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Detroit - Unbroken Down

Dave Jordano | Detroit, Michigan, United States

Algernon with His Pet Dog Babe, Moran Street, Eastside, Detroit 2010.

Algernon has lived in this house for the past 42 years. After raising four children he now lives alone and only occupies the first floor of the house. Upkeep has been minimal at best, but the house still maintains elements of its original grandeur.

It's no secret that Detroit has fallen on hard times.  Hundreds of articles, newscasts, webzines, blogs, and photographers have reported on the city and in some sense have capitalized on the blight of its decades long tumble into decline.  Recent census figures report that Detroit’s population is now 714,000, the same as what it was 100 years ago.  In the last decade alone its population has declined by more than 25%. In contrast, sixty years ago Detroit was the fourth largest city in the nation with a population of over two million inhabitants.  Now its ranking is 18th.  What’s left today is a city stretching 140 square miles with enough empty space that you could fit all of Boston or San Francisco within its vacant, abandoned lots. 

Detroit has become the destination for tourists, both international and domestic, who have come to witness first hand the death of an American city in all its crumbling glory.  This ongoing photographic project is not about what’s been destroyed, but more importantly about what's been left behind and those who are coping with it. 

 Detroit is my hometown, but I’ve been gone for three decades.  These photographs are my reaction to all the negative press that Detroit has had to endure over the years.  I wanted to see for myself what everyone was talking about, and like everyone else I was initially drawn in by the crumbling factory interiors, the broken down infrastructure, and the empty houses and office buildings that make up a third of the city.  It’s been termed  “Disaster Porn” and it can be an intoxicating visual drug.   But this aspect of the city has been well documented by several other accomplished photographers who have preceded me, so my focus shifted towards the many small neighborhoods that make up the ethnic, racial, and social fabric of the city and the people who live in them.

 This human condition, while troubled, struggling, and coping with the harsh reality of living in a post industrial city that has fallen on the hardest of times, does thrive, and demonstrates that Detroit is not an empty, hollow town devoid of any life, but one that shows signs of activity and movement.  My hope is that this work will convey in some small way that Detroit is a microcosm of several communities, built on perseverance, clinging to the vanished ideals of an urban oasis that once prided itself as one of the most beautiful and prosperous cities in America,  at one time a model city for all others to follow.

 For better or worse, and if you ask anyone who lives here, its been pretty much worse.  But, most Detroiter’s wear their pride for the city they live in much like an honored badge of courage, defying all odds, openly admitting that if you can survive here, you can survive just about anywhere.

Dave Jordano



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