Photos of abandoned American landscapes rooted in a sense of isolation and poverty

Photographer Ben Marcin’s latest solo exhibition, ‘American Derelicts’ at C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore brings together works from three of his ongoing series: ‘A House Apart’, ‘Out West’ and ‘Last House Standing’.

The work encompasses Baltimore, where Marcin has called home since the 1970s, Colorado and even Washington. As disparate as these areas are, it connects them all through a sense of isolation, poverty, and the silent but sure encroachment of time and human destruction.

There’s a cliché saying about photographs: “A picture is worth 1,000 words.” But there’s also a saying that clichés often contain more than a modicum of truth. Both are true here. Marcin’s photos are seemingly simple, but when you step back and take them all in, you’ll notice that meaning begins to form like the layers of an onion.

This is largely by design. On a recent visit I made to Grimaldis to see the work, Marcin told me he doesn’t like hitting the viewer on the head with a specific message. He would rather we look at the pictures and fill in the blanks. But there are plenty of clues in the images for narratives to form.

As I’ve noted before, there’s a unifying theme of isolation running through the images. The very title of the exhibition, “American Derelicts,” has little to do with situating the work in a history of decadence and even criminality. Looking at the pictures, these two things come to the surface in the many questions they raise.

Although accomplished with a gentle hand, Marcin’s images of abandoned houses in equally abandoned landscapes can be seen as a commentary on the nature of life and how it fades with disuse. and neglect. The old becomes decrepit, discarded to make way for something new, whatever it is. We do not know. It is the age-old drama of passing time.

We may know what once was in these bare, dwindling landscapes, and that lends an elegiac quality to the work. The making of history is both a memory and an erasure. The earth takes back what our diligence has put into it, encroaching on its natural state. The cycle of life, death and rebirth works whether we like it or not. Marcin’s camera, whether it’s a DSLR or, his preferred method, a large format 4×5, is there to freeze and memorize it.

Marcin, originally from Germany, moved to the United States with his family when he was a young boy. He worked as a software engineer for the government and became a self-taught photographer. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. “American Derelicts” is his third solo exhibition at the C. Grimaldis gallery and is on view until July 7.

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