Clearly, Pictures for Rome (1998–99) are not the same as pictures of Rome: Anthony Hernandez's photographs make no reference to any of the many iconic landmarks of that ancient city. In fact, they make no reference to any city in particular, but focus instead on the discarded monuments of a generic consumerist metropolis, its modern ruins. In Hernandez's photographs, the troubling architectural skeletons, debris of abandoned buildings, and languishing unfinished projects of modern society are considered as urban relics. Whether chronicling an aborted commercial building or never-completed hospital, an empty housing complex or deserted classroom, His images document the ghosts of urban renewal—the failed projects and material disasters that are the less glamorous side of urban development.
This social emphasis resonates with his earlier project Landscapes for the Homeless, a series made largely in his hometown of Los Angeles, where he photographed “homes” tucked under freeways or in the corners of abandoned lots. People are not to be found, but signs of their presence imbue every scene. The same is true of Pictures for Rome; for example, in Rome #1 graffiti marks two cobalt blue doors, and in Rome #25 the outlines of posters that once decorated the walls haunt the now-vacant room. This focus on the formal and poetic qualities of interiors sometimes results in photographs that are visually disorienting; for example, in Rome #17 what appears to be a series of receding rectangular concrete structures ending in ball-like objects suspended before a luminous glow is actually a view up an elevator shaft in an unfinished building. Hernandez's emphasis on a structure's formal allure invites us to enter the spaces in the photographs and imagine these unstable settings of abandon and dispossession. These modern-day Roman ruins are perhaps as enchanting as those of ancient Rome, but they are also disconcerting depictions of decay in our modern era of unprecedented material destruction and waste.