The Beauty of Decay

The Beauty of Decay

Havana by Michael Eastman

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Self-taught photographer Michael Eastman has since long established himself as a master in portraying the process of architectural decay and deterioration in the most beautiful cities of the world.

Art photography counts a long tradition of artists devoted to capturing ruins and abandoned buildings in the urban landscape. Such a tradition has been associated with the search for the sublime typical of Romanticism. But is has also faced some criticisms. The proliferation of what could be considered the proper genre of ruin photography has generated a debate culminating in accusations of rather being ‘ruin porn’.

Although it is undeniable that Eastman has an attraction for sites in a state of decay, his work is anything but morbid. There is no trace of decadent indulgence in any of his previous work nor in his Havana series, on show at Michael Hoppen Gallery in London beginning 12 February.

For more than a decade Eastman has taken pictures of once magnificent facades and interiors of the Cuban capital. The photographer still uses analogue cameras and film, which allow for very long exposure times and no use of artificial light. Alongside the use of a wide angled lens, these photographic choices determine the pictorial treatment of the colours and the capture of apparently irrelevant details.

In actual fact the soft rendition of the architectural subjects and the fading effect of time on the textures is what give to Eastman’s images their evocative power. It is through exquisitely photographic means that the artist manages to condense within one image a much larger story. In the case of Havana, the series captures the traces of a past grandeur and can be considered a narrative of the progressive dismissal of a once rich, privileged and corrupted elite. Through his work, Eastman proves to be a master in elevating his practice above any accusation of ruin pornography.

Michael Eastman: Havana runs at Michael Hoppen Gallery in London from 12 February until 29 March.

Michael Hoppen Gallery
3 Jubilee Place
London SW3 3TD

Images by Michael Eastman. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Hoppen Contemporary.