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Bruce Gilden’s Detroit: Against the Wind
Untitled. Detroit, USA 2016© Bruce Gilden / Magnum Photos

Capturing life in Detroit, America’s ‘ghost town’

In a new series of images, Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden pays tribute to the unwavering spirit of America’s most down and out city

Photographer Bruce Gilden has always seen the world differently. Speaking with us last year, he opened up about the importance of uncomfortable imagery, explaining, “People who have trouble with these kinds of pictures should look into their own soul because different people find beauty in different places, and that’s what makes me an artist, or a photographer. I see things that either the average person doesn’t want to look at or doesn’t want to see.”

Alongside his iconic shots of New York, the Brooklyn-born photographer has spent time visiting and photographing Detroit, the largest city in Michigan and the size of San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan combined. In the past forty years, the city has come to known as a ‘ghost town’. Its population has decreased by half, from 1.8 million in the 50s to now less than 700,000, with most people looking for work outside of a city where deindustrialisation, particularly of its automobile industry, has made work prospects scarce. In 2013, Detroit filed for bankruptcy, claiming to be $18.5 billion in debt.

“No matter how down at the heel some of this city’s people are, they remain vibrant and alive. They’re tough. To survive in this city you need to be” – Bruce Gilden

In his upcoming exhibition, Detroit: Against the Wind, commissioned by Leica, Gilden builds on his first visit to the area in 2009 by returning earlier this year to capture the city’s resilient spirit in a series of his signature black and white style images.

“It’s hard to believe that forty years ago this was a major American city, a shining example of the American Middle Class, and a prosperous epicenter of industry and creativity; namely, automobile manufacturing and Motown, the legendary record company,” Gilden writes in the show’s press release. “Today Detroit is still a very special city. I’m inspired by the beauty in this apocalyptic place, a place that not only breeds violence but also poor education and poverty. It’s a great city that suffers and yet has kept its soul. Detroit’s inhabitants, in their own ways, don’t give up. ‘Still runnin’ against the wind’ as Bob Seger sang it.”

As he has always done, Gilden’s eye sees the beauty in the marginalised, and his take on America’s most down and out city is no different, he continues, “No matter how down at the heel some of this city’s people are, they remain vibrant and alive. They’re tough. To survive in this city you need to be. I instantly felt an affinity with the women and men I photographed in Detroit; a black Muslim selling newspapers, an ex-junkie, a church goer, a prostitute, a blues singer who had seen better days…The work I have been doing there is an ode to the city and its people.”

Detroit: Against The Wind will be on show at London’s Leica Gallery Mayfair from 17 September – 6 October