Photographer Dave Jordano, a Detroit native with life-long family ties there, thinks the recent media depiction of his hometown has been a tale of two cities.
“Everybody has come out with these books on Detroit, usually all about the abandonment and empty factories and crumbling paint on walls,” says Jordano, who now lives in Chicago. “It started setting a ball in motion for me because that’s all they were concentrating on. It seemed like such a one-sided story.”
He adds that the revitalization efforts—and the PR campaigns that go with them—have centered on a small slice of the cityscape. “Detroit is being redeveloped and money is pouring in. But Detroit is 138 square miles—it’s a huge piece of land,” Jordano says. “The only part that’s really getting developed is this corridor in the downtown area, like seven square miles. That leaves 130 square miles left over that is getting little service or redevelopment. The vast majority of the city is still struggling, and people who have been living in town for decades are not getting the support and services they deserve.”
For Jordano, the real story is within that majority, which he focuses on in his new book Detroit: Unbroken Down. Shot over the past five years, the series depicts the city’s long-time residents of the real Detroit—in all their resilience, determination, and joie de vivre—often with an unflinching eye on the backdrop of their rough environs.
He finds his photo subjects, often serendipitously, while driving around town. “Canvassing the neighborhoods, I’ll see something interesting and get out of the car,” he says. “It’s engagement—not being afraid to start a conversation with a total stranger.”
Recently, Jordano has started photographing empty landscapes within Detroit’s city limits. “I’ve been working on a re-ruralization project which shows no people, no houses, just forestry,” he says. “If you don’t know any other story about Detroit besides all the ruin porn, you may look at the ruralization and say, ‘Wow, the city’s really empty, isn’t it?’ That’s an important story in itself. There were 1.8 million people living in Detroit in 1950, and now there’s 700,000. What do you do with a city that’s lost 1.1 million of its residents?”