Detroit in ruins: the photographs of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
Guardian, Sunday 2 January 2011
In downtown Detroit, the streets are lined with abandoned hotels and swimming pools, ruined movie houses and schools, all evidence of the motor city’s painful decline. The photographs of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre capture what remains of a once-great city – and hint at the wider story of post-industrial America
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Cumulatively, the photographs are a powerful and disturbing testament to the glory and the destructive cost of American capitalism: the centre of a once-thriving metropolis in the most powerful nation on earth has become a ghost town of decaying buildings and streets. There is a formal beauty here too, though, reminiscent of Robert Polidori’s images of post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans. “It seems like Detroit has just been left to die,” says Marchand, “Many times we would enter huge art deco buildings with once-beautiful chandeliers, ornate columns and extraordinary frescoes, and everything was crumbling and covered in dust, and the sense that you had entered a lost world was almost overwhelming. In a very real way, Detroit is a lost world – or at least a lost city where the magnificence of its past is everywhere evident.”
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The Ruins of Detroit tells the city’s story so far in one starkly beautiful photograph after another, all of which add up to nothing less than an end-of-empire narrative. Or as Sugrue puts it: “The abandoned factories, the eerily vacant schools, the rotting houses, and gutted skyscrapers that Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre chronicle are the artefacts of Detroit’s astonishing rise as a global capital of capitalism and its even more extraordinary descent into ruin, a place where the boundaries between the American dream and the American nightmare, between prosperity and poverty, between the permanent and the ephemeral are powerfully and painfully visible. No place epitomises the creative and destructive forces of modernity more than Detroit, past and present.”