Detroit: Global City of Images
Panel Discussion (6:00pm)
- Camilo José Vergara (New York City-based international photographer)
- V. Mitch McEwen
- June Manning Thomas
- Joe Rosa (University of Michigan Museum of Art director)
Detroit is booming – in the world of images. The real Detroit might be beginning a modest but significant recovery, at least in some neighborhoods, but it is already a major international presence on the internet, not as the great industrial city it once was, but as the global capital of shrinking cities, the epitome of abandonment and the symbol of post-industrialization.
For some, this is merely “ruin porn,” a subtle but real barrier to Detroit’s recovery on the ground. But a more nuanced examination shows that Detroit has in many ways benefited from its unexpected and unsought ubiquity on the web. The compelling images emanating from this city have made it a destination for artists, writers, and designers who are energized rather than repelled by the challenges and opportunities of living in so open and unstructured an environment. More importantly, the people of Detroit themselves have sometimes found their struggles (as in the recent bankruptcy crisis) recognized and magnified on the world stage.
Exhibition Reception (immediately following panel discussion)
Learn more about this exhibition:
“Detroit is No Dry Bones: The Eternal City of the Industrial Age”
Camilo José Vergara has been photographing Detroit since the 1970s. The famous photograph of cars parked in the ruins of the once-great Michigan Theatre is only one of his many iconic photographs that have come to define the city globally. Vergara is arguably the source and starting-point for the many photographers now working in Detroit and the ruins of other shrinking cities. In 2013 he became the first photographer to win the National Medal of the Arts.
Vergara’s work has long been controversial as well as influential. His early work eschewed the comforting imagery of “community” for a stark examination of what he called “the new American ghetto.” His present work shows a disquieting mixture of “ruins and revivals.” In Detroit, his call in 1981 for a “National Ruins Park” that would preserve the abandoned skyscrapers of downtown Detroit the way the Roman Forum preserves the ruins of ancient Rome, was rejected with horror by Mayor Coleman Young and the Detroit establishment of the time.
Whether ironic or serious, this proposal might be thought to begin the debate over “ruin porn” and the meaning of the artwork whose imagery derives from urban decline and abandonment. This panel discussion, held in conjunction with a major exhibit of Vergara’s recent photographs of Detroit, will continue the discussion in the context of post-bankruptcy Detroit.