apple’s new iPads are hardly new at all. Don’t waste your money

It has taken Apple four years to get around to updating the iPad Mini line, but the new iPad Mini is virtually identical to its predecessor. It’s joined by a confusing iPad Air with no obvious target audience. Is Apple just trying to sell…
Home Theater

There isn’t a single good reason to buy Apple’s new AirPods

After nearly a three-year wait, Apple has finally announced a new version of its popular true wireless headphones, the AirPods. We had high hopes for vast improvements, but that's not what we got.
Gaming

The Division 2 offers nothing but a funhouse mirror of America

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 improves on the design shortcomings of the original game in several different ways, but its version of Washington D.C. is completely removed from reality.