Roaring wind. Crackling wood. Searing heat. Decaying life.
That is what I imagine a forest fire would be like.
Smoke swirling all around, a gray/black cloud obscuring everything. CRACK! A burning branch falls to the ground, sparks flying off and attaching themselves to ferns on the forest floor, eating away at the green life like parasites.
But at some point, the fire will stop. And then… there are no words. The site is smoldering. A limb from a tree will still occasionally snap and fall; it had survived the initial blast of death, but it could not hope to endure the struggle afterwards in its weakened state. Science says that fire causes chemical reactions; it changes the very essence of the objects it touches, sometimes making it barely recognizable.
But then, in the midst of smoldering embers and charred bark, in the midst of the death and decay, a little seedling pushes forth, its bright green leaves a stark contrast to the black hole it is born into. It’s a sign of life and hope in the middle of a place as dead as the underworld.
That is what the picture above is: life in death, growth in decay.
Who would be viewing this photo essay? A fairly large percentage of the audience have probably never been to Detroit. I haven’t. We know that Detroit is under a lot of strain due its economic downfall, but most of us probably don’t realize just how hard the city was hit. After seeing the photo essay before the picture above, one might be inclined to think that the city is nothing but ruins, that it is deserted, decaying, dead—as desolate and depressing as a forest after a fire.
But break the photo down. Framed by the ruins of Detroit, two silhouettes walk down the road that leads the viewer’s gaze through the picture. It’s the beginning of the conclusion, the first of two “closure” shots in the essay. We saw picture after picture of ruins and decay, shots of the fallen empire, and then suddenly, we are confronted with people—a green seedling breathing new life into the ruins of a charred forest.
We also mainly saw photos focusing on only one building or one room, but now are taken back to a fuller perspective, reestablishing the city that the essay is depicting. It’s like a second establishing shot, reminding us of where we had been transported before we leave the essay. But the author also establishes something new, something that hasn’t appeared yet: life in the ruins. Detroit might be fallen, burned almost beyond recognition by the economic disaster, its very essence changed. But the city isn’t lifeless; people still live there, people that could rebuild the city and make it glorious again.
Take a look at the depth of the photo. The road stretches and stretches, almost to the horizon. It’s going towards the blue sky, yet another sign of hope and life. And what about the viewpoint? The aerial perspective almost makes me think of a pop-up map. It’s not just a picture of a road; it’s a picture of the road to city’s future on the map Detroit’s life. Just because the city is in ruins doesn’t mean it’s dead. Quite the contrary, actually—Detroit is very alive!
Question: What is it about ruins that make a place seem dead?