Born with pride to live up to its prime,
City of motors is now once upon a time.
Worn and torn, ruins on the street side
Day time feels just as insecure as the night.
So gather all the hope and whatever we have
Call over the neighbors and whoever are left,
What the city asks for is not a regeneration
But a graceful rebirth from its burning ashes.
The Good Ol’ Days
Where To Now?
The Rebirth of D-Town
In the end of his book Detroit: An American Autopsy, Charlie LeDuff includes a photo essay titled Evidence Detroit, portraying the various sights seen across Detroit in present days. Evidence Detroit plays a significant component in the book, because those photos set a background for LeDuff’s work and build a clear connection to his anecdotes throughout the chapters. The photo essay shows the readers the sharp decline of Detroit and is overall very pessimistic. In fact, all the photos in Evidence Detroit are black-and-white, showing desolate sights of the city and the miseries of the Detroiters. However, from my experience with Detroit, I believe that even though the city is declining and being been torn down, there will always be hope and persistence that lay within its people.
In the 1970s, Detroit was thriving from its success in the automobile industry. As shown in the first photo, which was taken in the 70s, pedestrians were walking across streets that were flooded with automobiles and buses. The photo is captioned “The Good Ol’ Days” as a flashback to Detroit at its prime as well as a contrast to the current Detroit. All of LeDuff’s photos were taken during the same time period, which makes them seem repetitive and somehow expected. I believe that by showing photos of Detroit from different time periods, the photo essay would become more successful since it allows the audience to relate and amplifies the contrast between then and now.
As a contrast to the “Good Ol’ Days,” the second photograph was taken last year, capturing the condition of one of many slums in today’s Detroit. In this picture, the run-down apartments seem bleak and dirty as trashes pile up outside. This photo presents the harsh living condition many Detroiters have to deal with as slums are frequently associated with widespread poverty, crime, and gang violence. Furthermore, I caption the photo “Present” not only to emphasize the contrast, but also to recognize the irony of how time has brought a “Present” to Detroit as the city declines with time. The harsh living condition in Detroit is also portrayed one of LeDuff’s photos “Front Steps,” where three residents of a house are relaxing on their front steps. One of them only has one arm, which might be an indication of danger, possibly gang violence in the local area.
Upon the bankruptcy of Detroit, many schools were forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Most of those schools were then simply abandoned. The third photograph was taken inside a classroom of an abandoned middle school. I caption the third photo “Where to Now,” because the shutdown of schools could lead Detroit onto different paths. While the media heavily criticizes the budget cut and claims that children need to stay in schools, I believe the shutdown of schools might be beneficial to Detroit in the long-run. Children and young adults would now have more time to get involved in the community, and facilitate the adults to revive the neighborhood.
Once the children become active in the community, they will learn about Detroit through hands-on activities such as urban farming. “Joy” is my favorite picture out of the collection, because it presented a new form of education for the children in Detroit: work. In this photo, the little girl got her very first harvest in the field followed by a bright, satisfying smile on her face. I could only imagine her skips across the field and proudly tells her mom about the discovery she found near the fence. It is clear that a day on the farm land has taught her more than any classroom lesson would. In his book, Charlie LeDuff also gives recognition to people who work: “What our generation failed to learn was the nobility of work. An honest day’s labor. The worthiness of the man in the white socks who would pull out a picture of his grandkids from his wallet.” (p177) LeDuff implies that workers deserve much respect since they are the ones who kept the society move forward. I concur with LeDuff, because work is a great way to keep an individual involved in the society as the current Detroit needs involvements and care from its people.
Through working, the younger generation would become more aware of the problems in Detroit. Not only will these children and young adults develop a sense of unity by collaborating with each other, but they will also motivate the adults to be more involved as well. In the last picture “Collaboration,” children, teenagers, and adults gather and assign tasks for each other; a strong bond is formed amongst the residents as the community fully devoted itself into urban farming. While Charlie LeDuff claims “the car made Detroit and the car unmade Detroit,” (p80) I believe that it was the people who made the car that made Detroit, and it is going to be the people who possess the same great work ethic that will get Detroit back on its feet.
The goal of my photo essay is to capture the physical state of Detroit as well as the interactions between the city and its people. Although Charlie LeDuff’s photo essay offers a more realistic, non-filtered perspective of Detroit, his pessimistic attitude made him overlook the persistence that lies in the hearts of many Detroiters. I agree with LeDuff’s view on Detroit as desolate — but only in the exterior. The decline of Detroit has also introduced many opportunities to the Detroiters as they can now become more involved in their communities, and contribute to their city by working with a great work ethic like their precursors did. As long as there is hope in the Detroiters, they will be determined to succeed and bring the city back into the picture and perhaps even to a new height.