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Softcore Ruin Porn: Abandoned Buildings Made Sweet, Not Scary

“Ruin porn”–photographs of decrepit, abandoned buildings–has become an Internet trope so popular that behavioral scientists have investigated why we’re so obsessed with it. Those addicted to decay never face a shortage of haunted-looking abandoned house pictures around the web.

French photographer Aurelien Villette’s images of abandoned buildings, compiled in a new book, Spirit of Place, offer a brighter twist on the genre: instead of looking like horror movie sets, the structures seem almost mystical, drenched in warm light. The photographer focuses on once-majestic buildings across Italy, the Balkans, and the former Soviet bloc–including chapels, theaters, and villas–that, in their current state, call to mind the cursed castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast before it blooms back to life.

These images of crumbling architecture devoid of human life are still a bit post-apocalyptic, but peacefully so: Shards of sunlight fall on dilapidated pews in an old Christian chapel; a couch hemorrhages stuffing into a once-cozy living room; a broken chandelier dangles above decaying movie theater seats. In most of his photographs, ornate details from the structures’ better days peek through dust and grime: elaborate frescoes, curly moldings, marble pillars, vibrant paint colors. If Villette’s ruin porn were actual porn, it would be the soft-lit romantic kind.

Spirit of Place by Aurélien Villette is available from teNeues here.

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