“A parallel universe of silence, rust, and peeling paint.” That is how photographer Matthew Christopher describes the empty theatres, factories, schools and hospitals he has spent years documenting. Based in Philadelphia, his project began ten years ago when be set out to document the decline of the US hospital system. Today his empty, eerie and often moving images are collected in a book called Abandoned America.
The photographer’s vast archive encompasses industrial buildings, state buildings, homes and social spaces. The images are striking for often giving the sense that the previous occupants have only just left. Filing cabinets spill paperwork. Hospital beds still have sheets rumpled and factories have staff-made notices pinned to peeling walls. In one sense time appears frozen, and yet everywhere nature encroaches, in the forms of rust on metal, crumbling masonry and creepers pushing through windows. We also noticed the mournful beauty of the colour palettes, with the once-regal reds of velvet theatre seats faded to a dirty rust colour and once-vivid green paint on industrial machinery merging with moss and mould. “There is an undeniably artistic element to decayed sites,” Christopher says. “There is something magical and mysterious about spaces that are no longer in use, where nature and time and man’s presence have combined to create something absolutely unique.” His work is, he says, not just a practical way of documenting architectural sites that are disappearing before our eyes, but in a larger sense the images are a eulogy for a lost way of life.