Detroit 'Ruin Porn' From a Drone

The shift in perspective activates our media, not animal, vision.

'Ruin porn,' as it has rightly been called, is a staple of Tumblr culture. Broken down buildings catching the light just so. Stacks of tires artfully arranged by the fates and the poor. Golden ratios of trash to light, of humanbuilt to humans, of what was to what is.

The frisson of ruin porn derives, in part, by how actually scary it would be to find oneself among the sublime decay. IRL, finding yourself in a blight-filled neighborhood surrounded by decaying buildings, only the sound of trash swirling around your ankles, is not actually a good thing. Not to get too evo-psych on you, but I think a certain level of animal instinct kicks in. It might pay to stand on alert while you hold a $2,000 camera next to a crumbling building in a burned-out area of Detroit. And, of course, "terror is in all cases whatsoever . . . the ruling principle of the sublime," Edmund Burke wrote in 1757. As was true for the wilderness of the 18th century is true for the rewilded of the 21st. Sometimes, the place where you're scared also feels closer to where the truth may be revealed.

With this kind of analysis of ruin porn in hand, I was intrigued by a series of videos of Detroit that showcase the city's decrepit buildings from a camera mounted on a homemade drone. In my mind, this footage does not have the same effect as the on-the-ground perspective. The swoops and zooms recall not our time on the savannah, but a bygone era of filmmaking. I don't see the fear of a falling city or the complex reasons for its decline, but the opening of Psycho, Hitchcock's sweeping shot over Phoenix, and Orson Welles magisterial opening to Touch of Evil. We are above the city. We are not subject to the fears of the beings below.

It is not a criticism of the work, but this is not a human perspective.

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