Decay is a paradoxical process, architecturally speaking. A building falling into disrepair is an eyesore; yet, there’s a strange beauty in the dying skeleton, in the story of what once was. Julie Reyes Taubman’s Detroit: 138 Square Miles shows the remnants of the major American city, now largely abandoned and neglected, in a series of stark, revealing photographs.
Detroit was once called the “City of the Future,” when Fordism, the Model T, and General Motors reigned supreme. Mass production suddenly offered the common man easier means to automobiles, and, consequently, a way out of the city. Since 1950, more than half the population has left. Taubman’s keen eye has captured everyday scenes to accurately portray Detroit’s current state of ruin – aerial shots of alternating sagging homes and decimated plots, deserted factories, trash heaps, a corner store left imprisoned by sprouting trees and weeds. The ironically named Joy Middle School is vacant, boarded up, with a courtyard full of discarded materials and desk chairs nested in the overgrown trees.
While most photographs feed Taubman’s fascination with architecture, the occasional human subjects that appear exude an air of acceptance, both of the situation and their surroundings. Interestingly, Detroit is not Taubman’s plea to clean up the city. In fact, she believes it should be left as is, left to wither away naturally, just as it has been. “It is not a disgrace to listen to the stories only ruins can tell. They tell us a lot about who we were, what we once valued most, and where we may be going.”
Detroit: 138 Square Miles is distributed by ARTBOOK | D.A.P.
Written by Caroline Pham