Photo Essay: The Beautiful Decay of Detroit, Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Welcome to Detroit.

The past weekend I visited Detroit, Michigan. After recently watching the Chrysler Eminem Superbowl Commercial – Imported from Detroit, I have built a fascination for the city. On one hand, it is a gorgeous and urban city with tons of history. On the other hand, the economy of Detroit is in terrible shape and it shows with the desolate feeling of Downtown. However after talking to some residents of the city, they feel proud of Detroit and feel that it is on its way back up again. I definitely think that Detroit will rise once again to greatness, considering that GM is hitting record numbers of sales (and there are talks that they’re opening a Corvette plant down there).

All in all, the city of Detroit as the city was gorgeous in my eyes–raw, urban, and cold. I hope you enjoy my images and my personal narrative of the city.

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

Eric Kim Street Photography Detroit Michigan

What did you think about my images of Detroit? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below– I would really appreciate it!

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  • Stephen Cysewski

    A kindred spirit. Makes me want to visit.

  • Paul

    Where are the all the people? You captured the feel of a ghost town.

    • Eric Kim

      Good question Paul– I was shooting on a Sunday morning at 6am (there literally were no people on the street at that time)

    • FiZ

      It IS a ghost town. Born and raised in Detroit, I’ve seen and joined the exodus. In fact, the NY Times just did a piece on the city’s dramatic population drain. Besides, Detroit has never really had any kind of single retail or entertainment district. It’s always been more offices than anything else with very little ‘normal city’ kind of human traffic.

      I love the empty lot and alley shots of the apartment buildings near the top of the set.

      • Len

        FiZ is right.

        Detroit’s retail or entertainment stretched along several large avenues (like wheel spokes stretching from the river front) in its heyday, but now are boarded up or rented out to small businesses barely scratching a living.

        As a Detroit native myself, I think Eric didn’t do half bad. He caught one aspect of the city we are proud of, but there are other sides.

        I think Eric’s comfort with close up people shots, street photography, would serve him better (and the city) to do a follow-up that highlights the humanities Detroit offers.

        The universities, the jazz festival, the Wings, etc. all depict Detroit as a place full of energy and hope.

        When set against the obvious decay of the economy and physical state of the city, it is truly remarkable!

  • Andrew B

    Ghost town. Grey colors, white sky.
    Much depressive i think

  • Simon Wallerstedt

    I really like it. The images have a depressive beauty to them. I get a feeling of desolation and abandonment. Very powerful.

  • Simon Wallerstedt

    An then the last image brings it all to life again with it’s warmth. Feels kind of like a new beginning.

  • King

    eric, i see the “coldness” that you mentioned.. post production looks great. I’ve always wanted to know how people make the sky totally white. I see it with some wedding photography too. Can you share your post production process?

    • Drew

      Haha, that’s what Detroit actually looks like in the winter! :-)

      I’m only half-joking, but we rarely see the sun from December – March.

  • King

    How did you boost the color only on the graffiti art? Is it intricate Photoshop Work? That’s my fave.

  • Benjamin Rogerson

    Last summer my wife and I did the mile long newly renovated River Walk and I snapped this photo which I believe “is” Detroit. The past, present, and future.

  • Marco Fiori

    Love the graffiti, then again I’ve always been a fan of street-art.

  • Fredrik Leander

    Excellent! This is really my cup of tea! I like the lonely feeling, almost like a horror movie… just waiting for a group of zombies to come running from around the corner.

  • krikorian

    Love them Eric :)

  • Melissa

    Cool Eric! I’m assuming you also saw this series,29307,1882089_1850973,00.html

    It’s nice to see you do something other than street photography…although i guess this is street photography minus the people!

  • Drew

    Hi Eric, as someone who is originally from the suburbs Detroit, and will always call it “home”, I really enjoyed your shots.

    However, I would have loved to seen more “life” or positivity to some of the photos. Obviously if there are no people on the streets at 6am on a Sunday, that’s tough, but a lot of photography of Detroit these days seems to be of the “ruin porn” variety. Maybe a bit more color or something would have shown that while Detroit has undergone some pretty bad stuff, it’s definitely being reborn. Maybe if you had checked out the Heidelberg project, or gone to see the new business in Corktown?

    Keep up the good work.

  • Jan

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading this and viewing these great shots, you really captured an atmosphere there (cold lonely one), thanks for sharing this.

  • Laura

    I think you captured the essence of this city, cold, and, as it seems, without a soul! The absence of people makes it even less inviting. The captures are fantastic, the pic of the little hydrant warmed up by the steam is almost like a statement about the city!!

  • Ourit

    Interesting shots of Detroit. I like how you focused on the city as subject, and left out people from the frames. It has the effect of revealing a certain silence that is hovering there, and it makes me wish for that silence to be ruined by action.

    I have cared about Detroit for some time, and have followed this thorough stream on flickr:

    Great post, Eric.

  • Cindy Nguyen

    I feel special that I was able to share this experience with you, and then see the artistic photo essay/reflection on your experience. You really do speak through your images, Eric..and it paints a powerful image of the post-industrial dream of detroit.

  • Lempkin

    While each photo has its own unique strength, I believe that in order to get the full impact of what you’ve accomplished here, these images have to be viewed in total, as a photo essay, as indicated. It’s the absence of people in places where you would normally expect to see them, as well as the overall nebulous blue-gray atmosphere, that creates a common theme and drops this set down on us with a loud thud. It’s as if you’ve captured this city in the middle of open heart surgery. Fantastic work, Eric!

  • Chris L

    Love it. Born and raised in michigan, I love your appreciation for the city of Detroit. Michiganders have a deep pride for the city of Detroit. I know that the city will be great again sooner rather than later.

    I hope that you were able to check out other parts of the city as well like the Fox Theater.

    I just started following your blog and I really like your street photography.

  • Zeno

    People more than often add life to a photo, but sometimes the lack of people can make great photos to. I know you shot early in the morning, but the lack of people emphasis the tension of the once great industrial city. I hope things do turn for this unique place.

    Great angles and strong urban feel to your body of work Eric.


  • Ewanglee

    Love the desolation and the bleached out look. Shows how a once mighty city can be brought down. This is like looking at at the beginnings of ruins of once powerful civilizations like Machu Pichu or Angkor Wat. Hope this city comes back with a new economy and not die like the cities I mentioned.

  • Isoterica

    Wonderful street [in the literal sense] photography. I like in particular the urban decay feel intermixed with eclectic architecture both old and new. Your steaming sewer caps have a very film noir feel to them. Too bad it wasn’t night. Since these are of your trip to Detroit I would like to introduce you to an online friend who photographs Detroit all the time. His name is Ralph Jones. You can see a small documentary he did called “Heroes, the Men and Women of the Detroit Fire Department” You can also view his work on Aminus3 here: . I’m not sure if there is a big difference between street photography and photo journalism but I think you’ll like his work.

    – Kristen

  • Terri

    As a Detroiter and a photographer, I enjoyed your shots! Come back and shoot during one of the many wonderful events that we have when the streets are bustling! It’s my favorite times to shoot. Like at Eastern Market on a Sat. morning, Hart Plaza during a festival, Jefferson or Woodward during the parades, etc.

  • Terri

    Also, check out this cool Detroit blog – Noah Stephens has been doing great work capturing the real Detroit.

  • The The Aung

    really nice photos. I like the last photo most.

  • Lawrence

    a dying ghost town. who wants to live there?

  • Lighthouselynne

    Sure glad I don’t live in that nasty looking place. Great photos though.

  • Lighthouselynne

    Sure glad I don’t live in that nasty looking place. Great photos though.

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  • C.D. Long

    This is far more than a portraitof a decaying city. It is a portrait of a dying civilization. Hugh

  • Kmpatel5

    it makes me sad, not just for detroit but for america. i used to live in the detroit area. detroit was such a great city with one of america’s greatest industry. and what is happening to it right now–these pictures– is the most visible symptom of an underlying problem of america. ” ask not for whom the bell tolls…..”

  • Raymondmasse

    So-so, Eric. I don’t want to be rude, but it shows the mistakes of the photographer who has not breathed the city (whatever city it is). Most of the large cities have their own charisma, through history, the people and the state of it ( would it be economically and/or socially speaking).
    Your photographs just show that you were on the fly, not really exploring in depth the very state of Detroit.
    Any street photographer who is going in a new place/city should take much more time to really have the feel of the area. So to be able to say : ah, this is the very (Detroit).

    • Eric Kim

      Thanks for the comment Raymond. I shot this a while back and realize it wasn’t a true representation of Detroit- just my outside view as a tourist. Had it on my site and then took it down because realized it didn’t do Detroit justice!

      I’m moving to Michigan in August, and planning on doing a long-term project on Detroit- hopefully much more holistic :)

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