Photographing ruins merges my passions for history and photography with the purpose of creating an extensive visual archive possessing artistic merit and educational value. Fulfilling this commitment fuels my desire to rediscover ruins and present them in a unified body of work that offers a new way to see the landscape, preserve the past, and explore our collective cultural identity.
I have three criteria for selecting these sites: They have to be part of a preservation program; they must make a distinctive contribution to a survey of the world’s architectural, historical and geographical diversity; and they should be suitable subjects for infrared photography, a medium that best evokes their inherent mystery and melancholy.
Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but I use 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 visual poetry of crumbled walls, weathered facades and broken arches as no other format can.
In making these images, I carry on a tradition established by pioneering photographers such as Timothy O’Sullivan, Claude Joseph Desire Charnay and William James Stillman, who first brought images of antiquities to the public. Now it’s my turn, using technology they never could have imagined, to respond to a question posed in 1855 by Abel Fletcher, a writer for the Photographic and Fine Art Journal. His query, a plea really, seems just as relevant now as it did then:
“Are not these monuments of former ages calling upon us, as artists, to come and secure their shadows by the pencil ray of Heaven, ere their crumbling forms shall pass away forever?”
Arthur Drooker has been an exhibited and published photographer since 1980. His work has been included in several one man and group shows, including the Wichita Art Museum, the Virginia Center for Architecture, and the Louisiana Art & Science Museum. His work is included in the collections of the Petersen Automotive Museum and the Music Center in Los Angeles.
It was while on location in 1995 as a writer-director for the A&E series, Civil War Journal, that Drooker made his first photographs of ruins—the charred columns of Windsor, the famed antebellum mansion in Port Gibson, Mississippi. However, it wasn’t until a 2004 trip to the temples of Angkor in Cambodia that he committed to ruins as the subject of an ongoing photographic series. Wanting to put a unique spin on the subject, he concentrated on sites preserved as ruins in the United States. In 2005, after conducting intensive research, Drooker identified twenty-five sites around the country and began his journey to create a unique photographic record of American ruins. His first book, American Ruins (Merrell, 2007), was an award-winning critical and commercial success that was featured on CBS Sunday Morning.
In his latest book, Lost Worlds: Ruins of the Americas (ACC, 2011), Drooker continues his photographic journey, making images of significant ruins in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Taken together these images form a powerful visual narrative of the cultures, conflicts and conquests that forged the New World.