Photographs by Arthur Drooker C’76
Merrell Publishers Limited, 2007. $45.00

On the cover: Rhyolite, Nevada (1904). A gold discovery in 1904 brought more than 10,000 people to Rhyolite by 1907, but a financial panic that year initiated a decline that by 1919 had turned it into a ghost town presided over by its tallest building, the John S. Cook Bank.

Arthur Drooker’s infrared photographs of historic ruins in the U.S. conjure a “spirit world of haunted beauty.”

The sites included in American Ruins, a collection of 100 compelling images by Los Angeles-based photographer Arthur Drooker C’76, range from upstate New York to Oahu, Hawaii, but the idea for the book originated far from the U.S.—in Cambodia, to be exact.

“In 2003 I satisfied a longtime curiosity to visit the temple ruins at Angkor, and I was just blown away by the architecture and the whole environment there. It really was quite mesmerizing,” Drooker recalls. “It started me thinking, ‘God, I wonder what ruins there are in this country?’”

Drawing on the Internet and other research sources, plus his own knowledge of ruins in the Southwest, Drooker soon “came up with a pretty good sized list of sites,” which he then narrowed down to 25 locations based on three criteria: All the sites had to be preserved as ruins by a public or private entity, they had to have historic value, and finally “they had to look good in infrared,” he says.

While “the infrared band of light on the spectrum is invisible to the human eye,” Drooker notes in the book’s introduction, “a specially adapted digital camera can record it. What it sees is a spirit world of haunted beauty.”  The technique turns grass and tree-leaves white, makes clouds “really pop from the sky,” and causes shadows to seem to hover, “almost take on a certain dimensionality,” he says. The result is a “ghostly look that I find very evocative and [that] brings out the visual poetry” of the ruins featured in the book.

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