(Book Review) Abandoned America: the Age of Consequences by Matthew Christopher

By David Nilsen

Abandoned buildings have always held a fascination for me, and I have been an armchair urban explorer for years, clicking through slideshows of forays inside the ruins of industry and reading up on the techniques and legal technicalities of urban spelunking. Something about a building that once thrummed with life now sitting vacant and silent, occupied only by local flora and fauna, makes my heart beat a little faster. Matthew Christopher, author of the new book Abandoned America: The Age of Consequence (720.973 Christopher), shares this wonder. Throughout his career, he has photographed abandoned structures, and he is unique in that he usually does so with the permission of the owners or local law enforcement. This access grants him the freedom to take his time and capture images that convey the spirit of these forgotten locations.

Church of the Transfiguration. Copyright Matthew Christopher.

Christopher’s book is extensively researched and provides a wealth of information about the photographed locations. Learning the history of these buildings makes their present vacancy and decay all the more stunning. It’s amazing to see these structures and think that hundreds or even thousands of people once moved in and out of them on a daily basis.

Westport Generating Station. Copyright Matthew Christopher.

Christopher is not coy with his critiques of the greed, poor planning, and wastefulness that has lead to the demise of these properties. In some cases buildings with historical or cultural significance that could have been restored or repurposed have been demolished to make way for shopping centers, or just to clear away what were perceived as “eyesores”. In other cases, these structures never needed to be abandoned in the first place. Christopher freely shares his thoughts about these issues throughout the book.

Old Essex Prison. Copyright Matthew Christopher.

Thankfully, a handful of these structures have been restored or repurposed, a refreshing exception.

St. Bonaventure Roman Catholic Church. Copyright Matthew Christopher.

Christopher’s eye as a photographer is acute, honing in on small details – an empty chair, a broken telephone, a discarded toy – that draw into contrast the present abandonment with the former busyness of these buildings.

Packard Motor Car Company. Copyright Matthew Christopher.

It seems impossible that any building could just be abandoned in the middle of normal business, coats left on racks and office supplies left on desks, but that is exactly what happens in many cases. These details make these former places of work, residence, and recreation seem frozen in time.

Lebow Brothers Clothing Company. Copyright Matthew Christopher.

Matthew Christopher’s book reignited my interest in urban exploration. I’ve made only a few tentative forays in my adult life, but that might need to change soon. Christopher’s book is full of poignant images and informative prose. Head on into GPL and check this book out today.


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