Saturday, September 25, 2010

Detroit Is Undead

I find the backlash against urban ruin photography and the Go Forth campaign (Braddock as urban frontier) perplexing. Aaron Renn posted on Thursday about the "Detroit Lives" film that, by most accounts, is popular among the Rust Belt concerned. I notice that the locals interviewed both vilify and valorize ruin porn.

Detroit does get a bum rap. I'm more than familiar with the negative stereotypes of shrinking cities. I appreciate the challenge of branding a region. However, the carping about ruin porn is absurd. The images of dying and depressed Detroit are the same ones inspiring a generation of urban pioneers.

Ruin porn captures the beauty in urban blight. I feel inspiration when viewing what some people are labeling pornography. Whatever the photographer intended (e.g. critique of capitalism or suburban sprawl), I have a deep emotional attachment to these landscapes.

I don't have a problem with the photojournalism, either. The story told is no different from the one in "Detroit Lives" as related by the urban residents. The focus of the latter group is more about revitalization, but many of shots are exactly the same as the ones dismissed as ruin porn.

The film does succeed in recasting ruin porn as Rust Belt Chic. The camera connects the ubiquitous photographs of Detroit's Grand Central Station ruin to the burgeoning hipster scene in the city. As Aaron Renn argues, Detroit has a globally recognized brand. There is no such thing as bad publicity.

1 comment:

Mark Peyko said...

Detroit is fascinating because you can see the grandeur of the city amid the ruin. Even today, when Detroit launches a project, they don't do it half-assed. The restorations (Book Cadillac) and redevelopments (Hudson's implosion) are just as grand as the failures (Packard, Michigan Central, Michigan Theater). "Devil's Night" (from the 1990s) really captured the city and was never condescending. The book is funny, sad and full of irony. The premise of the work is that Detroit was the first Third World city in the U.S.