Ambition, Affluence & Automobiles

Packshot on 16/02/2012

Detroit. Ambition, affluence and (if I can bear to say it on an English blog) automobiles: a city which neatly encapsulates the United States of the twentieth century. It was in Detroit that the innovation of Henry Ford revolutionised methods of production, bringing to the city worldwide renown and an unparalleled authority over the car manufacturing industry, which in turn assisted in facilitating a staggering accumulation of wealth. Expressions of this affluence included the building of skyscrapers, hotels, churches, casinos and entire new neighbourhoods, built to accommodate the wealthy as the inner-city became populated by employees, both native and immigrant.

This dreamland of status and wealth would not continue indefinitely, however.

Between 2005 and 2010, Parisian photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre documented – superbly – the extent of the decay in Detroit. The city’s decline had begun in the 1950s, as the production of cars moved away from the city centre. Escalating social tensions in the 1960s caused entire neighbourhoods to relocate. By the turn of the millennium, the population of Detroit had halved.
As Marchand and Meffre’s brief history of Detroit put it, “the logic that created the city had also destroyed it.”

The photographic exhibition produced by the pair stands as an exceptional insight into urban decay and the decline of the American Dream. At times poignant, at times spectacular, the images capture the final remains of a culture which for decades had promised the earth, but which could ultimately only succumb to it.

(Hat-tip to David Drake for the introduction to Marchand and Meffre’s work.)

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