5 AM, loaded up with coffee, camera gear and hopes of inspiration, we drove across the state from Grand Rapids, to Detroit to make our 7:30 AM arrival time for the photography tour. It was an adventure just to be on the highway that morning. We were following a front with mixed precipitation and there was ice forming on the road signs and snow on the fields. This was in mid May, but if you are from Michigan, snow does not surprise you until after June 1st!
We visited 4 locations overall, that told the story of vanishing people and places as the industry changed.
The school was in session up until 2006. It appears as if it has been abandoned for many more years than that. The scrappers have taken all of the metals and fixtures that were worth money, the graffiti artists have used the blank walls as canvas and the rubble is moldy and musty from exposure to the elements.
Piles of textbooks and school pictures are laying on the floor. There is a lone, deflated basketball under the hoop in the gymnasium. You can almost hear the phantom noises of children playing. We were told that this school was closed when the surrounding factories and hospital went out of business. The only real sound in this building is the gushing water in the basement from a broken water main which has been running constant for about 3 years.
This building was even more unsettling. Patient records are just strewn about and folders of x-rays are piled on the floor. If you open the desk drawers, paperwork is still in pristine condition. It’s almost as if the staff just decided to walk away one day and leave everything behind.
Scrappers and looters have done their work in here as well. There is an eerie feeling to this place as you hear the wind whipping through and doors slamming in the hallways. As papers were rustling down the hallway., we picked up a folder off the floor and upon opening it, read the file of a woman who had spent 10 days in the hospital in 2000. She had a cyst on her ovary, had 5 children, two were deceased. She was due for a surgery and her condition was not good. This was someones life story that had just been thrown on the floor. Broken glass and hospital beds had been thrown out the windows.
This building is another example of pure abandonment. The pews are still in place, just smashed to bits. The piano is just a broken skeleton in a building that was once full of life. Light still washes in from the stained glass windows. Stairways are missing and birds have taken up residence.
This building is probably more the beginning of this whole story. As part of the original bread and butter of Detroit, the buildings of the automobile industry are standing vacant like giant dinosaurs . You can imagine the sounds, colors and smells of the factory from back in its prime. The rails are still there that the autos traveled on to be assembled.
The Auto Plant
Floors covered in green moss and stalactites hanging from the ceiling make this a very surreal environment. The graffiti artists have taken over much of this building and even have shelves full of paint cans installed for easy access.
Plenty of photo opportunities here with reflections from standing water, light coming in through tinted glass windows and hundreds of graffiti panels. It makes one wonder where all the people ended up after these plants shut down. I know there are plenty of stories of homelessness and relocation here. You can feel the ghosts of the past in Detroit.
This trip was a learning experience full of history. As we were passing some districts on the way here, we noticed many older factory buildings being turned into loft spaces for artists, and pockets of neighborhoods that were being revitalized. I truly think Detroit is starting to wake back up with a different era.
Photography Copyright: Robyn Porteen
Photography Workshop: Click on any of the photos above to go to the Motor City Photography Workshops Booking on Trip Advisor.
My review of the experience was excellent! Jesse (the founder) is very hospitable and has considerable knowledgeable of these buildings and the history of the area. He will give the complete info of each building before embarking. Note: you will have to sign a waiver before taking his tour. There are hazards in these buildings and closed shoes are a must. Please contact me if you would like more information.