Cry, our beloved Detroit. It’s so easy to forget your heyday, when you rivaled other major cities with your grand architecture and the wealth coursing through your streets and powerful offices, the shining example of industry and efficiency.
The desolation of Detroit has previously been compared pictorially with the aftermath of Nagasaki. However, a shocking new book of photos, The Ruins of Detroit, taken by 20-something French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, show the truth of such analogies. Picture after picture in this book tells the heartbreaking story of a city soiled and abandoned.
It’s as if the occupants grew disgusted and simply walked away, leaving all their possessions behind to rot and fester.
The moldering remains are emblematic of a society that grew lazy and couldn’t bother to fend for itself. The photos show it was even too much effort to try to salvage what’s left.
These photos present a cautionary tale, which will likely continue to go unheeded. Detroit has been under Democratic rule since 1962, nearly half a century. And yet, the residents, seeing their city fall to the ground around them, continue to elect Democrats and expect a different result.
The BlogProf has a eye-popping collection of links that demonstrate the absolute devastation that Detroit has given itself over to.
This story wasn’t run in the American mainstream media, where the shame of Detroit is swept under the obituary page. Instead it was told in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which offers a fuller selection of the photos from the book. The book itself is not readily available in the US, though it can be purchased at the UK Amazon site.
The Guardian describes the book saying:
This sense of loss is what Marchand and Meffre have captured in image after image, whether of vast downtown vistas where every tower block is boarded-up or ravaged interior landscapes where the baroque stonework, often made from marble imported from Europe, is slowly crumbling and collapsing. The pair have photographed once-grand hotels that were built in a carefree mix of gothic, art deco, Moorish and medieval styles, as well as countless baroque theatres, movie houses and ballrooms —the Vanity, where big band giants such as Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey played in the 1930s; the Eastown theatre, where pioneering hard rock groups like Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5 held court in the 1960s.
They have also captured for posterity the desolate interiors that once made up the city’s civic infrastructure: courthouses, churches, schools, dentists, police stations, jails, public libraries and swimming pools, all of which have most of their original fixtures and fittings intact. “As Europeans, we were looking with an outsider’s eye, which made downtown Detroit seem even more strange and dramatic,” says Meffre. “We are not used to seeing empty buildings left intact. In Europe, salvage companies move in immediately and take what they can sell as antiques. Here, they only take the metal piping to sell for scrap. In the Vanity ballroom alone, we saw four giant art deco chandeliers, beautiful objects, each one unique. It was almost unbelievable that they could still be there. It is as if America has no sense of its own architectural history and culture.”
In the story, the two young photographers, Marchand and Meffre, and how they stumbled upon Detroit from Paris were described thusly:
Marchand (29) and Meffre (23) have been taking photographs together since they first met in 2002. They are both children of Paris’s banlieue, hailing from the southern suburbs of the city. Without formal training, they describe themselves as “autodidacts who share an obsession with ruins”, which, says Meffre, “allow you to appear to enter a different world, a lost world, and to report back from there”.
Having photographed old buildings – “mainly disused theatres” – in Paris, they happened upon an image of Michigan Central train station in Detroit while surfing the internet for pictures of abandoned buildings. “It was so stately and so dramatic that we decided right then we had to go,” says Meffre, “but we were naive; we had no idea of the scale of the project, of the vastness of downtown Detroit and its ruins. There is nothing comparable in Europe.”
Poor Detroit. The last one out didn’t even remember to turn off the lights or close the door.