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Detroit: Before & After [A photo collection]

Posted in Posts, and Syllabus Schedule

The whole-week trip to Detroit truly opened our eyes to the transformation of this city. Detroit was once America’s industrial symbol and a base for the Detroit 3. After the economic downturn, the motor city has lost 25 percent of its population. Detroit’s population plunged in the past decade to 713,777. This is the lowest count since 1910, the time period during which Henry Ford’s wage rising incentives sparked a boom that quadrupled Detroit’s size.

As professor Smitka drove us through out different neighborhoods of Detroit, we saw many abandoned buildings, houses and empty lots covered with green grass (one ghetto area was only 50 feet away from a rich neighborhood). In the middle of downtown, a glamorous MGM Hotel & Casino isn’t located far away from the ghostly and devastated Michigan Central Station, abandoned since 1988.

Below is the collection of some photography projects on the transformation of Detroit, a topic that stirs a lot of interest among photographers. Even though I had seen the pictures before visiting the city, the real world (inside joke) was still striking and stimulated a sense of grief.

1. The Remains of Detroit – Time Magazine

2. On Places – the Detroit Re-photography project by Dave Jordano

3. Before & After of an abandoned Detroit School – Business Insider (The author of this article is Gus Lubin, may be a far relative of Asher, who knows)

After looking at the pictures, we couldn’t help asking ourselves if Detroit will be able to recover someday.


  1. The high school in “3. Before & After…” is the one from which I graduated. It was torn down about 2 years ago. Image 21 of the “On Places” is the current Automotive News (Crain) headquarters.

    Note that before the downturn Detroit had already lost a lot of people – at peak the population was over 1.9 million, so it’s lost over 1.2 million people or almost 2/3rds of its population.

    May 12, 2013
  2. gjeong

    I honestly could not believe how the economic crisis would devastate a city that much. I think one of the reasons why the professor drove us around the city was to show how crisis can affect people. I still remember the photos from DIA (photographer’s room?) which showed how Detroit changed over time. One of them was a picture of what once was a bus stop but now looked like an abandoned place with graffiti everywhere. I still remember it because it was a shock to me. I really hope that as the economy recovers from the crisis, car companies can offer more jobs to people so that Detroit can return to what it once was.

    May 13, 2013
    • The decline is not sudden; when plants built in the 1920s and 1930s reached the end of their useful life, it made no economic sense to build them in the city. Instead firms looked for (i) warmer climates, (ii) shopped tax breaks and (iii) often built at places that had a dedicated expressway exit, straight to the loading docks. Furthermore, they didn’t have to tear down anything much less undertake an environmental cleanup. So Detroit might be able to stabilize, but it’s unrealistic to think that it will jump back up to 1+ million in population even with a boming auto industry.

      May 14, 2013
  3. cookg15

    I was amazed by the sight of the abandoned train station. You could clearly see that it was once a magnificent building even though now it has fallen to decay. The pictures of the interior that were seen in the Detroit Then and Now Exhibition in the Detroit Institute of Art only made the sight even more depressing, as a once vibrant landmark has turned into a graffiti-ridden dump. However, at the same time, I think there is a sort of beauty of the graffiti in itself, because although most of it is simple vandalism and people trying to leave their mark the graffiti is still art itself and an expression of the current urban life.

    May 19, 2013

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