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Photographer Andrew Moore in Detroit

by Andrew MooreFrequent AV contributor Justin Sondel has a new blog called From the Ruins. Here’s his first entry:

Detroit, Michigan has become the poster child for abandonment in American cities. The city’s population has has fallen from 2.2 million people at it’s peak to an estimated 900,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result homes, schools and factories have been abandoned, some for decades. Photographer Andrew Moore, who has worked all over the world, visited Detroit after being invited by urban explorers and photographers Sean Doerr and Dan Seybold. He was so fascinated by the abandoned buildings that he visited the city seven times, staying in Detroit for a total of three months in 2008 and 2009. The result was a book of photos titled “Detroit Disassembled” with an introduction essay written by Detroit poet and author Philip Levine and an exhibit at the Akron Art Museum. From the Ruins called Moore at his New York City studio to discuss his experiences in the Motor City.

FR: You’ve photographed some of the most wealthy and populous cities in the world – New York, Abu Dhabi – so, what made you choose to photograph Detroit?

AM: I originally got interested in Detroit because I was invited by some young urban explorers. Although I knew that there were abandoned mansions, I really had no idea the extent of the abandonment. I didn’t realize that there were churches, schools, hospitals, factories. Just the quantity of abandonment in Detroit blew my mind. But also, when I got there I realized a lot of these places were of great historical significance in terms of both the development of Detroit as a great industrial power base and in terms of Detroit as a metaphorically important city for America itself.

FR: What did you see in terms of the future of Detroit in your time there?

AM: I don’t think Detroit’s story is over by far. It’s certainly a struggling city but there are a lot of ideas out there about how to recreate, reimagine and reshape it. I saw my work as a kind of initial step in making people aware of it’s current condition but also towards possibilities for buildings that might be saved.

FR:In your photographs people seem to play a secondary role to the environment that they exist in, when there are people at all. What is it that interests you in the space rather than the people that occupy it?

AM: Its really about the landscape that has been built and the way it has been inflected by people. There is always a strong human presence in my work, I feel, even if people aren’t physically in the pictures. It’s like our memory. I mean buildings are really a witness to our times. I really see the built environment as a witness to our times and times past. And what they really do is form a collective memory. So when buildings are destroyed it’s like losing part of our memory.

by Andrew Moore
FR: Many of your photos from Detroit involve plants and nature reclaiming man built structures. What about that interested you?

AM: Thats not a theme that I had in mind before I went to Detroit. When I was there I realized that nature, on so many levels, its sort of vitality or fecundity of nature, was so strong that even without anybody tending to these things growing, things grow anyway. In the Birches Growing in Books picture you have birch trees growing out of rotting books, which is such an interesting metaphor for a kind of city thats been turned upside down. Instead of producing books from trees, here we have trees growing out of books. That gave me a lot of ideas about the recycling of man by nature, and how we think that we are doing so much by taking our newspapers and putting them in blue bags and sending them out to be recycled, but in the grander scheme nature is constantly recycling us, recycling our works. Why not incorporate that process as we rebuild and reinvent a city rather than trying to fight against it.

by Andrew Moore
FR: In your photos and in some of the vacant buildings and houses that I have visited in Buffalo it looks as though people just up and left one day. What do you think that says about both American culture and the speed at which population in these cities has declined?

AM: In Detroit, the thing that was so disheartening was the amount of waste. The City of Detroit would build a new school but not bother to move chairs, computers, chemistry sets, into the new school and out of the old one. It’s part of our mentality that we just abandon the building, leave everything in it, except what can be immediately sold perhaps, and just move on.

FR: Did you get any negative feed back from people in Detroit who thought you were exploiting the negative aspects of their city?

AM: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. A few people have acused me of this thing called ruin porn, which is where journalists will fly in for a day and take photos of abandoned buildings for a sensationalized but negative aspect of it. I feel that my story is much broader and about the process of time, and what has happened, where we are and what the future might hold.

FR: Interested in coming to Buffalo any time soon?

AM: I’m hoping in the next couple of months to make it up to Buffalo and explore and see what I can shoot over there. Some time this year.

“Detroit Disassembled” wrapped up in Akron on October 10 and Moore is hoping to bring the show to New York City some time this year.
justin sondel

  • Great job, Andrew. Thank you for highlighing the city of Detroit, and your words of encouragement. You have proven the photography is a fine art that requires a unique and creative eye.

  • Samantha Taylor

    OMG! This is quite mind blowing. I grew up in and around the Detroit area in the late 40’s and early 50’s. As a young child I road the street cars downtown with my mother to go to places like J L Hudson’s, The Institute of Arts, other Museums and Galleries, sometimes even Belle Isle. I remember a lot of the Beautiful old buildings and the bustle of a huge city. It was exciting then. I left Michigan in 1968 and moved to Hawaii, where I have lived since. Occasionally There were trips back to Michigan, before my brother passed away, the last being in the early 80’s. I had not realized that there was so much recent decay until I picked up a National Geographic in the doctor’s office. I was shocked… and I am so saddened to see such an incredible amount of waste and destruction …it looks like a war torn city and I feel like an old friend has died.