A book that speaks as much to history as to the imagination, Stages of Decay is photographer Julia Solis’s meditation on the poetic category of ruined theaters.
From the remnants of glamorous movie palaces to scrappy old vaudeville houses and an entire range of showplaces in between, Stages of Decay is Julia Solis’s collection of photos of abandoned and deteriorating theaters.
No matter how ornate or humble, these spaces all served to transport an audience into a world of imagination and performative fantasy. Theaters of a more glamorous era catered to the affluent with grandiose stage productions or the presence of famous bands; in other, much more modest venues inside derelict schools, churches, jails, and hospitals, they may have been a means of escape for students, inmates, or patients. Now that they have closed, the theaters have turned into the playgrounds of their own demise.
Taken in locations throughout the United States and Europe over the course of more than a decade, the ongoing Stages of Decay is Solis’s most ambitious project so far. Several of the theaters depicted here either no longer exist or have since deteriorated (or been vandalized) almost beyond recognition. This series not only documents the various sites of entertainment in Western culture, but also serves as a historic record of numerous formerly famous places.
One of the most accomplished contemporary artists who uses abandoned spaces as both subject and site for creative activity, Solis achieves new levels of visual poetry with Stages of Decay. Her camera’s perspective is that of a last audience member, viewing the final spectacle of decrepitude. All of the photos focus on the theater’s stage and the secondary ornamentation it acquires as it becomes disfigured by neglect from the patches of mold, crumbling plaster, rotting stage curtains, and collapsing roofs. Stages of Decay is a view of what happens after the final curtain has dropped.
- Stages of Decay is the most ambitious and poetic project yet by Julia Solis, the renowned artist and historian of abandoned spaces. Her previous book, New York Underground, sold 10,000 copies worldwide and was featured in media ranging from Boing Boing to Smithsonian.
- A visual feast for the growing contingent of aesthetes who engage with modern ruins, sites of urban exploration, and urban decay. This is the first book that explores the unique typological potential of abandoned theaters in all their incarnations, from the historic movie palace to the basement auditorium in a vacant school.
- In 2011 Stages of Decay will be exhibited at Le Nuvole in Naples; a selection of the photos were exhibited at Artantique, Utrecht in 2010, and the Harmony Gallery in Los Angeles in 2008. The work is represented by Eduard Planting Gallery, Amsterdam, and is also enjoying a number of private sales.
- A selection from the Stages of Decay has been online at abandonedtheaters.com since the summer of 2009, which generated numerous mentions across the web and in the international press (including features in IlMattino, La Repubblica, and style.it), and registered 20,000 unique visitors per day at its height.
- Illustrious locations include Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, a “rock and roll palace” built in 1928 with such acts as Iggy Pop, The Who, MC5, and Frank Zappa; Birmingham, Alabama’s Lyric Theater, a classic vaudeville venue where the Marx Brothers, Gene Autry, Mae West, and Roy Rogers performed; and Albany, New York’s Starlite Theater, whose famed revolving stage featured greats from James Brown to Johnny Cash.
Julia Solis is an internationally renowned conductor of archaeological parlor games and investigator of ruined urban spaces. She is the founder of Dark Passage, and started the creative preservation group Ars Subterranea, with the object of staging scavenger hunts and exhibitions in unusual locations across New York. She is an officer of the Madagascar Institute and Place in History, the locations producer of the film American Ruins, and recipient of a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her previous books include New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City (Routledge, 2004) and Scrub Station (Koja Press, 2002).
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