A while back, Sarah noted the proliferation of Detroit “ruin porn” — images and films that depict abandoned houses, crumbling factories, and desperately unemployed masses without showing that intelligent life does, in fact, remain in the city.

There’s something of a parallel trend for sprawl: illustrations of the overbuilt, over-mortgaged empty subdivisions littering exurban America. The implied message is quite often that these places were built carelessly and are unaffordable, unsustainable, damn near unlovable.

New York artist Christoph Gielen’s aerial photos of subdivisions seem to fit the genre, with the repetitive geometric shapes they find in suburbia. The German-born photographer looked for places with the highest rates of foreclosure, The City Fix says, which led him to Florida and Arizona.

Aerial photo of subdivisonPhoto: Christophgielen.com

He provides the standard critique of suburbia, telling CNN.com:

Sprawl is a really careless use of new land. I want people who look at my photos to start a reconsideration of how they live through art …

It’s so ironic because the United States touts itself as a place of limitless freedoms and the land of individuality and individual expression, but the lived experience is like a monoculture. It’s weird. It’s total sameness.

But a simplistic, didactic message makes for boring art, and these images aren’t boring. I asked my friend Kevin Buist, a real live artist, for a thought on what’s going on here:

CNN’s reading of Gielen’s work is really one-dimensional. They seem only interested in using his work as an illustration of sprawl, which is bad, end of story. But I think the images really work because they’re so beautiful. There’s a tension between how remarkable it is to see pattern operating on that scale, and the knowledge that those building practices are unsustainable. I think the fact that that type of development is unsustainable is part of its allure. There’s something undeniably sexy about throwing caution to the wind, ignoring naysayers, and doing what you want. The people who sell cigarettes and subdivisions don’t have a particularly difficult job.

The sexiness of something that makes no freaking sense — maybe that’s it.

CNN and Gielen’s site each have a collection of his work.

Aerial photo of subdivisonPhoto: Christophgielen.com