“Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.”
The Ruins of Detroit is a five-year collaboration between French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. Together they have documented Detroit’s abandoned buildings, thus bringing to light the current state of ‘Motor City’ through a cinematic series of starkly beautiful photographs. Shooting with a large format, custom made camera, taking advantage of natural light and using long exposures, the images embody the unique atmosphere of each location. Marchand and Meffre’s work retains a formal quality and is conceived as a document, giving the viewer a surreal glimpse of Detroit’s former glory. Like the great civilizations of the past, we interpret them through their remains.
Once one of the wealthiest cities in the world, Detroit produced the single most important consumer product of the modern age: the automobile. At its peak, it was the world capital of car production and home to two million people. One factory, The Ford River Rouge Plant, employed more than 90,000 workers and its assembly line extended for almost a mile. This monumental success attracted the great architects of the period and the eclecticism of the city’s building programme reflected every fashion of the day.
Yet the American dream soon turned into a nightmare. The 1950s saw machines replace workers and, in the following decades, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost as the international car market changed beyond recognition and foreign car manufacturers successfully competed for their share of the US market.
The images bring to mind a Biblical disaster; it is as if all Detroit’s citizens had fled. The abandoned factories and buildings, vacant schools and derelict ballrooms, to name but a few, are a poignant reminder of the fragility of the modern world and, possibly on a different scale, of a now ‘broken America.’ These beautiful, but disturbing, images look uncompromisingly at the remains of the once-astonishing Detroit, as a then global centre of capitalism and its following, even more extraordinary, descent into ruin. One is reminded of Detroit’s prophetic motto:
Speramus meliora, resurget cineribus (“We hope for better things, which shall rise from the ashes”).