Friday, February 7, 2014

Degradation = Inspiration

Over the past several years a struggling national economy and the hardships experienced across the nation seemed to be epitomized in the collapsing city of Detroit. Once, the heart of the automobile industry in the United States, the city has experienced a dramatic decline in population, a significant increase in unemployment, and a plummeting real estate market that has forced many people to abandon their homes and places of business and flee to the suburbs. The continued demise of the city resulted in it being the largest United States city to file for bankruptcy, which was completed in 2013.

It is not surprising that within the last 10 years, Detroit’s overall population has decreased by 25 percent. What is surprising is that the population under the age of 35 in the city has increased by 59 percent within that same time period. This surprising shift of young professionals into the seemingly collapsing city is the result of the rising artistic movement in Detroit that has helped to keep the city (barley) afloat. Initially drawn to the city by the cheap real estate and cheap cost of living, the youth of Detroit have become dedicated to reviving the city.

One of the most amazing movements that has been fueled by the status of the Detroit economy and other cities like it, is the style of urban decay photography that has spread throughout galleries and art shows around the nation. Photographers from all over the world have been attracted to the imploding and abandoned buildings in cities like Detroit. These struggling cities can provide them with a plethora of buildings and structures to use in composing their works. These often haunting photos represent snapshots in American society, showing the remnants of a better time, while also showing the current status of the cities. As the audience, we are confronted with the disturbing images of what may happen to the world if left to exist untouched and also the exquisite beauty and power that nature possesses. Many of these untouched masterpieces have sat like time vaults, with only nature to eat away at the objects within them creating a strangely beautiful medley of colors, shadows, and scenes that create incredibly unique photos.

One of the rising photographers known for his urban photography is Matthew Christopher, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Christopher began photographing abandoned buildings when he researched the decline of the state hospital system in Philadelphia. He wanted a creative outlet to make the information he found available to the public and chose photography as an effective medium because of its ability to provide visualizations of the problems. According to Christopher, one of the most appealing aspects of working in these locations is the sense of individualism and the peacefulness. He also says that it gives a unique perspective and appreciation for what we have in society today, while also providing a sense of sad realization for the beautiful masterpieces that are so easily forgotten in the fast pace society that we live in. Christopher has attempted to not only provide himself with unique pieces of art for his portfolio, he has worked hard to raise awareness and funding for the preservation of many of these landmarks.

From the unique locations to the amazing colors and shadows created in these buildings, these photos  convey beauty in an incredibly depressing setting. Not only has the artistic movement in cities like Detroit sparked a revitalization of the culture and the economy, the photographs have communicated the “true” images of what the city looks like today. This has not only sparked a new type of photography that is unique and beautiful, it has improved awareness of the collapsing cities across the nation and provided a new sense of use and dignity to cities and buildings that otherwise have been written off as failed and useless.  



  1. This piece is awesome! Detroit is such an interesting case study right now for political science, sociology, economics, and so many other academic disciplines. It is so important, I think, to look at Detroit from an artistic and creative lens. In my Political Science class the other day we were discussing the role that artists are playing in Detroit right now - their creativity and passion (and simple, cheap lifestyles) are allowing for a flourishing creative scene in a city that has seen so much hardship in the past few decades. Artists like Matthew Christopher are bringing life back to a decaying city. It is truly amazing to see!!

  2. The pictures included in this post are amazing. I am shocked to see how beautiful, captivating, and awe-inspiring a desolate scene can look. I would like to see more of Christopher's work. Not only is he a skilled photographer capable of turning decay into art, but he is also very resilient. While most people in Detroit suffered due to the horrible economic crisis, he made the bad times work for him and used them as an inspiration. I think his creative way of thinking deserves just as much recognition as his photographs. Not a lot of people know how to gain prosperity through a recession.


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