Photo Essays

Populating the Empty Spaces of Detroit

by Jillian Steinhauer on January 10, 2013

All photos from Detroiturbex’s “Cass Tech High School – Now and Then” series (click to enlarge) (images via

All photos from Detroiturbex’s “Cass Tech High School – Now and Then” series (click to enlarge) (images via

What’s most often missing from pictures of Detroit are people. They don’t quite work in the landscape of ruin porn, enamored as it of empty, decaying spaces that seem beautiful precisely because they’re devoid of the life they once had. Showing people would suggest that Detroit is more than just a string of abandoned tableaux waiting to be photographed by the next person passing through.

This is why I love the photos from the Detroiturbex series Cass Tech High School – Now and Then. To create the images, the anonymous photographer mashed up old pictures he found in the yearbook room of the abandoned Cass Tech High School with shots of the school’s rooms and hallways now. (Well, until very recently: the building was demolished last year.) The archival pictures show student life as you’d find it at most schools — kids work in the library, hang out by their lockers, play sports in the gym, with all the scenes laid into updated photos of their original settings.

Obviously the ghosts of residents past won’t help populate or revitalize Detroit. But what I like about these photos is that they offer an alternate vision: They remind us that Detroit hasn’t been hollowed out and shrunken forever, that the city has in fact always been a place where people go about their lives. They suggest that the beauty of decaying spaces isn’t in their emptiness but rather in bringing them back to life.

All images from Detroiturbex's "Cass Tech – Now and Then" series (all images via


h/t Fast Company

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  • Brian Fernandes-Halloran


  • SBP92

    Really creative. Adds life to what what would feel plain empty, barren. Thanks for sharing.

  • Love the photos! As someone who has seen a lot of Andrew Moore lately, it’s refreshing to see a new approach to depicting my beloved city. Thanks for featuring Detroiturbex’s photos in this blog…some amazing work being created in Detroit right now!

  • June Yorke

    Very sad when you think how the space once employed happiness and memories. The people bring light and life, how barren it is without them. Those floating memories look like ghosts.

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