Urban Exploration in Detroit

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by tudor_apmadoc, Jan 31, 2014.

  1. By now you've heard about all the problems in Detroit, corruption, abandoned buildings, bankruptcy.
    I've been exploring the abandoned factories, schools, churches, theaters, office buildings, etc. There's a sadness to be sure, but there's also amazing photo opportunities to capture the architecture, the decay (yes there can be beauty in the decay).
    I've got my recent work at : http://www.flickr.com/photos/tudorapmadoc/sets/72157639366700073/
    Let me know what you think!
  2. An interesting subject with no end of possibilities. I would caution against going into those old buildings without at least someone knowing where you are.
  3. Detroit's ruin porn allure has become such a cliche that not only has it been called a cliche for a couple of years ("Photos of Detroit Need to Move Beyond Ruin Porn", Wired, June 2012) you can even find commentaries defending it as not a cliche but a trope ("In Defense of Ruin Porn", Feb. 2012).
    Some of it is beautiful and grotesque and touching and emotionally bankrupt in the same way photos of "the homeless" to "increase awareness of the problem" can be beautiful and grotesque and touching and emotionally bankrupt... and manipulative and cliches.
    The most interesting ruin porn I've seen identified and explored certain themes, such as abandoned theaters found in many cities. Or photos that included people who still live amid the "ruins".
    Even in my own decaying neighborhood in the unfashionable western part of old Fort Worth, it's a challenge to make photos that aren't cliches, that aren't interchangeable with tens of thousands of similar photos, even though I have a connection here. And I'm not pretending to make some grand statement about the economy or any particular issues, other, perhaps, than how it affects my elderly and disabled neighbors.
    Please excuse the rambling. I'm not sure whether you wanted to know what I think about the subject or about your photos. Your photos are fine but I don't feel any connection or context. But that's not much of a critique or statement. I wouldn't expect anyone who doesn't know my neighborhood to feel any sense of connection or context. It may not mean anything to folks who don't live here.
  4. I go with a group, we usually go very early in the morning, so far, no problems at all
  5. I prowl the old barracks at Fort Ord sometimes and my main concern is falling through the floor.
  6. I'm originally from Warren, Ohio - just north of Youngstown. Back in the early eighties we had bumper stickers: Last one out, turn out the lights.
    I keep wanting to go back to document my old stomping grounds, but find it would be really difficult to out-do my neighbor (Harm Andrews, Andrews Shopping Center, In Harms Way group)
  7. The photos of the church/catherdral were really cool. I also liked the chemistry bottles on the first page....and the urinals....and some of the brilliantly colored graffiti. Too bad some of the those talented people can't put the same amount of effort into something more constructive.....There! I found it...my emotional connection. I don't look at enough "Ruin Porn" to have become jaded, emotionally bankrupt, or to even call it "Porn".

    I appreciate your efforts and the link, Tudor.
  8. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Sanford Edelstein.
    Although I'm scarcely local, I have spent a few hours photographing in the stockade at Ford Ord a few years ago, with permission from the City of Marina. Is it still standing?
  9. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    I've been wondering how best to respond to Tudor ApMadoc's post and the Flickr portfolio he references. First I should make clear that I do photograph abandoned material myself. I don't think of it as any kind of porn, just as a subject for photographs , some good , some less so. And I'm not guaranteed to like everything, even when the subject matter fits very well with me. By way of parallel, I have collected both antiques and modern paintings. That isn't to say that I like all or even most of either. It means that if I work quite hard I could find something that I'd like to look at often. Same with restaurants- I'm interested in food and enjoy eating out- but that's not to say that I think that a majority of restaurants serve food that I think is great.
    So, without getting into the rights and wrongs of "ruin porn" at all, I do feel I should say that these aren't generally the sort of "abandoned" or "urbex" photographs I look for or enjoy most. Basically I look for places in which I can make a nice composition in interesting light rather than document a place. I may not always succeed, but that's what I look for. That probably means that I'm going to be less interested in places with a large amount of rubble and I feel that several of the locations you've visited have lost even a semblance of the grandeur and structure they enjoyed once- in short they're past their best. Part of this is down to access- the easier it is to get in, then in general the more people will go there and the more damage that gets done. Some of the guys doing great work in this arena put incredible energy into finding out how to get in and then doing so at some risk to their safety and considerable risk of getting caught. Personally I've decided that I'm too old, insufficiently agile, and not enough "crew" orientated to ever get the chance to get into the best locations, and anyway most of the best stuff in the southern UK has been torn down and redeveloped.
    But I would suggest to look (on Flickr) at the work of people such as Andre Govia, RomanyWG, Andreas S and so on. Look at the atmosphere, their compositions, their use of light in their urbex photographs. Sure thy mostly use HDR and I'd personally like to see how well I could do without it- but I enjoy their work regardless. I do think the key to all of this is access- IMO the best urbex pictures come from sites that are difficult to get into or where few people know of them- you'll simply get less rubbish, less damage, and a greater sense of what one was that way. I hope you are not offended by my comments.
  10. David, I'm not sure where the Fort Ord stockade is. I've been photographing the old temporary (1940's) barracks at the far north end near the FORA reconditioned buildings, about the only area not fenced off now. I don't know when you were there last but the place is undergoing radical changes-a CA state college, a shopping center (BEST BUY!), a medical facility, and many new apartments that look strangely like the old barracks.
  11. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Sanford, Can't say precisely since I turned up by arrangement at City of Marina Offices not too far from the coast and was then guided there by an official in a car and she showed me where to park and how to get in. Part of the building and its yard were being used by an industrial company even then. I imagine its gone or converted to another use. Pity.
  12. I love shooting abandoned buildings and you had a few that remind me of some buildings here in Ft. Worth Texas that I have shot
  13. Funny, just this last weekend I mentioned to my father (who also is a photographer) that for quite some time I've been wanting to photograph Detroit. I would if photography was more then just a pastimes for me i.e. if I had the time and money for an extended stay. In a way, I think that photographers new to Detroit and new to this kind of photography have a leg up on those that came before. They can see the many pictures already taken and decide for themselves how they will approach it. This is what I did when I was doing research for photographing the Southern California Special Olympics Summer Games a couple years back. I looked at photographs from previous years and decided on a method of shooting that would not only result in a entirely different viewpoint but also would produce a body of work that I didn't feel I would have to compromise on during its execution. I came to this point by analyzing what I didn't like about previous photographs. It's always a gamble to approach new subject matter this way, but when faced with taking the risk or producing a body of mediocre work that doesn't sway much from the standard, then what choice is there really? For me, the gamble worked out; I printed about 30 of these pictures for my first ever solo exhibit.
  14. The pieces Lex alluded to are really thought provoking. I think some of these issues have to do with how different photographers and viewers interpret the mission of photographing these ruins. Some want to hold them into the social-economic context of documenting the play of forces that brought about the dissolution of these buildings and think that the disassociating the photographs from a wider understanding of the processes and responsibility for the collapse is a disservice to the victims.

    Other residents of Detroit associate the photographs and the desire to photograph the ruins as a reflection on Detroit and its character and feel they are being somewhat mis-characterized. But I was kind of fascinated by the "fetishism" remark that was made. And actually for most photographers I know, photographing ruins is more of a pure photographic exercise and not a documentary exercise. The article seems to put a large negative on photography that the author stated "fetishizes urban decay", or so I interpreted it. However, I would say that many of us who do shoot urban decay when we find it are absolutely out to fetishize it. And I mean that in the old alchemical sense of transforming crass material into a magical object, i.e. a photograph. That to me is a really worthwhile photographic endeavor.
  15. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Picking up on Barry's point, a few years ago, after seeing a number of elegant and rather beautiful photographs of abandoned Detroit, I approached the then chairman of the Detroit area's photography clubs to see if any of their members was sufficiently interested in this sort of thing to guide me around, and I was happy to pay for this. Initially I was finding it hard to get a response and then I got a tirade about how this type of photography brought scorn and disrespect on the city, was not to be encouraged and an exhortation to stay away. I have to say that I was staggered by the narrowness of this person's thinking for someone who no doubt claimed to be a photographer, not only failing to see the potential pleasure and beauty in it, and completely not getting the point that other people's imaginations might take them to different places than his. Meanwhile I'd guess that a significant portion of his membership were actively engaged in photographing the city's abandoned buildings.
  16. I understand Lex's worries, but in my eyes, if such shots, like those of Tupor, could surpass the search for aesthetics of decay, he could approach what some have called "socially engaged art". See Nato Thompson's "Living as form". A worthwhile project.
  17. I hope my initial remarks didn't seem
    gratuitously negative. I was mostly thinking out
    loud and pondering my own preoccupation with
    gritty and grotesque subjects. As Robert
    observed, Fort Worth has its share of abandoned
    structures hidden by the glare of our shiny
    downtown. He may also remember a few decades ago
    when our downtown was practically a ghost town,
    falling to neglect. It's better now.
  18. Here are a few more pics from today : http://www.flickr.com/photos/tudorapmadoc/sets/72157640394998925/
  19. Some of that graffiti is hilarious, really imaginative stuff. I like the little touch of the diet advice booklet on the floor.
    I try to photograph graffiti in my neighborhood as I find it but it's usually painted over within a day or two. Yesterday evening I found some flood drainage tunnels with graffiti, presumably ignored since it's out of public sight. I may revisit the tunnels when the light is better.
    A lady from the adjacent apartment complex hollered "What are you doing down there?" I was tempted to answer "Hello, Georgie. Everything floats down here" in my best Tim Curry/Pennywise voice. But I decided to play it straight since I may return to take some more photos. I just told her I enjoyed the neighborhood graffiti artists. She seemed satisfied with that explanation.
    DNY vs the Worms
  20. I hope my initial remarks didn't seem gratuitously negative​
    Not at all Lex, they were thought provoking to me. On the contrary, I thought it was a great lead-off to expand the discussion.
  21. I agree with Barry. Lex, thanks for your link and input also. Good, although brief discussion topic.
  22. agree with Barry. Lex, thanks for your link and input also"
    Yes, thanks...Tudor. Interesting and thanks for posting. Enjoyed.
  23. Just so everyone doesn't think I only concentrate on the abandoned parts of Detroit - there's a lot of gorgeous architecture in Detroit, some is quite unique
    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/tudorapmadoc/sets/72157635069344955/
    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/tudorapmadoc/sets/72157633044625016/
    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/tudorapmadoc/sets/72157632907457282/
    • http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=apmadoc%20guardian
    • http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=apmadoc%20cadillac%20place
    • http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=apmadoc%20belle%20isle

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