Unveiling Detroit

John Patrick Leary’s poignant essay, ‘Detroitism,’ featured in the Guernica: a magazine of art & politics, relays heartfelt insight from a Detroit resident as the city becomes a target of “Ruin photography, […] criticized for its ‘pornographic’ sensationalism.” I admit I’m a junkie for images of the dilapidated beauty decaying in the old buildings, rich with stories of the historical cities in which they reside. While I was living in Downtown Detroit I spent many days exploring, camera in hand, and consider many of those photographs to be my best to date, strongly supported by the intrigue and excitement they evoke in the viewers. Leary also touches on “all the positive attention heaped on the young, mostly white “’creatives,’” which he states many “roll their eyes at” because it “glosses over the city’s deep structural problems and the diversity of ideas to help fix them.” However Detroit’s talented youth have been inspired and, along with the rest of the world, can learn from these images of the city’s present state of some of its’ old landmark buildings revealing past mistakes. Anyone in Detroit who is receiving credit for their efforts and arts is working too hard to be living in some sort of Utopia as these “eye rollers” suggest. What else is there to do but stay positive and follow along the lines of promising words the former mayor once wrote:

Coleman Young, Detroit’s charismatic and still-controversial mayor during the years of the city’s most precipitous decline in the nineteen seventies and eighties, put it well in his fascinating 1994 autobiography, Hard Stuff: “Detroit today,” he wrote, “is your town tomorrow.”


Leary’s take:

To see oneself portrayed in this way, as a curiosity to be lamented or studied, is jarring for any Detroiter, who is of course also an American, with all the sense of self-confidence and native-born privilege that we’re taught to associate with the United States.


Read the full article as Leary dives into the popular media’s take on Detroit, the city’s lament, and the fascination of the city as a Utopia.


Leary teaches American literature at Wayne State University in Detroit and is at work on a book on the place of the ”third world” in the American imagination. He lives in southwest Detroit.