Leaving Detroit

In Detroit, people take pictures of abandoned buildings. Because they’re fascinating or because they’re beautiful or because other people have taken photos of them or because they’re an easy subject that doesn’t move or ask them for money. They’re representative of the city or of the ills of capitalism or of the decline of the American empire.

Andrew Moore, photographer behind this book says:

“Cities represent our collective memory. Every time a building is torn down, it’s like losing that part of your memory. You build new parts, of course, but when a city loses a big portion of its buildings and  history, it’s like their identity has been cleaned, brainwashed” (see here).

Detroit is monument upon monument to its own decline, unlike most of the rest of the U.S., which not only has a short history, but is obsessed with being precocious, necessitating facelifts that look like subdivisions and stripmalls.

The problem with documenting those monuments, then, is that monuments, in and of themselves, rarely tell you much. The argument against pictures like Moore’s (neatly put here, if you can get past the angry insidery-ness) is that they aestheticize and abstract complex political and social problems by robbing the city, or the object in focus, of any context.

But that’s art, right? Right. But that doesn’t mean it’s very good art.

These are just some musings of a month in Detroit, a place that makes you think more than most of the pictures taken of it do. And below, a couple pictures I’ve tried to take with more awareness.

Love. from the Packard plant.

Lifeguard, from Belle Isle

More reading from Rebecca Solnit.

And now, back in Chi-city.




  1. So interesting. I think I like our house that’s surrounded by trees, vines and bushes; the lake house with its access to water and the cabin and land, which received so many compliments last week, better than crumbling cities. At any rate, a falling tree soon becomes dust and hardly leaves a trace and feeds all kinds of bugs.

  2. That’s a valid perspective. The point I was trying to make is that the photos taken of Detroit rarely give any insight about the people who live there and the experiences they have–people who feel the same way about their homes as you do about yours.

    It’s more than just a crumbling city, and if you take the macroscopic view that dust returns to dust, you should consider some microscopic ones–collections of individuals, leading their specific and very different lives. They’re also a part of how Detroit could be depicted, and currently not a huge part of the national narrative about the place.

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