Detroit Is No Dry Bones

Photographs by Camilo José Vergara

September 30, 2012–March 17, 2013

3497 Mack Avenue, Detroit, 2007. Photo © Camilo José Vergara.
3497 Mack Avenue, 2007. Photo © Camilo José Vergara.

Detroit has lost nearly sixty percent of its population since the mid-1950s. Sociologist and photographer Camilo José Vergara has traveled to Detroit for over twenty five years to document not only the city’s precipitous decline but also how its residents have survived. Vergara’s photographs reveal the city of Detroit as a place in which enormous ruins coexist with myriad restaurants, car-repair shops, churches and gardens—a city that is continually re-inventing itself even as it shrinks.

Of his work, Vergara states “My belief is that by creating a photographic record of Detroit, as it is taken over by nature and pulled down by gravity, people will come to appreciate how the city continues to survive and to give answers to those who come to observe it…The empty land, the art projects, the graffiti commentaries, and the ruins of the city’s industrial past make Motown an unforgettable city of the imagination and could provide the basis for a new Detroit.”

Camilo José Vergara

Camilo José Vergara is a photographer, documentarian, and author whose subject is America’s inner cities. Currently residing in New York, Vergara was born in Santiago, Chile, and received a B.A. in sociology from the University of Notre Dame in 1968 and a Master’s in sociology from Columbia University in 1977. He first began recording urban landscapes in 1970 and has systematically photographed some of America’s most impoverished neighborhoods in New York City, Newark, Camden, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, Gary, Milwaukee, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Named a MacArthur Fellow in 2002, Vergara is one of the nation’s foremost urban documentarians.

Vergara lectures widely and is the author of numerous books and essays. His photographs have been the subject of more than half-a-dozen exhibitions and have been acquired for the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Library of Congress, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the New York Historical Society among other institutions. Detroit Is No Dry Bones marks the Museum’s fifth collaboration with Vergara.

Detroit Is No Dry Bones is one of two photography exhibitions at the Museum in the fall of 2012 that explore the residential, commercial, and industrial ruins and surviving communities of Detroit, Michigan. Learn more about the concurrent exhibition Detroit Disassembled.