Detroit Piano


Why, in the middle of an essay featuring abandoned rooms and factory floors, is there a photograph of a lone, dilapidated piano? Aesthetically, this image fits in with the rest of the gallery. It is cold, desolate and there is no attempt to appeal to a sense of nostalgia. There is a difference between this photograph and the rest of The Ruins of Detroit.  The majority of the pieces in the essay are of vast open spaces, abandoned auditoriums, vacant factory floors, or big abandoned buildings. Yet, this particular photograph is just one object with no contextual clues as to where the piano actually is. It is quite possible that the piano is in one of the abandoned music halls or empty schools, but for the purpose of the photograph, that context does not matter. This is a “detail” shot in the most traditional sense. The viewer can see the inner workings of the piano, the name of the manufacturer, the plaster from the walls and ceiling on the warped, discolored keys. The viewer truly feels like they can reach out and touch the object. The feeling the viewer gets is a direct result of the photographs composition.

The author communicates this feeling through a few techniques, including cropping, viewpoint, and leading lines. Our eyes are drawn down the piano frame, yet we can’t help but notice the wave in the keys. This creates an uneasy feeling for the viewer because intuitively we expect the keys to run parallel to the lines in the piano frame. At the same time, the key disfiguration takes the shape of a sine wave, which works in conjunction with the musical object. The leading lines work in conjunction with cropping and viewpoint to focus the attention solely on the piano. The author wants the viewer to focus solely on the piano, every key, every string, every mallet. Where the piano is does not matter, rather the object itself, not its location, demands undivided attention.

This leads back to the original question: Why, in the middle of an essay featuring abandoned rooms and factory floors, is there a photograph of a lone, dilapidated piano? Why does this particular object deserve this undivided attention? Because, the piano is just as representative of Detroit as the empty factories and buildings; music is in Detroit’s DNA as much as cars and factories. Like the city, this object was once beautiful and complex. The frayed cables and broken mallets of the piano are representative of the crumbling infrastructure of the Detroit. The city’s failing infrastructure makes residents face blackouts, uncontrollable fires and one of the slowest emergency response times in the United States.  The keys, like city services, are no longer responsive, and unable to complete their most basic functions.

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