Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Images of Detroit
A photography book by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre titled Ruins of Detroit was on Huffington Post with a slideshow of some of the photographs. I looked at the photographers' website. Nice pictures. Lousy idea. The two are Frenchmen, born in the mid-80s when Detroit was already in so much trouble it didn't look like my birth city would make it into the next century. The young Paris residents don't live here, started this photography project in 2005: unknown why Detroit was chosen to villify. The photos are composed excellently, produced beautifully. Without the stories, the history, the web and woof of humanity and industry in Detroit, the photos are soulless constructs; golems of composition in light noise, amorphous. The words in the two-paragraph introduction have no heart, brutally condemn Detroit to the dust of history as anciently dead as Rome, the Pyramids of Egypt. The logic that created the city also destroyed it. Nowadays, unlike anywhere else, the city’s ruins are not isolated details in the urban environment. They have become a natural component of the landscape. Detroit presents all archetypal buildings of an American city in a state of mummification. The couple of paragraphs use decadent language, crypting unfortunate periods in Detroit's history. This isn't art: this is funerary. And for this premature interment these boys want $125.00 in good ol' Detroit loot for their postmortem. I know these buildings. My dentist was in the David Whitney Building. My dad went to Wilbur Wright. I had relatives who worked at the Packard plant, and I saw movies at United Artists Theater. The decay is painful. There are still vibrant offices in Detroit, many projects underway to revitalize the city-heart, the theater and music is world-class, and I'm sure there are dentist chairs with working patients. Cass Technical High School is in a new building, thanks for not pointing that out, and there is a drive to fund the rescue of the old Cass Tech. The publication date of this book is unfortunate, as Detroit has a decent and hard-working Mayor who is trying to reboot what is recoverable in Motown, celebrate what's vibrant and new, and broom what doesn't work. When the photographers were born we had a self-serving crook in the office for too long, and only recently survived another. Detroit is a mess, yes, like so many American industrial cities. Detroit ain't dead, mon ami: and it is not these photographers' neighborhood. It's my neighborhood.