The Dialectics of Decay (Frankfurt Bonames Airfield)

In her critique of photography Susan Sontag points out that photographers love to depict decay. She links this preference both to a nostalgic view of the world – Roland Barthes points into a similar direction when he says that a photo takes the form of Aorist – and to aestheticizing ‘unworthy’ objects. To her, photographing decay implies marking the decaying object as beautiful. As much as I agree with the link between a photo and the past,  I ask myself if there is not more to photographing decay.

If you roughly distinguish between nature and civilization, decay could be seen as nature (re-)claiming its reign. I am always delighted with finding traces of ‘the tooth of time’ in an urban setting (or on an abandoned army airfield) because they follow laws and principles which are alien to ours.

Photographing these traces superimposes yet another structure: an aesthetic idea. A picture of a decaying object thus accumulates various layers of principles, natural and human. Incompatible as functionality, erosion and the photographer’s own ideas may seem, they are all framed in the image of a decaying object.