Photo: Camilo Vergara
The place Chilean-born photographer Camilo Vergara calls home when he visits Detroit is a 1920s office building with a mattress on the floor and expansive views of a city that is wounded, but fighting to reinvent itself.
From his more than 50 trips to the Motor City since 1991 came the material and the inspiration for the photo exhibit “Detroit Is No Dry Bones,” now at the National Building Museum in Washington.
Detroit, which has lost 60 percent of its population over the last five decades of industrial decline, is one of the poorest and most crime-ridden cities in the United States.
The decay was what led Vergara, now 68, to make multiple pilgrimages to Motown with a mission to photograph “buildings that were the glory of the United States and have become the glorious ruins of the country,” he said in an interview with Efe.
From its peak in the 1950s, when its auto plants were humming and skyscrapers went up in rapid succession, Detroit’s fall has been seemingly unstoppable.
Vergara’s photos include images of a giant train station with shattered windows, a 4,000-seat movie theater turned into a parking lot, factories overgrown with weeds, hospitals without patients and abandoned homes.
The city’s population has shrunk from nearly 2 million to just over 700,000, with most of the losses coming between 2000 and 2010.
Detroit’s unemployment rate soared to 27 percent in 2009 - the year General Motors and Chrysler required government bailouts - and remains at 19 percent, about 2 1/2 times the national average.
“It is the Detroit of the ruins, where the house is falling down, where they don’t pick up the garbage, where the buses don’t run, the hubcaps are stolen off cars,” Vergara says.
“But that lives alongside the other Detroit,” the place of hope, he adds. “It’s people who come to Detroit ... ambitious, intelligent, who are very interested in creating inside the city, they want to make real their ideals and utopias.”
More of Camilo Vergara’s “Detroit Is No Dry Bones:”