Now and Then: Tracing the city of Detroit’s decay

This photo collection depicts two contrasting points in the lifespan of a city.

Now and Then is a collaborative photojournalistic project that invites the viewer to see the city of Detroit, USA, in its heydey set in direct contrast to the deteriorated and largely abandoned state it is in today.

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It is a project of Detroiturbex, a multifaceted organisation of anonymous photographers who are dedicated to exploring the rise and fall of this unique American city. Now and Then features historic images taken during Detroit’s golden era between the 1950s and 1970s superimposed over present day photographs of the exact same places.

The collection covers various landmarks of Detroit including a military armoury, a public library, cathedrals, a number of schools and a theatre in its dual states.

The decline of Detroit was spurred on by a number of circumstances with deindustrialisation as a chief driving factor. Earlier in its life, the population and commerce of Detroit boomed alongside its automotive industry as the home of Ford Motor’s iconic River Rouge plant. By the 1930s, the city had already grown to its geographical limits and a trend of decentralisation and suburban life affected the municipality badly.

 Now and Then image

In the postwar period of the 1950s, Detroit suffered massive job losses and public discontent was mounting. The riots of 1967 proved to be a breaking point for the city as thousands of small business owners and families relocated to safer neighbourhoods. The abandoned districts would lay in ruin for decades to come. In 2013, the city of Detroit filed the largest case of municipal bankruptcy in American history, solidifying the extent of its decline.

According to Detrioturbex, “The goal of this website is not to aestheticise ruins, but to document them. That’s why we focus on historic photos, facts, and narratives about these locations.”