‘Many times we would enter huge art deco buildings with once-beautiful chandeliers, ornate columns and extraordinary frescoes and everything was crumbling and covered in dust and the sense that you had entered a lost world was almost overwhelming.”
These are the words of the French photographer Yves Marchand who, with Romain Meffre, created one of the most talked-about photographybooks of recent times, The Ruins of Detroit, published in 2011. It portrayed the once-great American industrial city as a kind of lost world, where, as Marchand put it, “the magnificence of the past is everywhere evident”.
Their photographs of abandoned ballrooms, theatres, police stations and entire blocks of once-ornate art deco-style buildings struck a chord worldwide. When I interviewed them just after the book’s publication, the resulting feature and picture gallery became one of the most-viewed online stories on this paper’s website.
In terms of our current collective fascination with abandoned places, the publication of The Ruins of Detroit was a tipping point, the moment when a curiosity turned into an obsession, as a cursory Google search of “abandoned places” will attest. It has grown into an online subculture, where newly discovered abandoned places are constantly photographed and the results shared via websites, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.