This story featured on Etsy’s blog is one of the saddest I have read in a long time. The building featured rivals anything I’ve seen in Europe and yet it will soon be but a distant memory. I know… it takes money- LOTS of money to safe these old belles of the ball but look at what we are replacing them with. Surely a country as large and powerful as the one I know, love, and believe in can do something to save what we will never be able to afford to build again. Can’t we?
Left Behind: The Ruins of Detroit
Published on Jan 20, 2011 in This Handmade Life
Photo by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
“Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension. The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at some point, the volatile result of change of era and the fall of empires. Photography appeared to us as a modest way to keep a little bit of this ephemeral state.”
So decrees the mission statement of photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, authors of The Ruins of Detroit. These intrepid two have approached the waning city of Detroit as a fallen American colossus, navigating buckling floors, curlicued shards of lead paint and dust covered relics they document the industrial capital’s last gasp. The gas lights and auto plants that once pulsed as a beacon of twentieth century gumption and ingenuity are presently abandoned. “Ghost town” status is closing in.
Contemplating abandoned cities and the lost art of another age brings to mind ancient civilizations like the Maya or Inca, not a contemporary American city. It’s startling to see the infrastructure of a metropolis left to crumble, especially when opulence isn’t such a distant memory.
Marchand and Meffre have sifted through debris in abandoned courthouses, churches, schools, dentist offices, police stations, jails, public libraries and swimming pools, all of which have most of their original fixtures and fittings intact. In an interview with The Observer, Meffre states that, “As Europeans, we were looking with an outsider’s eye, which made downtown Detroit seem even more strange and dramatic. We are not used to seeing empty buildings left intact. In the Vanity ballroom alone, we saw four giant art deco chandeliers, beautiful objects, each one unique. It was almost unbelievable that they could still be there. It is as if America has no sense of its own architectural history and culture.”
Looking beyond all the foregone treasures, the crumbling infrastructure, and the staggering rehabilitation necessary to revive a city of this scale, there lies a heady question: Does every city need a return to relevance? Is rehabilitation of ghost towns even possible or, dare I say, necessary? Should we quietly retreat as cities turn to dust, looking toward something less fragile?