A photo project I’ve recently seen passed around Facebook is the Detroit re-photography project by David Jordano. A Chicago-based photographer, in 1973 Jordano was a Detroiter and conducted a photo survey of his city. He recently revisited those sites and worked to reshoot the photos. Some instances seem like a twist on the standard “ruin porn” of decaying Motor City landmarks — this one of the interior of the Michigan Central station, for example.
However, Jordano’s efforts get somewhat more poignant when his 1973 images illustrate just what has been lost in the interim.
In Jordano’s depiction, the great hall really was a waiting room, with black and white Detroiters caught in moments of calm and repose between trains. His image is testament to the loss of an era of grand architecture, where private commerce could sustain a public good and enrich the lives of all the citizens residents and travelers.
But Jordano’s photos also illustrate the loss of modest structures, ones that made no list of architectural achievements or corporate headquarters. This photo from 1973 nearly makes me weep to think of the careful tending and modest but forceful design intended in the building. The top image could come straight out of an exhibit in Kelo v. New London or mid-century urban renewal pamphlets.
And now we’ve got a semi parking lot or distribution center. Woo chain link.
Also, I must note that, despite the talk of the affordability and quality of digital cameras, Jordano’s rig (likely an expensive large format view camera) from 1973 vastly outstrips his new camera. A better lens, better resolution, and more masterful lighting make the black and white images simply better on nearly every count. They seem like fine art pieces, far more so than the well composed but lifeless digital equivalents.
Together, this pairing of images from 1973 — nearly the apex of postwar prosperity — with contemporary versions tells a story, a narrative of loss and unfulfilling rebirth in a new neoliberal framework, where old-line retailers and their buildings are replaced by the hostile headquarters of computer software companies, and ramshackle but dignified homes are bulldozed for Pepsi bottling plants. Here we really see the cost of deindustrialization and the limited gains for places like Detroit, not simply imagining what must have been there before the parking lots. Being confronted with this reality is, in fact, much worse than our imaginations could conjure.