In April, I spent a couple of eye-opening days in my home town, Detroit. I was born here. My grandparents lived here for decades. My biological family (I am adopted) grew up here on my birth mother’s side. I only lived here a year, before my adoptive parents left in 1966, a year before the deadly race riots of 1967, one of several that have spanned more than 120 years.
Photographers who parachute into Detroit, like me, are rightfully accused of being disaster voyeurs. Photographing Detroit is now its own photo genre many dub “ruin porn.” Taking pictures of a dying place, where real people are struggling just to survive, is by definition schadenfreude.
I guess I have a saving grace. I am a native son. I really was born in a hospital here. My family, on my birth mother’s side, has true Detroit roots, and for that reason I feel a strong attachment.
I wrote a short essay about my trip in April, and I find myself feeling deeply unsettled now about how the last eight years of our Great Recession have been handled and the wars that preceded it. Going to Detroit you cannot ignore the massive impact of trade policies like NAFTA and the globalization of manufacturing in the years before and after its signing, when the United States began to export its manufacturing jobs overseas.
Jeez, here we are the wealthiest country on earth, and yet we let our great industrial center literally collapse before us, all while venturing overseas to preserve our strategic interests. We all watched and let the patient wither in agony, at times laughing at the patient’s demise. Today the lethal court clown of a city titillates us with reality TV that delights in the destruction of Detroit and the goofy exploits of its charismatic preachers, reality star cops, and wacky urban survivalists.