Global Ghost Towns: Photography Showcase
Emma Cummins continues her exploration of contemporary ghost towns by showcasing the work of five artists and photographers. From Anthony Haughey’s images of Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’ to Richard Allenby-Pratt’s photographs of deserted cities in Dubai—the effects of the global economic crisis are revealed in a very visual way.
Attracting attention from newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times, ‘ghost towns’ are a common architectural landmark across today’s globalised world—but what do these images reveal about neoliberal development?
Anthony Haughey – Settlement (2011)
Following years of intense development, a devastating property bubble emerged in Ireland, which eventually burst in 2008. As a result, the effects of the global economic crisis have been painfully exacerbated by homeowner equity problems and a shocking profusion of empty and partially constructed buildings. Recently recategorised as ‘ghost estates’, these modern day ruins have inspired a wide range of photography and visual art projects—from Michael O’Hallaran’s images of the rise and fall of the property market, to Valérie Anex’s striking photo-essay ‘Ghost Estates’ in The New York Times.
Amongst the many photographic projects that explore the thousands of unfinished buildings in Ireland, Settlement, by Anthony Haughey, has attracted the most critical attention. There is good reason for this: in addition to his beautifully-shot, long exposure photographs – produced between sunset and sunrise – Settlement brings together proposals by students and architectural firms for how these developments could be improved. As Dorothy Hunter explains: ‘[…]whilst these particular proposals shall probably never be realised, it is through this work that we consider what alternative methods exist for gaining control of a paralysed environment – be they artistically expressive actions, or spatial solutions’.
Settlement has been exhibited at venues including Belfast Exposed and The Copper House Gallery, Dublin. Haughey’s work is currently on view at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing as part of the group show New Irish Landscapes.
For more on Settlement see the artist’s website: http://anthonyhaughey.com/projects/settlement/
Edgar Martins – This Is Not A House (2008)
Edgar Martins’ unforgettable images of abandoned homes explore the subprime mortgage crisis and property market collapse in the United States. Rooted in the development of a vicious housing bubble that began in 2001, “mortgage meltdown” reached a peak in 2006 with an unprecedented rise if foreclosures. By the end of 2007, nearly 2 million Americans had lost their homes, leaving streets in Florida, California, Michigan and beyond with many unoccupied properties.
As seen in Martins’ touring exhibition This is Not a House, his images have a surreal, almost apocalyptic quality. Originally commissioned for a feature in The New York Times, the photographs sparked controversy when it was revealed that Martins digitally edited some of the images in the series. As the artist explains: ‘Photojournalism has never felt the need to challenge or contravene certain rules, aesthetic or ethical. Yet, within this framework there is a perpetual search, not to mention a real need, to find new ways of assimilating and representing the real. I viewed this project, from the outset, as a platform to explore new models for conceptualising a particularly contemporary phenomenon and landscape. The work was therefore structured as ‘a photographic intervention into a crisis, a crisis that is only in part economic’’.
This is Not a House has been exhibited at several venues, including The Wapping Project Bankside in London and more recently The Gallery of Photography in Dublin. Martins’ work is currently on show at Somerset House, London as part of the exhibition Landmark: The Fields of Photography.
For more on the artist’s work see his website: http://www.edgarmartins.com
Richard Allenby-Pratt – Abandoned (2011)
Following decades of economic growth, Dubai’s economy began to decline in 2009 with the dramatic bursting of its investment and property bubble. As Patrick Collinson writes in an article for The Guardian: ‘House prices in the desert sheikhdom dropped by an extraordinary 40% in the first three months of 2009, outpacing falls anywhere else in the world […]’. With the collapse of the country’s lucrative property market, capital fled Dubai at speed, leaving many buildings unfinished and motorways unused.
These strange urban landscapes are the subject of a stunning series of photographs by Richard Allenby-Pratt. Simply titled Abandoned, the series depicts exotic animals – such as gazelles, zebras, rhinoceroses and hyenas – in environments originally intended for wealthy people and businessmen. As the artist explains: ‘The project imagines a future without people, where the relics of our unrealised ambitions are populated by some of the species we have, in the present day, come so close to exterminating. I hope to highlight the fragility of our economic systems and the desperate need for us to be responsible guardians of our environment’.
Abandoned was included in the 2011 London Association of Photographers Awards. The project was also awarded an honourable mention at the Paris PX3 Awards and came second in the international category of the Al Thani Awards in Qatar. Abandoned is currently being exhibited at Shelter in Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai, to coincide with Art Dubai week.
For more on Allenby-Pratt’s work see his website: http://www.allenby-pratt.com/en/
Michael Christopher Brown – Ordos (2010)
The impending implosion of China’s real-estate market has been the subject of countless articles and TV documentaries. Less well documented are the millions of empty buildings that have proliferated in recent years. Estimates suggest there could be over 16 million vacant homes in China—many of these lie unsold, whilst others have been bought as speculative investments.
In the impressive series of photographs Ordos, Micheal Chrisopher Brown reveals the effects of rampant development on a wealthy coal-mining town in Inner Mongolia. Collected in a photo-essay for Time magazine, images from this series focus on the Kangbashi district—an area replete with office blocks, administrative centres, government buildings, museums, theatres, sports fields and acres of middle-class houses. As Time’s editorial explains: the only problem is that ‘the district was originally designed to house, support and entertain 1 million people, yet hardly anyone lives there’.
Brown’s other projects include Xiasi (2010) – a two-part series produced during train and road trips in China – and Broadway (2009) which explores American identity amidst a global financial crisis. Brown has worked as a contributing photographer at National Geographic Magazine since 2005 and was a finalist for the Emerging Photographer of the Year award for three years running.
For more on Brown’s work see his website: http://www.mcbphotos.com
Markel Redondo – Tu Casa es Mi Casa (2011–2012)
Between 1998 and 2007, Spain’s housing stock increased by approximately 5.7 million units. Responding in part to increased demand – afforded by factors such as immigration, rising divorce levels and an increased interest in buy-to-let properties – an astonishing number of new buildings were constructed in urban, rural and suburban environments. When Spain’s “boom decade” reached an abrupt halt in 2007, the damage produced by years of frenzied development was revealed in a very visible way—estimates suggest that there are over one million vacant or unfinished houses in the country.
Coterminous to Spain’s housing crisis, levels of unemployment remain astonishingly high. At the beginning of 2013, the country’s unemployment rate was 26%, with joblessness among young people reaching an unprecedented 55%. As evidenced in Markel Redondo’s emotive series of photographs, Tu Casas es Mi Casa, the demise of Spain’s property-led economy has transformed the country’s social and material landscape. Focusing on the lives of unemployed people living in two Andalucian ‘ciudades fantasmas’ (‘ghost towns’), the series highlights the impact of economic crisis on people and places. As Redondo explains: ‘Even in this corner of the developed world, the impact of economic crisis is resulting in the often surreal juxtaposition of a hand to mouth existence lived amongst the ruins of failed urban and economic development’.
Markel Redondo’s work has been featured in numerous publications including Time, Le Monde, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He came third in the Lens Culture Exposure Award in 2012, and was a finalist in the International Photojournalism Award in 2010. Tu Casa es Mi Casa is currently on show at the Espai de fotografia in Barcelona.
For more on Redondo’s series Tu Casa es Mi Casa see his website: http://www.markelredondo.com/story-crisis.html