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on July 1, 2009
Brian Vanden Brink's photographs of a decaying America provoke both melancholy and wonder. This is a thoughtful book that is worth keeping at hand for those times when one feels a need for introspection. Each of us likes to think that we are unique with eternal visions of our lives, but in fact our place in this world is only temporary - doomed to a certain deadly end. But men and women tend to leave monuments behind, and Vanden Brink has captured those relics with his camera -- before the relics, too, turn to dust.

Vanden Brink is a professional architectural photographer whose career has focused on contemporary architectural design. As he traveled around the country on assignment for such magazines as Architectural Digest, the New York Times Magazine and Down East Magazine in Maine, however, Vanden Brink's artistic eye fell on old wrecks of homes, churches, stores, factories and bridges that were all but falling down. Fortunately, he took the time to photograph his discoveries.

Vanden Brink is following a grand tradition in modern photography. The pioneer in this genre, of course, was Eugene Atget who focused on ancien France with his 19th century photographs of ghostly structures. Andre Kertesz was also a well know chronicler of fading architecture, as was Maine native Berenice Abbott. More recently, William Christenberry captured the essence of the old south with his penetrating photographs of crumbling buildings overgrown by vines and trees.

Thumbing through Vanden Brink's new book, RUIN: PHOTOGRAPHS OF A VANISHING AMERICA, one is moved by consideration of each, and every photograph, to wit:

' A weathered house in Vicksburg, Virginia demonstrates considerable architectural detail such as a bay window surrounded by decorative trim with an eyebrow window perched above -- itself surrounded by an elaborate shingle design. One has to speculate about the thought that the builder of this old house put into the design detail of this structure. Who was he? What happened to him? What happened to his dream?
' In Richmond, Virginia, someone has taken the time to neatly button up a fading brick structure that also shows some fine architectural detail. One wonders whether this house is headed for rebirth rather than decay that is the fate of most of the photographs in this book..
' Vanden Brink photographed a handsome home in Birmingham, Alabama that has a three grand columns holding up a formal portico with a second floor balcony. This is no ordinary house and one has to speculate on who lived there in that house with such a grand vision? What caused his vision to be left to decay?
' In Limestone, Maine, Vanden Brink photographed an old weapons storage facility at Loring Air Force Base, including shots of an abandoned plutonium storage vault. Plutonium? Is the nuclear age already decaying? According to Vanden Brink's photographs, that once futuristic age has passed us by.
' In Sargentville, Maine, there is a distant photograph of an abandoned farmhouse sitting in a field of boulders (with a modern day bridge in the distance). One's eye searches in vain for the network of traditional stone walls that allowed farmers to till their land. Perhaps the lack of stonewalls is why the farm was abandoned.
' Near the end of the book is a spread of photographs of the Bowdoin Mill in Topsham, Maine, taken in 1997. The mill in these photographs is abandoned, but one has to note that since the photographs were taken, the Mill has been renovated, housing restaurants, medical clinics and fashionable retail establishments. So maybe decay is not always inevitable.

One slight criticism about this book: one wishes that there were an index with notes about each of the photographs giving whatever history may exist about each structure. But perhaps that misses the point that too often history does not record such detail. By definition, obscurity IS vague.

Vanden Brink lives in Maine, so there is a preponderance of Maine photographs in this book. But it is not a book of regional photographs. Rather the photographs in this book document a period of American history that is, at once, meaningful and transient. As the photographer notes in his introduction:

"Maybe these buildings fascinate me because they represent all of us; maybe they are symbols of our own impermanent status here on earth - metaphors of our transient lives and inability to stop the passing of time...A couple of weeks before my dad died last year, my brothers and I were helping him out of his bed to go to the bathroom. As he struggled down the hall, he said quietly, "take a good look boys, this is going to be you sooner than you think." He was right. Our lives go by so quickly and we leave behind relics of our time here and of what we thought was important. Deep down I know this earth is not my home. `I'm just passing through,' as the old gospel song says."

Vanden Brink may be passing through his time, but we are fortunate that he took the time - and had the eye - to take these photographs.
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on May 30, 2009
sensitive and beautiful photos, color and b&w, of architectural sites - all kinds. Taken while on assignment elsewhere, Brian Vanden Brink shows his expertise in selecting grand old views, places that have stories to tell. Well worth owing; while a coffee table format, yet this will be a book I turn to again and again.

Amazon.com: Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America: Brian Vanden Brink: Books
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on July 17, 2009
Brian Vanden Brink is an architectural photographer who has been taking memorable pictures of the interiors and exteriors of American buildings for almost 30 years. In "Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America", Brian has captured hauntingly beautiful images of abandoned homes, churches, mills, are storefronts. A few of the images are in black-and-white, but most of them are in color. Of special note are the photographs of such unusual subjects as the 300 foot tall chimney of a lead smelter, and the stygian depths of an Air Force plutonium storage vault. Enhanced with an informed and informative foreword by historic preservation and architecture expert Howard Mansfield, "Ruin" is a fascinating browse and a very highly recommended addition for any personal, professional, academic, or community library American Photography collection.
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on June 15, 2014
The photographs were wonderful, but had hoped for more US locations. Also, text other than the specific location would have been most welcome.
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on December 30, 2012
My wife is an amature photographer who's interests rest in abandoned buildings and rural America. This coffee table book made a great gift as she got the best of everything in a nicely bound read. I'd recommend this title for a graduation, anniversary, or any other type of occasion.
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on September 9, 2013
With structural "history" like this we see what man once created but no longer has the time nor talent to! To consider these structures in decay and imagine their previous glory is a testament to the poor state of the trades of today and the ingenuity of a different time.
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on June 10, 2011
I agree with all the good comments in the other reviews and in the introductory comments of the book itself. One sense one gets from seeing or indeed visiting such ruins is a sense that for at least a brief moment the place is all yours. There are no residents to disturb or to be shooing you away. In many cases, though, of such places I know of, the owners may have abandoned the property only to build a new place a few hundred yards away. The old place could not be brought up to modern standards and amenities at any reasonable cost.
One place to look for abandoned homes is in National Parks where in the park formation residents were forced off their land. One such area I am familiar with is Shenandoah National Park. The local communities nearby still have descendents of those owners exhibiting a bit of hostility to what happened. In the author's state of residence,Maine, the National Park there, Acadia, on Mt Desert Island, was created instead by gifts from generous owners, the Rockefellers being one.
Another great book in the same genre just published by the University of Virginia is:
Lost Communities of Virginia
Also from Amazon
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on August 4, 2012
I saw an exhibit of Brian Vanden Brink's photos, ones from the book, recently. The book was also on display. I was expecting a consistency of viewpoint, like the cover photograph, of beautifully composed scenes with an evocative atmosphere. There were very few that matched this. The points of view were all very different and not tightly composed for the most part. Documentary rather than good photographs.

As for the book itself, it violated one of the rules that I hold as absolute (as a photographer and book designer). Some photos were spread across two pages, destroying what focus there could have been. I don't care how spectacular a photo is. It should never be ruined in the publication of a book by being spread across the gutter onto the next page.

I was glad I had not bought the book yet and removed it from my Amazon wish list.

Susan F Witzell
Falmouth, MA
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on December 11, 2014
The book I received is missing its book jacket which leaves a plain black binding.
The book itself is lovely, with beautiful photography. I didn't notice any of the detractions mentioned in some of the other reviews.
Also, some very well written additions included.
If you have a soft spot in your heart for deteriorating, abandoned old buildings, you will enjoy this book.
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on April 23, 2012
I saw this book, well actually my engineer boyfriend did, at an antique store in NAPA. It was selling there for $75 and he and I both fell in love with the images. I searched for the book online, found it here and for $40 I thought i was getting a steal. The book was in GREAT condition and was a total surprise for my beau ... who also loves it.
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