Why Decay Makes a Beautiful Photograph

Quiver School © Jeff Burton

Quiver School

Have you ever wondered why photographs of something decaying will make people stop, look, and wonder? After all, it’s only a photograph of rust, rot, corrosion, degeneration, or general wear and tear. That old rusted junk heap of a truck sitting in the field behind the barn could not possibly be of any interest to anyone. Could it? It certainly is not worth my time to photograph it.

The most probable reason that people tend to like photographs of decay is they inherently have a story within them. We all know photographs that have a story are more interesting than ones that do not. Anytime people look at something that has obviously gone past its useful life, they begin to ask themselves questions. It’s our human nature to ask these questions because we want to classify everything into neat little groups. So people think to themselves things like “Who built this?”, or “What does it do?”, or “Why is it here?”

At this point the viewer is completely engaged with the photograph scanning the image for clues to these unanswered questions. They may study it for minutes or even hours or even spend their hard earned money to take it home with them possibly never knowing the answers to their questions, but always seeking out the clues in the photograph.

The accompanying photograph Quiver School captures the decay of a one-room school building outside Havana, Illinois that once housed and taught scores of children. The school established in 1917, was one of the last one-room schools in operation before is closed. Every time I look at this image I see the children running into the front door as the teacher rings the bell in cupola above. What stories would those children tell, who were they, how did their lives end up? These are my answered questions that keep me engaged and seeking the clues.

Front Desk Photograph

Front Desk © Jeff Burton

Front Desk

Front Desk is a print that carries us back in time to the turn of the century when technology had not infused our lives. “While touring the quaint town of Bishop Hill with my wife Vanessa I spied this quill pen on the front desk of the Bishop Hill Hotel and became instantly intrigued with the light reflecting through the glass ink container.” It is easy to imagine the weary traveler penning their name into the guest registry as the clerk readied their accommodations.


Antique Yale Lock Photograph

Antique Yale Lock © Jeff Burton

Antique Yale Lock

Antique Yale Lock by Jeff Burton. I am never sure if the purpose of a lock is to keep those on the outside on the outside or those on the inside on the inside. Nevertheless, this wonderful antique Yale lock hanging on an old barn door caught my attention from far away and begged me to create its portrait. The rustic charm of the lock is a perfect combination with the weathered wood grain of the door reminding use of simpler times. It appears the hasp has long since disappeared and the lock no longer has a role to play in life other than watch the days pass by. This print would compliment any rustic or country decor, especially in a den or family room.