The City Magazine Since 1975

Photographer and structural engineer John Moore finds beauty and balance in abstract compositions of decaying structures

Photographer and structural engineer John Moore finds beauty and balance in abstract compositions of decaying structures
November 2023

See Moore’s abstract photographs in December at Corrigan Gallery

Photographer John Moore (inset) says he likes to create abstract images where the viewer has no sense of scale, such as Eight (digital photograph, 2020).

John Moore might be best known for helping to design the South Carolina Aquarium, but he’s also gained a solid reputation as a fine art photographer, creating images of decaying structures.

As a teenager, Moore traveled the country with his family, focusing his camera on the vast landscapes he saw, but after viewing a 1996 exhibit by painter William Halsey, the structural engineer was inspired to turn his lens to increasingly abstract subjects. He often zooms in on details most people would walk right by, capturing small vignettes of wear and tear on surfaces with contrasting or complementary colors and organic or geometric patterns. 

Moore has shown his work at juried shows around the state, including the Museum of York County, Piccolo Spoleto, and the City Gallery, and has been represented by Corrigan Gallery for 18 years. Here, he discusses Halsey’s influence, as well as how he searches for balance as both an engineer and as a photographer.

(Left) Yosemite No. 3 (digital photograph, 2017); (Right) McLeod (digital photograph, 2017); see Moore’s abstract photographs at his solo exhibit at Corrigan Gallery on Queen Street in December.

Starting Out: My dad worked for DuPont construction, so we moved all over the country. During my childhood, from second through fifth grade, we lived in the Bay area and traveled throughout California and the West. He had a good camera he picked up at the end of World War II, and he took pictures everywhere we went. About that time, I wanted to take photographs, too, so my parents gave me a camera in high school. I played around with it, then bought a nicer camera in college. I think 1977 is when I took my first decent photograph.

Favorite Subject: The style I’ve been doing the longest is landscape-oriented. That’s my happy place. I go to areas in the woods or out West, and I canoe or hike. I’m a visual learner and thinker, so as I walk, images jump out at me. I used to use a 4x5 field camera, the kind where you throw the black cloth over your head. That was just a transformative experience—looking at everything upside down and backward. I would get lost in it. Sadly, Fuji stopped making the quick load, a convenient way to load film into that camera, so it doesn’t work for me anymore. 

Getting Abstract: I really got into abstracts after seeing a William Halsey show at the College of Charleston in 1996. They were the type of abstracts you feel like you can stick your arm into because there’s so much depth. He knew how to play colors off of each other. Seeing that show turned me onto abstracts. After I saw the show, I was on a camping trip in the mountains, and we stopped at an old steel bridge. It was built of structural shapes, plates, and rivets, all colors of rust. I took a lot of photographs of that bridge in an hour.

Searching for Balance: When I look at a deteriorated surface, the challenge is finding something that has some composition, or balance, or a center of gravity in a field of chaos. Structural engineers are interested in centers of gravity and balance. I think making some order out of chaos appeals to me, whether that’s the colors making the composition or the objects are semi-recognizable in the image.

Scaling Up: I’ve gotten to where, just looking at surfaces, compositions jump out and grab my attention. I’m not even really thinking; I’m just reacting to what I’m seeing, and I take a photograph. I particularly like abstract photos where the viewer has no idea what they’re looking at and has no idea of the scale. I take landscape photos, but abstracts are my more rock-and-roll side.