Rust Running From Stairway


Because the rust is so prominent in this image, giving the appearance of a “bleeding” or disintegrating stairway, I saw it as an excellent illustration of entropy—matter in the process of dissipation, reverting back to heat energy. Everything disintegrates. Dust to dust.

Iron rusts, computers fail, bones break, noise disrupts communication, relationships fail, businesses reach the end of their lifecycle and civilizations come to an end. All things material eventually return to their component elements and energies. I told my video production students, “The natural tendency is for cameras and production crews not to work. Parts, relationships and communication break down. So if you want things to work, every element needs attention. Metal needs to be oiled. Connections need to be maintained. People need to be on the same page,  fairly compensated and encouraged.” From a human perspective, the forces of entropy are staved off (negative entropy, or syntropy) by caring, maintenance and increased information.

In mechanical terms, this stairway would not have been bleeding had it been properly cared for, perhaps with occasional treatments of a rust retardant. Without it, entropy results in increased disintegration. The steps break and need to be replaced. One of life’s principle lessons for me is that in every domain, maintenance (syntropy) is better than the consequences of entropy.

In this image I find it metaphorically suggestive that steps are disintegrating. In the course of our lives we take the steps we believe are necessary to reach our goals. We start out feeling secure because the steps have a proven track record of success—for other people. But with experience we sometimes find those steps to be unreliable for us. And even when we feel we’re on the right stairway, we may not care enough or give proper attention to certain steps and we falter. Minimally, security and trust are at risk, particularly when someone else’s course of action doesn’t resonate with our temperament, values or beliefs . Worse, following a path that doesn’t work for us is likely to  impede progress in the long run. Instead of bemoaning  breakdowns, the more appropriate response is to pay close attention to what is happening and attend the details. Ideally, take action to retard the forces of disintegration.

It takes time, effort and possibly some expense to keep our personal and professional “steps” from bleeding. But in my experience, entropy is a dragon that cannot be tamed. It can only be managed.

Entropy is the occasion less for cosmic pessimism than for hope that the universe is always open to new creation.

John Haught


About This Image

Bleeding Stairway

Theme: Entropy

File: DF 916

River Rd. Cincinnati, OH

October 5, 2008


I frequent industrial sites, looking for possible images. Fortunately, I was able to get close enough to a series of interconnected oil tanks that were badly in need of paint or whatever is used to keep the rust from happening. There was plenty of light, so I hand held the digital camera.

When on location, scanning the environment for images that are evocative, ripe for contemplation, I’m especially looking for three key elements: light, geometry and simplicity. My aesthetic nerve is especially stimulated when these converge. I can be satisfied when just one or two of these properties are evident within a space, but when they all come together, the resultant image is more likely to be numinous. By far, the more difficult element to find or create is simplicity. Yet it’s this that contributes most to a composition that evokes contemplation.

Specific to this image, the light raking across the surface of the tank gives it texture and the stairway contributes  geometry through the repeating pattern. Simplicity was achieved by keeping the shot tight, eliminating all but the essential elements. Simplicity was also served here by there only being two predominant colors—white and rust.

Using Photoshop I transformed the image into black and white to see what it would look like. In this instance, the color not only contributes aesthetic appeal, it carries the weight of the “message.” This was an instance where I was glad I was shooting in color. The black and white image had the qualities of light and geometry, but without the stark and rich colors of the rust, the image lacked the capacity to evoke the above contemplation.


One thought on “Entropy

  1. I love the sad beauty of this bleeding tank. What a counterpoint to your b&w tank stairs where the beauty is in the design and “perfection” of the tank.

    Our lives are a fight against entropy. Sadly, many fail to realize their bodies emotionally and physically are like this tank and need repair…some “rustoleum for the soul”…if only it were so easy.



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