Christian Richter: unearthing a past of architectural genius

After stumbling upon Christian Richter’s photographs in the plethora of procrastination that is the Internet, I felt compelled to approach him to find out more about what lay behind these intriguing imges. The vibrant colours and almost illusional perspective made for fascinating viewing. It was his ‘Abandoned’ portfolio that gripped me the most and which provided the basis for our conversation.

Richter grew up in the German Democratic Republic, but after the reunification of Germany, he was able to explore further afield. He unearthed an abundance of timeworn, dilapidated buildings which he first explored without a camera. It was only a number of years later that a friend passed down an old digicam, having replaced his own, that Richter fell in love with photographing these mysterious architectural relics. By October 2011, Christian had an online presence, sharing his work with plenty of appreciative viewers.

Enthralled by the reality that lay beyond these photographs, I quizzed Richter on why he had chosen these edifices as his subject. While the buildings were for the most part barren, occasionally he would uncover, for example, a magnificent staircase – a feature of these houses that he is particularly captured by, as his portfolio illustrates. 

Among the tumbling down facades and blistering wall paper, Richter discovered staircases that were spiral, square, asymmetrical; some still standing in all their glory, others derelict and impassable. Some of them act as a palette of colours, a spiral of yellows, greens, oranges, and deep reds, while for others the most enticing feature is their geometry, the angles, the alignment and lack thereof. The discovery of these unique staircases were some of the most rewarding findings for Richter. 

It is important to note that for every abandoned site worth capturing, the photographer must visit many, many more places and spaces; it takes a lot of hard work and exploration – something that those who are merely presented with the final product take for granted. Photography, though an enjoyable outlet for artistic flare, is no easy dalliance. It requires vision, skill and determination.

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While enjoying the aesthetics of the images at face value, I was intrigued as to what had compelled Richter to capture this sense of abandonment.

He informed me that he had been struck by the neglected work of architectural genius from the past, by “the pattern and texture of decay – it reminded me how everything is im- permanent”. I can see how one can be lured by the ephemeral nature of architecture – the corrosion of the physical product as well as the transience of style – and Richter’s shots capture just this.

It is undeniable that Richter is highly adept with the camera. His images explore angles and arrangements in such a curious way so as to make some look almost like an optical illusion.

His use of doorways, crevices and crumbling floorboards provide the perspective, or lack thereof, to make some of his images far more complex and stimulating than most two-dimensional images.

The temporary nature and vulnerability of these architectural time capsules is emphasised when Richter informs me that after the locations are publicised on the internet, the buildings are often demolished. As a result, he is wary of sharing the actual locations of his subjects in an attempt to preserve of them what he can.

Looking into the future, Richter plans to travel around Europe and continue adding to his ‘Abandoned’ portfolio, unearthing more shots of decay and architectural transience, as well as working on his collection of landscape photographs, which are similarly breathtaking. One can only look forward to seeing Richter cultivate his portfolio as he delves further into the depths of Europe’s architectural antiquity.