Archive for October 5th, 2011

In “The Blot and the Diagram,” Kenneth Clarke talked about Leonardo’s intellectual range.  His formidable brain loved to analyze systems (diagrams); but he was also fascinated by chaotic forms (blots).  In his notebooks Leonardo tells us that he often would stop to look at a wall that was water stained, cracked or peeling.   He writes, contemplating such chaotic forms stimulates the imagination.

I think of Leonardo as one of us,  he shared our sensibility, with his insatiable curiosity and courage, his scientific approach; his playfulness; his openness to possibilities; his skepticism; his use of inconsistencies; his caricatures; and for the purpose of this post, his embrace of accidentals.  In this sense, Kenneth Clark says, he anticipated modern art.  About 120 years ago, when paint started dripping on a canvas, it was sometimes allowed to do so.  By the 1940’s dripping paint had come to represent an aesthetic in itself, with Jackson Polack it’s most famous representative.  An aesthetic of chance occurrence was edging out the old aesthetic of control.

If you’ve ever seen Urban Decay Photography, you know that it speaks to the modern sensibility.  At first, it may be shocking (never was to me, though) but then it sinks in and reaches you at a very deep  level of your  life experience. Where the old sensibility measured time teleologically, this new sensibility embraces time– how shall we say—mystically, as an element of constant surprise and potential.  And isn’t that where we live, from one moment of consciousness to the next and to get to the next moment, we have to let the previous moment die.

Decay.  Urban Decay.

What other kind of decay is there?  Well, obviously, rural decay.  But that’s too fast and predictable, since in a season or two the new crop grows out of the compost of the old.  But Urban Decay is slow and it’s not predictable, because it’s about ideas.  What we see crumbling is not just that wall, that arch, that mural, that tracery, that tile floor, etc, but the ideas, values and hierarchies these things once defended.


My shot of the CTA tracks at Wabash and Madison (above) has some of that reflection in it.  It has that reference to crumbling urban structures and the reminder that these structures are inventions, as man-made and ephemeral as the ideas and hopes from which they sprang.  But that shot illustrates one other element we find in Urban Decay Photography:  severe composition.  In this case, it’s three horizontal stripes, progressing from narrow at to top, to wider in the middle, to widest at the bottom, creating a progression.

This emphasis on form is what distinguishes Urban Decay Photos.  It is well worth your while to study this genre. Here’s a link, for a start:


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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