After making a trip to Cambodia in 2004 to photograph ruins at Angkor Wat, I was inspired to explore historic ruins in my own country. In 2005 I began a two-year odyssey photographing more than twenty-sites in fifteen states. The result was American Ruins (Merrell, 2007), my first book.
I had three criteria for selecting these sites: They had to be preserved as historic ruins; they had to make a distinctive architectural and geographic contribution to the series; and they had to be suitable subjects for infrared photography, a medium that best evokes their inherent mystery.
Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but I used a specially adapted 35 mm digital camera to record it. Infrared’s ethereal effect illuminates the otherworldly atmosphere that haunts ruins, allowing a photographer to transcend mere documentation and capture the elegiac beauty of crumbled walls, weathered facades and broken arches as no other format can.
These images present a rare overview of some overlooked landmarks that allow us, as Americans, to see where we came from, measure how far we’ve come, and gain a vision of where we might be headed.