decay detroit


A fence on Woodlawn on the east side of Detroit covered with memorials to people who used to live in the neighborhood.

From Camilo Vergara’s fantastic “Detroit is No Dry Bones,” some background on the fence:

“On the east side of Detroit, on a fence facing Woodlawn Avenue, there are more than twenty poster-size memorial portraits of people who once lived in the neighborhood. Bill, who lives on Woodlawn, does not like the display of mostly young bloods who “lived the fast life.” One of those memorialized, Big Pope, was loved in the neighborhood and remembered for dressing like Santa Claus at Christmas. His poster, at the center of the display, is decorated with yellow plastic flowers.”

I came across this fence a couple years ago, forgot to record where it was, and couldn’t find it again until I stumbled across it in Camilo’s new book of Detroit photography. The yellow flowers Camilo mentioned below Big Pope were not present, apparently, when Bing drove past in 2014.


Profiting from Detroit’s despair

Detroit’s economic decline has led to a strange sort of tourism. Photographers focused on the city’s worn-down buildings and broken infrastructure have prompted guides to give tours of the urban decay.

He’d heard stories of ruin and blight, but that didn’t prepare Oliver Kearney for what he saw:

Prostitutes roaming the streets at 8 a.m., rubble-strewn parking lots overrun with weeds, buildings taken over by bright pink graffiti, the message scrawled on blackboards in deserted schools: “I will not write in vacant buildings.”

He took 2,000 photographs his first day.

But these tours frequently break trespassing laws, and residents are condemning the photographic forays:

“The decay is not cool, not arty-farty,” Jean Vortkamp, a community activist and onetime mayoral candidate, said in an email.

“I see the lady with bags and three layers of clothes on, and then I see a group of white young people climb out of their dad’s cars with cameras that are worth so much.”

Read reporter Alana Semuels’ whole story right here.

Photos: Alana Semuels / Los Angeles Times