Eric de Maré's RIBA show reveals raw substance of an industrial age

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The Independent Culture

They are stark and gaunt, often radiating an aura of carbonised dampness that suggests ruin and redemption. In our age of urban regeneration, the photographs of Eric de Maré, on show at the Royal Institute of British Architects, are ironic palimpsests of the government's grands projets on the Olympic site and Thames Gateway. But is Britain really on the march again, in the way that De Maré thought it was in the 50s and 60s? Half a century later, do we give a damn, as he did, about ordinary older buildings and settings?

De Mare's interest in industrial junkspace strongly influenced young postwar architects such as James Stirling and Michael Hopkins, who went on to produce breakthroughs in postmodern and high-tech architecture. De Mare's images are not beautiful, they are toughly tectonic and irresistably atmospheric; through his lens, the ugly and the forgotten become obdurately heroic. One wonders how many architects have been influenced by culturally polemical photographs taken in, say, the last decade? Very few, I'd guess.

There was no trademark De Mare shot. But, always, it's the ordinary details of place we notice – light and shadow and raw substance, so vividly at odds with the pixelated surfaces of our ephemeral, implicitly futurist age.

The Exploring Eye: The Photography of Eric de Maré, RIBA, London W1, to 24 November