German photographer Christian Richter finds beauty in decay. His images of abandoned theaters and ballrooms, staircases and foyers memorialize a more opulent Europe while exposing the effects of time. Richter’s ancient subjects find a home on a modern platform, Instagram, where followers are offered a breathtaking window into the past. Evidently, somethings do get better with age.
Christian Richter grew up in then-communist Eastern Germany; a landscape straight out of a George Orwell novel or a dystopian sci fi film.“I was surrounded by the industrial, crumbling buildings of the former German Democratic Republic — lots of ramshackle structures and power stations. There’s a feeling that it was the end of time.”
Though the fall of the Berlin Wall signified change, many left East Germany and with it its monstrous structures. Richter, then 14, remained as the city crumbled around him.“Everything began to fall into disrepair. That’s when I started visiting abandoned buildings, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own.” These early explorations would later inform his photography practice.“Much later, when a friend gave me a digital camera, I was able to capture the beauty of these old places.”
Over the past eight years, the self-taught photographer has visited some 1000 buildings in his native Germany, as well as Belgium, Italy and Poland. It’s a laborious undertaking, riddled with unforeseen obstacles and disappointments. “I’ve had to find tunnels or climb through windows. I’ve travelled long distances to see a building and then found it’s been torn down or that I simply couldn’t get in.”
In an effort to protect these precious spaces from vandals, Richter remains tight-lipped about where specifically these haunting images were taken. This touch of mystery only adds to the magic, probing the viewer to wonder if Richter’s extraordinary spaces even exist. And in some cases, thanks to the elements and mankind’s endless thirst to develop, they no longer do. “The way they deteriorate when nature starts to take over reminds me that everything is impermanent.”
Follow Christian Richter on Instagram @richterchristian
Words Allyson Shiffman — Photography Christian Richter