Bruce Gilden – “Detroit: The Troubled City” (2009)

By Bruce Gilden

My work on foreclosed homes in Detroit has actually been a continuation of a project that started in Fort Myers, Florida in September 2008. For me the major concentration of the work is on the houses or what’s left of the houses. I chose to photograph them mostly straight on like my street work in a very blunt fashion. To let the houses speak for themselves.

After going to Florida and continuing in Detroit I realized that foreclosure is one part of a circle. There is homelessness, job loss, economic difficulties, etc, etc, etc. In Detroit the problem is not only a sub-prime problem it’s a problem of people who lost their jobs. And this has been going on for many years. So it’s a much more serious situation. When I went to Detroit – even though I had known that the city was pretty desolate – I was amazed that a major city in America in 2009 can look like this.

Certain areas look like Berlin after World War II or like Beirut. Something is wrong here. Recently I have read books and articles and watched television shows on the foreclosure problem. How can you have a trillion dollar industry that’s not regulated? This was a scam from the beginning – that’s not to say that some homeowners aren’t at fault also, one of the problems is giving mortgages to people who have a history of no credit or of bad credit. A big problem in Detroit was people refinancing their mortgages and not being able to keep up with their monthly payments. Something is very wrong with a policy like this. But when I arrived in Detroit I saw a city government that does not take care of its people and a lot of those people have stopped caring. I mean I don’t care what the excuse is – how do you leave so many buildings that are almost totally destroyed standing. Kids can get hurt playing in them, it’s a breeding ground for drugs and prostitution. Property values go down, nobody wants to live in these areas, To me it almost seems like they are left standing so that one day they drive everybody out and grand new subdivisions can be made.

What was really sad for me in Detroit was that many of the destroyed houses were well made and beautiful houses at one time, they were like Grande Dames. Detroit at one time had the highest standard of living for blue collar workers because of the auto industry. It’s all gone. This makes the destruction even sadder, it’s not like a dilapidated trailer in ruins. There was an elegance here – the houses were beautiful – it’s so sad. There were serious memories in these houses, people lived there for 50 – 70 years. When these houses were built there was pride in craftsmanship and you saw it in the houses. It’s sad.


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