Seeing pictures of a declining Detroit as part of the common story of social change

While this collection of photos may qualify as “ruin porn,” a new exhibition put together a sociologist and photographer highlights the changes experienced in the city of Detroit:

Detroit was once the symbol of prosperity and economic development, but with the decline of the American auto industry, the Motor City has fallen into a great state of dilapidation.

The city has lost about a million of its residents (60% of its population) since the 1950s, and numerous factories, businesses and service buildings have been abandoned.

Two photography exhibitions at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. this fall explore the residential, commercial and industrial ruin of Detroit, Michigan.

Both “Detroit Is No Dry Bones” by sociologist and photographer Camilo José Vergara, who has been documenting the precipitous decline of Detroit for 25 years, and “Detroit Disassembled” by Andrew Moore, who is renowed fro his large-format photography, will be on display through February 18, 2013.

Why is the new TV show Revolution shooting fake scenes of Chicago having fallen into disrepair when it could be shooting in certain locations in Detroit?

Even though we have seen plenty of photos like this before, it sounds like the exhibition has a hopeful goal:

Of his work, Vergara states “My belief is that by creating a photographic record of Detroit, as it is taken over by nature and pulled down by gravity, people will come to appreciate how the city continues to survive and to give answers to those who come to observe it…The empty land, the art projects, the graffiti commentaries, and the ruins of the city’s industrial past make Motown an unforgettable city of the imagination and could provide the basis for a new Detroit.”

One way to get past the ruin part of the story would be to couch these photos of Detroit as part of the larger issue of social change. Cities can and do change quite drastically and photographs help us to record these changes. I think the reason Detroit gets a lot of attention because the decline narrative is not a common one in the United States. We tend to think of our cities and communities and growing places that continue to move forward. We like progress. There are also cities and places going the other direction, such as the documented changes in recent decades in the Sunbelt. Or the burgeoning cities of China and other developing countries. Overall, we could think about how people, leaders, and organizations react and respond to change which is often not easy whether it is cast in positive or negative terms.

One thought on “Seeing pictures of a declining Detroit as part of the common story of social change

  1. Pingback: Cities and societies always at risk of declining? | Legally Sociable

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