Opinion

Photographer Looks Out On the Edge of Detroit’s High Rises

Dennis Maitland's show on the edge of a high rise in Detroit.
Dennis Maitland's show on the edge of a high rise in Detroit. Image by Dennis Maitland.

LOS ANGELES — Standing atop buildings in skyscraper-bound cities like New York and Hong Kong, we’re bound to look out. And across. And somewhat downward. But never down, like straight down. Aside from gimmicky glass balconies like the ones in the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), building codes and a general acrophobia prevent most of us from contemplating the ground many stories beneath our feet.

Dennis Maitland on the edge of Detroit.
Dennis Maitland on the edge of Detroit. Image from dennismaitland.com.

Detroit-based photographer Dennis Maitland took a different approach. He swung his feet out on the edges of the city’s many high rises. And then he took a picture. Dubbed Life on the Edge, the series offers an alternative view to the much romanticized city. In the context of Detroit, where so many skyscrapers remain empty and largely unused, they’re a visual reminder of a scrapped American dream.

Kelly Chan at Architizer noted that architect Louis Sullivan originally placed images of vegetation on skyscrapers in Chicago: “Embellishing the tops of his multistory buildings with iron-cast flora, Sullivan sought to evoke the image of a novel breed of architecture sprouting upwards from the fertile American soil.”

It’s easy to fetishize Detroit and take lazy photos of its decay, but I like Maitland’s approach. Looking down into a visual abyss of concrete and dusty grass, fertile soil is nowhere to be seen.

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