Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lost City

Two controversial photography exhibits at the National Building Museum reveal the ghostly ruins of the Detroit's glorious past and the formidable challenges of its future.


Chemistry lab, former Cass Technical High School building, 2009.
Credit: Andrew Moore.

For decades the Motor City was America’s icon of prosperity, but Detroit has fallen into an incredible state of dilapidation since the decline of the American auto industry. Once America’s fourth largest city, Detroit’s 138 square miles are now one-third empty land dotted with thousands of abandoned structures. Not just humble homes but also grand architectural statements of prosperity and power have been reduced to vacant shells. For generations Americans have gone to Europe to visit its castles and coliseums; now Europeans tour Detroit’s ruins.


Abandoned videoconferencing room, Chase Tower, Financial District, 2008.
Credit: Andrew Moore.

Rolling hall, Ford Motor Company, River Rouge Complex, Dearborn, 2008.
Credit: Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore, Cooper Elementary School, East Side, 2008.
Credit: Andrew Moore

In Detroit Disassembled, Andrew Moore reveals the tragic beauty of this unsettled and unsettling territory. Thirty monumentally scaled photographs depict the windowless grand hotels, vast barren factories, collapsing churches, offices carpeted in velvety moss and entire blocks reclaimed by prairie grass. These epic images disclose how the forward march of the assembly line has been thrown spectacularly into reverse in Detroit.


Andrew Moore

Michigan Central Station, 2008.
Credit: Andrew Moore
Andrew Moore is renowned internationally for large-format photography that captures the essence of place. His art, which has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe and in the United Arab Emirates, is in numerous museum collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Canadian Centre for Architecture, and Israel Museum. Images from Detroit Disassembled have been acquired by museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Moore’s books include Inside Havana (2002), Governors Island (2005), and Russia: Beyond Utopia (2005).

This exhibition is organized by the Akron Art Museum and made possible by a major gift from Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell with additional support from the John A. McAlonan Fund of Akron Community Foundation. Accompanying images are from the collection of Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell.


Detroit is No Dry Bones.

Detroit has lost nearly sixty percent of its population since the mid-1950s. Sociologist and photographer Camilo José Vergara has traveled to Detroit for over twenty five years to document not only the city’s precipitous decline but also how its residents have survived. Vergara’s photographs reveal the city of Detroit as a place in which enormous ruins coexist with myriad restaurants, car-repair shops, churches and gardens—a city that is continually re-inventing itself even as it shrinks.

Former Michigan Central Station, Detroit, 1993
Credit: Photo © Camilo José Vergara

Downtown Detroit, 1991.
Credit: Photo © Camilo José Vergara

Hutchins Cole’s Garden, Rosa Parks Boulevard, Detroit, 1987
Credit: Photo © Camilo José Vergara.

Nicky D’s Coney Island, Detroit, 2011.
Credit: Photo © Camilo José Vergara

East Palmer Avenue, a 95 degree day, Detroit, 1995.
Credit: Photo © Camilo José Vergara

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.”

Former Highland Park State Bank,1993.
Credit: Photo © Camilo José Vergara
Camilo José Vergara is a photographer, documentarian, and author whose subject is America’s inner cities. Currently residing in New York, Vergara was born in Santiago, Chile, and received a B.A. in sociology from the University of Notre Dame in 1968 and a Master's in sociology from Columbia University in 1977. He first began recording urban landscapes in 1970 and has systematically photographed some of America’s most impoverished neighborhoods in New York City, Newark, Camden, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, Gary, Milwaukee, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Named a MacArthur Fellow in 2002, Vergara is one of the nation's foremost urban documentarians.

Vergara lectures widely and is the author of numerous books and essays. His photographs have been the subject of more than half-a-dozen exhibitions and have been acquired for the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Library of Congress, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the New York Historical Society among other institutions. Detroit Is No Dry Bones marks the Museum's fifth collaboration with Vergara.

To view more of Vergara's work visit his website, Tracking Time.

Detroit Dissembled and Detroit Is No Dry Bones are two photography exhibitions the National Building Museum is presenting from September 30, 2012 to February 18, 2013, that explore the residential, commercial, and industrial ruins and surviving communities of Detroit, Michigan. Learn more about these and other related exhibitions at www.nbm.org.




Video: Photographer and sociologist Camilo José Vergara discusses a photograph from the exhibition Detroit Is No Dry Bones on view at the National Building Museum. Published on Sep 26, 2012.

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