Whenever I think of the current changes happening in Detroit, my feelings are a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is great for the city to be renovating and reusing its old historical buildings (I would always prefer this to the buildings being demolished), but on the other hand, photographers are losing photographic opportunities that once used to be plentiful and now are not so easy to find.
Did you know that the reason Detroit was considered “The King of Abandonment” was because no large metropolitan city in our history has ever experienced the level of abandonment that Detroit had. To put this into perspective, Detroit consisted of 280,000 structures (both commercial and residential). 80,000 buildings were abandoned at the height of the economic downturn. That is ONE THIRD of the structures in the city that were standing empty. Most of those were homes.
But that has changed. Today, you cannot walk around downtown Detroit, Corktown, Midtown or New Center without seeing construction and new businesses popping up constantly. To say the landscape has changed radically since I first started exploring abandoned buildings in 2008 is putting it mildly (my first-ever abandoned building was the Michigan Train Station – I started at the top!). The city has undergone big changes within these last ten years, and for those who are still looking for abandoned buildings in Detroit to photograph, you will find the list has greatly diminished to what used to be available to shoot.
Such buildings that were once abandoned and that have been purchased and/or being renovated is long – The Metropolitan, The Book Tower, The Detroit Free Press Building, Woodward Presbyterian Church, St. Agnes, the Packard Plant, Tried Stone Baptist Church, The Farwell Building, The Globe Trading Company (now the Outdoor Adventure Center), Woods Cathedral. These are just a few of many abandoned structures that I have photographed while abandoned that are now being brought back to life (or have already). That is not even counting those that have been boarded up, demolished or burned down. Detroit is making an effort to shake off its negative image by boarding up schools and other buildings, as well as clean up graffiti throughout the city.
So, what is one to do if they still want to photograph abandoned buildings in Detroit? There are still a few buildings out there that are well known to photograph, which wouldn’t be hard to find with so many images from others on Facebook and Instagram. There are even Detroit abandonment groups on Facebook you could join to see what you could find. On occasion, at Creative Vision Photography Workshops, we even get permission from building owners to photograph these spaces. For example, I have hosted several shoots at the Michigan Theatre, taking you behind the scenes to photograph areas that aren’t publicly accessible. Also, Tim Griffin is hosting a shoot at the St. Albertus School on Saturday, June 30.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of photographic opportunities in Detroit, and much of my photography in the city has now turned towards non-abandoned subjects. That doesn’t mean I am not still photographing abandonment, however, now I just travel to do so. If you want to see images of abandoned buildings throughout the eastern US, you can view the gallery on my website.
We look forward to seeing you at the next CVPW event/workshop!