Detroit's Abandoned Houses Are Movingly Photographed

Pink historic home on a city street

Kevin Bauman

Much has been written about the recent announcement of the bankruptcy of Detroit, Michigan. In a move that seems prescient now, Kevin Bauman started photographing abandoned houses in an affluent part of town about ten years ago. He called the project 100 Abandoned Houses. That may seem like a lot, but the number of abandoned houses in Detroit is more like 12,000.

credit: Kevin Bauman

Bauman is a Detroit boy, so he knew his neighbourhoods and had seen the decline first hand. He said:

I had always found it to be amazing, depressing, and perplexing that a once great city could find itself in such great distress, all the while surrounded by such affluence.
credit: Kevin Bauman

Once famous as the thriving centre for automobile manufacturing--Motor City--in 1950 there were two million people living there. Because there was such great wealth, there was also some spectacular architecture.

credit: Kevin Bauman

It was the fourth-largest city in the USA by 1920, a place it held until 1950. But globalization and mechanization meant drastic loss of jobs and massive unemployment. The city went into free-fall and by 2010 its population had dropped to 700,000 people. The once-glorious buildings had become abandoned factories, vacant schools and derelict ballrooms.

credit: Kevin Bauman

Bauman said that he switched from black and white, to colour images as his work progressed. He explains that

Detroit has enough room to hold the land mass of San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan Island, yet the population has fallen from close to 2 million citizens, to most likely less than 800,000. With such a dramatic decline, the abandoned house problem is not likely to go away any time soon.
credit: Kevin Bauman

Some have called the photographing of decaying architecture "ruin porn". But the story of Detroit is one that should be studied so that we can learn from its mistakes. More power to the artists who make us understand the heartbreak of living in this once vibrant city.

credit: Tristan Hoare

He's not the first. French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre were fascinated by Detroit and visited the city seven times between 2005 and 2008 to photograph the abandoned and majestic buildings. Speramus meliora, resurget cineribus (“We hope for better things, which shall rise from the ashes”)