My buddy took me out to two abandoned Detroit buildings for a little Urban Exploration yesterday. I consider it fieldwork. Most of my photos suck compared to his, but he has better equipment (along with some idea what heâ€™s doing). Iâ€™m confident, however, I could do large format better than he could. Maybe.
I hadnâ€™t realized what a robust culture of urban explorers there seems to be. A large dusty mirror in one of the buildings we went to was covered with initials and dates of explorers who had visited recently and noted the fact for others to see.
It was a lot of fun and definitely good to fool around with the flashes and exposure options on my digital camera to help get a sense of what it takes to make a good shot.
In addition, it is amazing what sort of entertainment and service capacity Detroit had (and still has potential for) just in its downtown area. The city may never need to build another building again, there are so many abandoned ones waiting for renovation. It was also incredible to see what a night-and-day contrast there was between areas as we drove from the locations (in downtown) to Campus Martius to Greektown (one of the few areas with a place open for dinner at 9 on Sunday). A great experience overall, but kids, donâ€™t try this at home.
UPDATE: More thoughts on UE. The guys I was with were pretty responsible overall, particularly my friend. He admonished one of the group not to take a long-useless “Fire Exit” sign so, in his words, future explorers could enjoy it. While considering dinner, several options right near midtown were rejected because they were in Illitch buildings. The Illitches, who own the Tigers and a bunch of other stuff downtown, are in the game of tearing down buildings that aren’t immediately and obviously profitable in favor of parking lots. Unfortunately, they seem to exploit a prevalent mindset in Detroit, that demolishing these embarassing reminders of the past is the only way to move forward, as if a Popeye’s will ever do anything more for a community than the looming shadow of a gorgeous abandoned hotel.
My companions seemed to be of a like mind in their motivations for preservation — that is, buildings should not be revered simply because they are old, but that their creation in the past represented a different set of priorities. The detailing and craftsmanship of numerous aspects of the Fort Shelby and Harvard Square buildings were astounding, from the hand-painted lettering of office doors to the hollow-tile construction walls to the carved wood all over. To ride my hobby horse once again, preservation is not about saving things that are old because they are old. It is about saving things that are old because they are better than what will replace them.
But there is some hope for Detroit, with a lot of redevelopment occurring at several nodes. Even the Ransom Gillis house in Brush Park is getting rehabbed (and there wasn’t much there to rehab). I could go on about the cookie cutter condos and apartments off Woodward, but I won’t. Get to Detroit yourself. And say hi to DK if you see him climbing through a window on the 5th floor of an abandoned building for a day of photography.