Archive for May, 2009

Detroit Wonderland

Room with a ViewThis photo was taken in the old Packard Plant in Detroit.  The factory once sprawled over 35 acres and today it’s a crumbling shell where lichen and trees have taken hold.  Endless corridors that once flowed with rivers of shiny new parts and pieces are now filled with broken glass, peeling plaster, and crumbling cement and wood.

We snuck in with Julia Solis, a German-born Brooklyner and urban explorer who spends a good deal of time haunting the ruins of Detroit and taking pictures, many of which she’s published on her site in a series called Detroit Wonderland.

We wandered for a couple of hours and ended up in this room  — a room with a view where the factory wall had fallen completely away, leaving a gaping, spectacular hole several stories up.  I plunked down in the old car seat, which could have just as easily been a seat in a movie theater, and took it all in. For me it was the perfect ending, a reminder of the way moving cars and moving pictures induce the same desire to project ourselves into space, to be anywhere but here.

Check out Julia’s other photo diaries of secret journeys through the New York subway, East German hospitals, the Paris catacombs and my particular favorite: abandoned theaters.


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FordJust back from the Motor City where I spent most of my time marveling at and taking pictures of the ruins — the Michigan Theater and the Packard Plant stand out — not to mention all the boarded up store fronts, foreclosed homes and tiny, lone houses surrounded on all sides by urban prairie.

Detroit has been awash in the media spotlight lately, mostly gloom and doom about the failing car industry, unemployment and worthless real estate. And yes, that’s all there. But one afternoon while we were visiting, we stood talking to our friend Blake, an urban farmer/artist/carpenter, in the backyard of his house in the Near East Side.  He had us peek over the fence into his neighbor’s lot next door, a huge expanse full of green crops and cherry trees.  In winter, they flood the same space with water and it becomes a hockey rink.  Bucolic is the word that kept floating through my head. And even though Blake says there’s gunfire at night, I keep thinking about that green field.

I’ve been following photographers who shoot Detroit. James D. Griffoien otherwise known as “Dutch,” runs a blog called Sweet Juniper (named after his daughter) that chronicles his life in the Motor City.  He moved to Detroit from SF with his wife Wood a few years back, two kids in tow, to live in a Mies van der Rohe townhouse.  They’re both lawyers and he has subsequently turned writer/photographer/stay-at-home dad.

His blog features “tidy little stories” of seemingly disparate things like fatherhood, abandoned buildings, found photos and DIY craftiness all delivered in an endearingly surly tone.  And of course some amazing photos. Check out the series on his family’s weekly haul of produce from Saturday’s Eastern Market tagged “detroitisnotafooddesert” — a humorous, colorful, luscious-as-a-Dutch-still-life portrait of food politics and family. Or his photo of every house on one street in Detroit that he stitches together in one long and lonely panoramic shot: Ghost Street.

If you’re planning on going to the Motor City, check out Sweet Juniper’s travel guide to Detroit on Design*Sponge.

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