The SVA Pictures Collection’s Ruins folder provides unique and abundant insight into the aesthetics of decay. Ruins have primarily archaeological associations -- they are often all that remains of ancient civilizations. In this sense, they offer a glimpse into an unknowable past, a palpable sense of time having passed and thus of something big having preceded us. Thus ruins work uncannily to infiltrate -- or even contaminate -- the present with history. But the recent past has ruins too, and they evoke something different than their ancient counterparts. An industrial space like a factory or even a modern apartment building in a state of decay arouses a sense of the finitude of the present. There is something apocalyptic about how swiftly nature engulfs and erodes a recently occupied structure, a sense that is not so vividly evoked when one is walking among ancient ruins. Where in ancient ruins there is a sense of historicity, in recent ruins there is rather a sense of the future -- even some utopic return to the natural world, an erosure or erasure (a divine forgiveness?) of human decadence and destruction.

Ruins of theatre interior, view from rear middle balcony.
Loupe Magazine Vol. 3, No. 1 (October 2012)
Stone sculpture of a face wearing a pointed hat or helmet. The sculpture is shown amongt the rocks from which it was carved.
Several ruins of stone sculptures sit atop a pile of rubble. A pyramid-shaped pile of sand or pebbles ascends behind the sculptures, the sky is bright blue.
National Geographic, photo by Theresa Goell
Image of Hadrian's Villa in Italy. Weathered stone sculptures ring a large pond, surrounded by trees.
Hadrian's Villa, Italy
Tourists, someone in traditional religious clothing, and two people in varying military garb walk beneath the ruins of large columns. Image looks to be taken somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa.
National Geographic, photo by Gilbert Grosvenor
The ruins of a fortress that has been partially submerged by nature. Two horses walk by, an a small body of water can be seen.
March 1972
Ruins of a structure involving Ionic columns. Image in black and white.
An old farmhouse or other rural building completely taken over my nature. Trees grow from what used to be its floors, and the grass has grown so high as to partially obscure the windows.
Five columns stand while portions of other columns (blocks cut in rounds, like wheels of cheese) sit in disarray. Behind the columns is a mountainside.
Several ornate structures with tall domed roofs can be seen in a dry and tree-laden landscape. Image is likely of a landscape in Southeast Asia.
An old black and white photograph shows the ruins of an ornate building as seen from what likely used to be the main entranceway or inner courtyard.
The Century Magazine October 1895
A town has been built into the face of a rock.
Four Corinthian columns are all that remain standing in the ruins of a Greco-Roman structure.
March 1937
A man stands beside an enormous ruined sculpture of a horse's head.
November 1953