Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This past Thursday, the List Gallery opened East/West, an exhibitition featuring the work of photographer Andrew Moore. Moore gave a lecture on his career and creative process before the official gallery reception.
Moore’s work in the List Gallery features photographs from his travels to Detroit, Russia, Ukraine and Bosnia. East/West divides Moore’s photographs by geography, placing his American and European photographs in separate rooms. Signatures of Moore’s work include a focus on architecture and use of color.
Andrea Packard ‘85, curator of the List Gallery, was drawn to Moore’s work for his thought-provoking depictions of both grand and fallen architecture.
“He shows us these grand structures or once-grand structures that have fallen into disrepair, and he represents them in a way that draws you in, […] and the more you look, the more you appreciate nuances of the composition,” Packard said.
Moore’s photographs also call to mind the changing times. Packard explained, “They capture scenes or settings or structures that are on the periphery of our mainstream culture but actually point to problems underpinning society now.”
Moore’s Detroit Disassembled series focuses on architecture and environment to comment on pressing and current social issues. One of his photographs, titled Shelter and Vent, Detroit Dry Dock Building, shows an abandoned factory. A homeless person has set up a shelter in the building, including a tarp to offer protection from the wind. In Moore’s photograph, the inhabitant of the shelter is absent, but a small fire hints at his existence.
Due to Moore’s use of long exposures, the tarp appears ghostly and blurred.
“[It] looks like it could be a waterfall of light or rising smoke, […] suggesting that there could be other kinds of presences,” Packard said. The ghostly tarp and fire stand in the place of human figures in the photograph, taking on the life of their inhabitant even without his presence.
One photograph of the series, Birches Growing in Rotted Books, Detroit Public Schools Roosevelt Warehouse, depicts the foundations of a dilapidated building, the floors of which are covered in piles of books. Trees grow from the rotting books up through an open skylight. Nature invades the space previously occupied by man as it takes over the architecture.
“Resilience is very appealing to me,” Moore said.
Yet this theme leaves the viewer conflicted: nature’s revival is a result of Detroit’s collapse. “Are we supposed to feel better because nature is resilient, or not?” Packard said. “Nature is resurgent, but it’s still a very bleak landscape.”
“What does it mean to find beauty in decay?” she asked.
Moore was surprised with the life he found in Detroit. “I thought I would find a lot of dark, inky, buildings,” Moore said. “And yet there were things happening in there. They were alive.”
Moore’s photographs from his Russia/Ukraine series further examine the relationships between architecture and history by depicting scenes of restoration and decay. Moore was intrigued by the countries’ pasts and vibrant cultures.
“You have this crazy mixture of dark history and sparks of beauty at the same time, and that mixture compelled me,” Moore said.
Packard pointed to Moore’s Motherland, Kiev as an example of this complicated history. The photograph depicts a 100-meter-high Soviet-era statue, Rodina Mat, or “The Homeland is Mother,” overlooking a plaza. Although the plaza and statue are well cared for, the plaza is empty, save for a few tourists.
“This plaza still stands, but the structure that created it is gone,” Packard said. “The setting sun and the dark cloud behind the sculpture make us think about how the meaning of these things changes. Even if they remain intact, their meaning to us is more complex.” The statue and plaza serve as a remnant of a future that has failed to materialize.
Though most of Moore’s photographs focus on habitats rather than figures, several of his photos feature human subjects. Abandoned Missile Base, Skripleva’s Island, Far East depicts a family of five living on a small island, which was previously home to a nuclear missile silo. The family is gathered closely together and stares directly at the camera.
Packard said that Moore’s photographs manage to convey their subjects’ dire circumstances without presenting them as victims.
“They look directly at us. They meet our gaze,” Packard said of the family. “They gaze out at us as we gaze out at them, and we sense their humanity, their vulnerability.”
Packard also noted Moore’s blending of styles. “[His photographs] go beyond the documentary genre,” Packard said. ”His sense of scale and symmetry and subject represent something more timeless, a dynamic that we see repeated throughout history. And it’s also very particular to our time.”
Moore’s photographs compel viewers to confront the tensions and interplay between past and present, nature and man, care and neglect. The photographs remain tied closely to their subjects, conscious of the specific situations they address. Yet, as a whole, East/West reminds viewers of the universal impermanence of even the grandest structures.