June 20, 2016

Photographing An Abandoned City: A Trip Through Detroit

Words : Dani Chase

The tension and anguish still hang heavily in the air as Kameron Sears walks a deserted hallway. The paint peels back from the ceiling, looking for an escape. Broken glass is everywhere, and shards of metal are scattered about. The emptiness of this place is as cold as the reality of incarceration.

This place was once a bustling community, housing thousands of inmates, but now, it more closely resembles a war-torn area. The destruction is not the result of gunfire or bombing, however. The state of this prison is a glimpse into an entire world that this country left behind.

This is Detroit.

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Kameron (@ksears_) is a native of Chicago, a city known for its rich street photography. He and four of his friends (@tat_ventures@matt.andersen@pleasantphoto, and @atavisme) came to Detroit specifically to shoot abandoned structures. Of all the beautiful places in the world, they chose Motor City. Like many photographers, they wanted to capture the decay – the ghost of Industrial America.

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Even if you’ve never been to Detroit, you’ve heard stories about the poverty, about the violence, about the destruction. So when Kameron and friends first entered the city, imagine their surprise to see a city that, from afar, looked like the archetype of normal: tall glistening steel towers, trains, and automobiles.

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It’s not until you hit the streets and duck inside the buildings that you understand: this city was eaten from the inside. Downtown Detroit is a beach, strewn with beautiful — but dark and empty — shells.

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The Fisher Body Plant is one such place. Designed by Albert Kahn, it was built in 1919 and at one point was the world’s largest maker of carriages and auto bodies. The automotive industry was at one time the backbone of the American economy, and now, it’s a haunting reminder that even the mighty can fall.

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Across town, another gem waited. What used to be the most beautiful office building in Detroit was totally wrecked. Floor after floor, nameless buildings like this leave you with a taste of despair. People once ran through these hallways, late for meetings, or late for their child’s hockey game. The desks and chairs where they sat nervously during an interview or tired during a meeting, are now gone. Years ago, their stories soaked into the walls where the dust and cobwebs now sit.

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Walking an abandoned Detroit school was perhaps most impactful. Education is supposed to be a cornerstone of society — a pillar of hope and opportunity that is free for all regardless of class, race, or identity. A school without the echo of children’s voices is as eerie as the question it leaves you with: how did the Motor City’s collapse shape the future of the kids who would have learned here?

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Even places of worship are not immune to the effects of financial collapse. St. Agnes Church and the old Detroit synagogue are testament to this.

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