The Ruins of Detroit

July 19, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
 
Yesterday the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy.  Seems like a pretty momentous step, but I don't think anyone is surprised.  The decline of Detroit has been long and steady and, despite recent glimmers of hope and redevelopment, has seemed inevitable even to a casual observer hundreds of miles away.  
 
I've never really been to Detroit.  Years ago, a company I worked for did some business there, but I never visited that client. I've spent a couple of hours making connections through the airport there, but that doesn't count.  When I think about Detroit I'm probably more likely to think of Motown than of General Motors.  But the news from Detroit reminded me of a portfolio of photographs that has given me my mental image of Detroit at the end of the 20th century.
 
The Ruins of Detroit is a collaboration of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre that documents the urban decay of Detroit.  The photographs are beautiful, haunting images of streets and buildings and, to me the most interesting, the inside of buildings.  I could study them for hours, both for the beauty and detail captured in the photographs, and for the haunting feeling of loss and abandonment.  It was a feeling I'd first had thirty years ago in a very different place.
 
Before it was the North Carolina Transportation Museum the rail yard in Spencer, NC was the abandoned shell of Southern Railway Company's largest steam locomotive servicing facility.  During the time it was abandoned I made several visits, always carrying a camera as a talisman against the physical dangers of an abandoned industrial site and the crime of trespassing.
 
Backshop, Spencer NC, 1983 Going through the massive back shop, the round house and the offices, it looked as if the crew had knocked off work one evening and had never come back.  I remember the wood-block floor in the round house, starting to come apart at the edges.  The upholstered seats and fabric curtains, fragile but intact, inside a Pullman car.  A wooden desk in the office, swivel chair pushed back and paperclips still in the drawer.
 
When British photographer Michael Day visited Pripyat, the city in the Ukraine built to support the Chernobyl nuclear power station, he said "It was like a living museum."  His photographs, too, reminded me of that rail yard thirty years ago, but to me all of these images - Detroit, the Southern Railway yard and Pripyat - capture the opposite of "living museum."
 
They are not museums, but real, everyday places.  Places that were created for a purpose, not to be abandoned, stuck in time and left as voyeuristic windows into what was.  And they are not living, but dead, poorly embalmed corpses.
 
It is this erosion of what was into what is, and the melancholy emotion captured in the best of these images, that make them so compelling.
 
 
 

Comments

No comments posted.
Loading...

Archive
January February March April May June July (1) August (1) September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December