If you think it’s cool to play fast and loose as an urban artiste in the ruins of a once great American city–where, by the way, people still have to live–then you might be an elitist jackass.
British photographer David Yarrow defines himself as an artist AND conservationist, which is nice and all, but it’s hard to say what higher purpose he was serving when he showed up for a photo shoot this week at Detroit‘s famously ruined Packard Plant…with a tiger, two wolves and a bobcat.
The Packard Plant itself, in operation between 1903 and 1958, has been in a more or less accelerating state of decay since at least the late 1990s, positioning it as a sad and eerie microcosm for greater Detroit. But in an even more depressing development, the plant has become ground zero for ruin porn a cottage industry giving a degradingly new low definition for ‘slumming it.’
Apparently oblivious to the notion that places like Packard are not just graveyards for a once thriving blue-collar middle class, but also, again, unfortunately situated near peoples’ homes, photographers, would-be adventurers, even wedding parties (for fuck’s sake), are enjoying some kind of weird atavistic thrill by spelunking and shutter-snapping their way through monuments to past industriousness and urban abandonment.
From an historical viewpoint, it has to be admitted that some of the images are fascinating—the name Packard, after all, went in less than half a century from being synonymous with luxury to being, at least in this context, a byword for urban decay. But it’s hard to see how many of these self-styled explorers are connecting with the stories of the people and the industries that rose and fell in these places. One suspects that they are merely voyeurs to the epilogue.
And while I won’t try to unpack Yarrow’s motivation from afar, I’ll simply observe that it’s hard to see what, exactly, pictures of wild animals roaming broken hallways were supposed to signify.
Artistic vision aside, let’s just agree it was the height of irresponsibility–especially when the inevitable happened, and the goddamned tiger got loose.
Cut to the spoiler: no one was hurt, and the big cat was recaptured (turns out that in Detroit, you use a weed wacker to catch tigers. Who knew).
All’s well that end’s well? Sure, this time. Have we learned anything? Likely Mr. Yarrow learned something about animal handling, at the very least. If we’re very lucky, he and maybe some others learned that if you’re visiting a city that people call home, even if it isn’t a very pretty one, please don’t be a pretentious asshole.