Damiani/Akron Art Museum, 136 pg
Detroit Disassembled is a beautiful, if at times sad, book, a haunting legacy of a dying way of life. It is hard not to look at the photos of abandoned art deco theaters, old car plants, and schools with their desks still in them and not marvel at how a city can fall apart so throughly. And I suppose, depending on your outlook, you can see in the photos something natural—this is the way the world works—, inevitable—Americans got lazy, cocky, greedy or any other adjective that suggests its Detroit’s fault—, or sad that American greatness has passed. Aside from the implications that come from the photos in Detroit Disassembled and other similar books have begun to question what happens when a city dies, or to put it nicely, shrinks? The human cost is high, but in the end people can and do move on leaving behind the edifices of their dreams to others or nature as is the case with Detroit. What is so striking with Detroit is the quality of many of these buildings. Detroit once had money and ambition and some of these buildings, especially the art deco ones, would probably be considered treasures. But the lack of money leaves buildings like Michigan Central Station in ruins and to decay.
Moore also turns his camera to the human scale, the survivors, or those with no other options who are still living in the city. The photos of the young kids against the back drop of boarded up homes the image of lives without opportunity. One can wish the image was a photographer’s trick to create drama where there is none, but knowing Detroit one cannot help think, even though they don’t know the particulars, the photo is right. Even more awkward are the photos of the elderly in their run down homes, hanging on to what is theirs even though it probably has little value. Looking at those images after the housing collapse is even more poignant, another example that nothing is permanent, even housing values.
The only thing that would have made the book any better would have been a few aerial shots of Detroit. But that would have turned the book into more than it is, the story of decay, the return of the land to the wild (just spend a little time with Google Maps and Street View). It has more than succeed in that goal.