So here’s the story of my relationship with Detroit, and the new photo project I’m planning to begin this winter.
I grew up close to the city. As a teenager, we’d go to punk shows downtown in slightly run-down venues. The places my friends and I would go were slummy, but for a young teenage girl, also very exciting. Big cities and their grit and grime have always appealed to me.
A few years ago, while living in Ann Arbor during college and later spending several summers in Los Angeles, I began noticing things from a distance. I noticed a strange new trend in photography occurring as Detroit’s name was dragged through the mud across the nation. As the former mayor embarrassed the city and made national headlines regarding corruption and scandal, in the background a thing called “ruin porn” was gaining momentum with photographers tripping over one another trying to get shots of abandoned buildings around the city.
I’ve always thought of “ruin porn” as a small-minded attempt, limited in scope and nature. A hobby that appealed to a crowd that rarely ventured far from home. Sure, Detroit has a lot of abandoned buildings. Some are houses, some are factories and warehouses, some are just old retail buildings. Some are architectural gems that bring to mind the majestic ruins of Rome and Greece — and perhaps those are more worthy of being photographed than the others. I’ll be the first to admit Detroit has plenty of abandoned real estate — but then, with the state of our nation’s economy over the last decade, so does Chicago, and Los Angeles, and Portland, and New York City, and all the other bigger cities in America. Anyone who’s done any traveling at all in the U.S. should understand that … right?
As someone who has held internships at Detroit art galleries, assisted local photographers, and worked downtown for years, I can say with confidence that Detroit as a city has more to offer right now than it has in all the years I’ve known it. Its beauty is undeniable. The hope it’s inspired in people from around the nation is unmistakable. Its potential as a city is limitless.
Most of my days lately are spent in downtown Detroit, and every day I wonder to myself how much potential good the city has lost out on due to bad press like “ruin porn” and magazine articles focused on abandoned houses and corruption and bankruptcy — things that happen everywhere but aren’t as widely publicized in those other places. I wonder how many good things about the city have remained unmentioned in lieu of more sensational stories that were “sure to sell.”
Always a huge fan of mobile photography and image-based social media, I recently began a VSCO Grid. Because The Grid’s purpose is very different from other apps like Instagram, I wanted to find a way to separate the work I shared on my Grid from my Instagram content (which has become a lively collection of my photography, behind-the-scenes stuff, everyday things like coffee and lunch, and typical selfies). I wanted it to be more intimate, and focus on a story bigger than myself.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to dedicate my new VSCO Grid to the theme of Detroit. Unlike so many others, though, I intend to depict Detroit as I have always seen it: a real city.
You can keep up with my project on my VSCO Grid: http://erinmariemiller.vsco.co