The Ruins of Detroit: A Sad Narrative of Urban Life in America

Michigan Central Station

The Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel

Atrium, The Farwell Building

Bagley-Clifford Office of the National Bank of Detroit

The William Livingstone House

The Ruins of Detroit: A Sad Narrative of Urban Life in America

The Ruins of Detroit is a powerful and disturbing collection of photographs, which are the result of a five-year collaboration by the French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain MeffreThe Ruins of Detroit tells the city’s story in one starkly beautiful photograph after another, adding up to nothing less than an end-of-empire narrative.  The abandoned factories, the eerily vacant schools, the rotting houses and gutted skyscrapers chronicled by Marchand and Meffre are the artefacts of Detroit’s astonishing rise as a global capital of capitalism and its even more extraordinary descent into ruin, a place where the boundaries between the American dream and the American nightmare, between prosperity and poverty, between the permanent and the ephemeral are powerfully and painfully visible.  No place exemplifies both the creative and destructive forces of modernity more than Detroit, past and present.

In addition to these remarkable photographs, this piece presents a memorable slide show of additional images from the collection and a documentary short film.  Pure Detroit is a short film by Ivan George with gorgeous cinematography, but it’s also one that confronts the viewer with dramatic images of the collapse and decay that rapid economic and social change can have upon urban life.  The impact of the film has been described as somewhere between heaven, hell and quiet meditation.  While Pure Detroit is a beautiful visual mood piece, it’s also incredibly sad.  The film reveals so much about the rapid changes we’re encountering in our world right now, how the old things gets broken much faster than new things are put in their place.  Pure Detroit serves as a powerful reminder of what the old things breaking down can be like for so many of us.

Pure Detroit: When Old Things Get Broken

Slide Show: The Ruins of Detroit/A Sad Narrative of Urban Life in America

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Vivian Maier: Discovering Chicago’s Reclusive Street Photographer

Vivian Maier: Discovering Chicago’s Reclusive Street Photographer

When John Maloof bid on a box of old photographic negatives at a 2007 estate auction, little did he know that he was stepping deep into the dark mystery of Vivian Maier.  Maloof was searching for images to use in a book about the history of Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood.  Instead, what he found were 30,000 images by Maier, who spent much of her time wandering Chicago and the world as a street photographer with a keen eye for capturing compelling images.

Since then, Maloof has amassed an archive of Maier’s life and work.  Now, Maier’s photographs and life story are gaining attention, including at the Chicago Cultural Center, where the exhibit Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer opens on Friday.  “There weren’t many women doing street photography in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Lanny Silverman, chief curator at the Cultural Center.  “So this is very interesting and noteworthy.  Beyond just the story of her life, she’s quite a good photographer.”

The details of Vivian Maier’s life are slowly coming to light.  Maier was born in 1926 in New York City and spent much of her childhood in France.  In 1951, she returned to New York and then in 1956 came to Chicago to work as a nanny for a North Shore family.  Maier, who was a very a private person and a bit of a character, always had a Rolleiflex camera around her neck.  Maier was a theater and movie buff; she was also a hoarder and a bit of a recluse, but she wasn’t afraid to walk the street with her camera and engage people.  Maier seems to have been somewhat obsessed with using photography to document the world around her.

Vivian Maier’s work is the purest form of art; none of it was done for any commercial reason.  Her images often focus upon women, children, the old and the poor.  The influences in her pictures appear to range from the works of Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Diane Arbus and Helen Levitt.

Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer and Nanny

Vivian Maier: Reclusive Chicago Street Photographer

Slide Show: Vivian Maier/Chicago’s Reclusive Street Photographer

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