Photography by Philip Jarmain
The Opulent Pre-Depression Architecture of Detroit
Since 2010, Canadian photographer Philip Jarmain has been documenting the increasingly rapid destruction of Detroit’s early twentieth-century buildings. Long time compatriot of elemente magazine, Jarmain’s emphasis in this urban-decay feature focuses specifically on the form and detail of these vanishing architectural edifices. In Jarmain’s words: “These are the last large format architectural photographs for many of these structures.” This is work of great visual impact, the scale and definition of the images translating for the viewer into space that one enters, a physical presence that one feels, and history that one contemplates.
The city of Detroit has had an unprecedented impact on the industrial age and the modern world. Once called “The Paris of the Midwest,” it was a city driven by innovation and craftsmanship.
The architecture of Detroit in the early 1900s rivaled that of New York, Chicago, or Paris. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s. Though Detroit would rise again, the era of opulence was over. The boom of the 1950s did not produce another architectural renaissance. In 2009, the US recession hit Detroit like a second Great Depression, compounding the decline and the ruin.
The population dropped from 2.8 million people in the 1950s to a current population of 706,000. The unemployment rate is now over 30%. The majority of these majestic pre-Depression buildings are presently being destroyed at an exponential rate as they lie victim to scrappers, arson, and demolition. Despite these events Detroit — Motown — remains a cultural powerhouse and the passion of its residents is infectious.
You can see more of Mr. Jarmain’s Kodak captures here;