At the Fringe of Reality: The Work of Sir Simon Marsden

Earlier this month came the release of Russia: A World Apart, the latest collection of work by renowned photographer and master of ruins Sir Simon Marsden.

Sadly, the book is a posthumous publication as Simon died in January 2012. Here I pay tribute to the man who accelerated my own love of ruins, and the incredible photographic legacy he left behind.

Simon Marsden book collection

I first discovered Simon Marsden in my early teens, when searching for photographs of my favourite childhood holiday destination of Whitby. I had spent time here almost every year since birth, and had always been captivated by tales of Dracula stalking its misty alleys. This no doubt informed my burgeoning preoccupation for all things gothic, and I was suitably captivated by the dreamlike photographs of the town’s famed Abbey and churchyard I found on The Marsden Archive. Continue reading


Having recently used this old Victorian map of Scotland to mark all the ruins I’ve visited since this project began, I thought now would be a good opportunity to share my enthusiasm for the art of map-making.

Ruin Map I

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What is it about Ruins? Part II

Another question I sometimes face with regard to my passion for ruins is the question of why I respond creatively to the places I visit, and what my work is actually about. The assumption of some is that the main purpose of my art is to implore for the rescue of the ruins which inspire it. But the truth is I am really more concerned with finding some meaning in their current derelict state. I think this downfall is an important chapter in their story, one which should not be in vain and needs to be recorded whether they are eventually restored to life or not.

This issue of campaigning and what part it plays in the appreciation of our heritage was another interesting point raised in the Heritage! TV series. While it is not the main purpose of my own work, I do have the greatest respect for organizations like Save Britain’s Heritage and The Victorian Society for the valuable role they play in securing the protection of our historic places. I found one historic campaign charted in BBC 4’s programme to be particularly thought-provoking; the case of the Euston Arch.

The Euston Arch

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What is it about Ruins? Part I

One of the ideas raised in BBC Four’s Heritage! series was the idea of romanticism versus academia in the appreciation of historic buildings. Since beginning my work with ruins, I have often asked myself why I am attracted to this particular niche of built heritage, and have now been considering where my interest lies between the romantic and academic.

These diverse standpoints were embodied from the 1950s onwards by two figures I’ve certainly heard of before, but can’t claim to know a great deal about. After watching this programme I’m quite compelled to learn more.

 Sir John Betjeman   Nikolaus Pevsner

In the romantics corner was John Betjeman, a poet and writer who also used his work in broadcasting to channel his love of old buildings with considerable charisma. His approach was quite different to that of Nikolaus Pevsner, the history of art scholar responsible for the accomplished 46-volume The Buildings of England series of architectural guides. These two men were both among the founding members of The Victorian Society in 1958, but despite their shared admiration of 19th Century architecture they were, in many ways, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Continue reading

HERITAGE! And the things I ponder


Last week I just managed to catch up with the final episode of BBC Four’s Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past. It has been an excellent series, charting the rise of the British heritage movement from its origins amongst 19th Century pioneers to the pursuit of the masses it has become today.

It is quite hard for me to imagine a time when this country was not widely in love with its past. The manicured lawns of ancient sites are an enduring feature from even my earliest memories of childhood holidays, but this programme highlighted the fact that our reverence for all things historic is actually a fairly recent phenomena developed over the past century. Continue reading