Funny what photographers find on the street once they start looking. Robert Frank found latent disillusion; Gary Winnogrand found random social clarity; Phillip Lorce DeCorcia found the breadth and depth of exchange. Arianna Arcara and Luca Santese, two photographers from Italy, found photographs.
Not just one or two. Walking the streets of Detroit, Arcara and Santese found thousands of photographs. Found Photos in Detroit is a selection of this archive. There are mugshots, snapshots, interiors, police documentation, cars and notes varying in condition from unreadable abstraction to heartbreaking clarity. The only thing we know for sure about these photographs is the most important thing to know: they have all been abandoned. We don’t know who abandoned them: it could have been a family member or a bored janitor, it could have been the photographer or the subject of the photograph. All we know is that these photographs have come unmoored from the ties that bound them into a system of social meaning. They have been lost to the streets of Detroit, moving inexorably through various degradations toward a blank field of dissolution. It’s not a pretty picture. Maybe it never was.
One more thing: Except for a single group portrait, every photographed person in Found Photos In Detroit is African American. Young and old, male and female, staring, glaring, entreating. The message is clear: It is Black culture, their houses, their rule of law, their very selves that have been abandoned. Like homeless ghosts, the social reality of these photographs haunts Detroit and America, signifying a despair so deep that abandonment is the only method left to represent their loss.
Within the form of the book, Arcara and Santese have constructed a shelter for these homeless images and, by extension, renewed meaning and social contact for their subjects. In the process, they have also created a powerful document of contemporary Detroit that moves beyond the bailout and the romanticized urban ruins of good times past to address the human tragedy that are the results of inequality, racism, and political impotence. That said, there’s no walking away from the fact that these images and their subjects tell another story. As so often in the past, these African-Americans have been reconstructed into a narrative not of their own making, revealing their utter representational powerlessness, no matter the intentions of the current powers that be. That is the agonizing contradiction at the heart of Found Photos in Detroit: that the source of its power as a social critique is made possible only by appropriating the despair of the abandoned. To hold those contradictory positions in your mind is to grasp the cost of representation; to hold them in your heart is to know truth as an oppressive other.
– Vince Leo
Reading Joerg Colberg’s reflections on the ten-year birthday of his blog made me consider the way in which blogging is like parenting. Both take a ton of time and energy and the rewards, while significant, are oblique. You also have to deal with a lot of tantrums.
My biggest frustration with blogging is the same as my frustration with parenting: not enough time. I’m particularly bothered that I’m unable to respond to the fantastic unsolicited books that people send us (if you follow our Tumblr page, you know we get a lot).
One of my favorite recent arrivals, for example, was Found Photos in Detroit by Arianna Arcara & Luca Santese. This book will surely end up on my list of favorite books from 2012, but it deserves more critical attention than just being on another list.
So I turned to one of the best arts writers I know, Vince Leo, and asked for help. Vince just sent me his review and I couldn’t be happier. His text has me thinking about the book, and myself, in an entirely new way.
One of the lessons of parenting is that you need to ask for help. While you may not be able to hire a nanny, it’s essential to splurge on a babysitter now and then. I’m beginning to think the same is true for raising a healthy blog.
– Alec Soth