In Detroit, “Ruin Porn” Acts as a Proving Ground for Young Photographers

Doug Coombe

Photographer Doug Coombe offers a glimpse into the Michigan Central Station ahead of its planned renovation by Ford, who hopes to open the restored version of the building to the public by 2022.

Click on the audio player to listen. CultureShift airs weekdays at 12 p.m. 

The term “ruin porn” is a loaded phrase here in metro Detroit.

For many, it’s a negative term that highlights the abundance of blight in Detroit and the slow decline of the city over the years.

For a class of young photographers, however, exploring the city’s abandoned architecture can act as a proving ground for emerging creative talents — a way to connect with the city’s past, document it as stretches of Detroit rebounds and brush up on their skills along the way.

WDET’s Ryan Patrick Hooper speaks with longtime area photographer Doug Coombe about making a name for himself in Detroit and checking out some of the city’s most interesting buildings over the years including the Michigan Central Station. Coombe has been a photographer for the MetroTimes for close to 20 years and has worked with outlets such as Rolling Stone, Spin and Billboard

I do think for a lot of photographers here in Detroit, part of our process is going into these buildings,” says Coombe. “If you’re just a struggling young artists (around Detroit), you don’t have these majestic national parks or beautiful natural wonders that you can go visit.”

Coombe says that going into these buildings is an “incredible rush of two feelings.”  

On one hand, it’s incredibly exhilarating because you’re the only person, most of the time, who’s crazy enough to go into these buildings,” says Coombe. “It’s also really frightening because you don’t know who you’re going to come across.”

Doug Coombe

Photographer Doug Coombe offers a glimpse into the Michigan Central Station ahead of its planned renovation by Ford, who hopes to open the restored version of the building to the public by 2022.

Over the years, Coombe spent a lot of time taking photos in the Michigan Central Station (MCS). The long-abandoned structure in Corktown, which was purchased by Ford earlier this year, is on the cusp of getting a multi-million dollar makeover and will be much different. It’s considered one of the most iconic abandoned buildings in the world.

Coombe says that being in the MCS and taking photos was similar to walking around a museum with all walks of life exploring and using the building for a multitude of purposes.

It’s a magnificent building,” he adds. “They don’t make buildings like that anymore.” 

Image credit: Doug Coombe

Aired on: CultureShift
About the Author

Ryan Patrick Hooper

Host & Producer, CultureShift

Ryan Patrick Hooper has worked as an arts and culture journalist in Detroit for over a decade.

hooper@wdet.org   Follow @hoopingtonpost

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