Like many of the images from “The Ruins of Detroit,” the Ballroom at Lee Plaza Hotel shows the abandonment and dilapidated ruin of the city. Compositionally, this image is rather captivating, focusing the viewer’s attention with the upturned piano in the bottom-right intersection (rule of thirds). Likewise, the image balances line variation with diagonals, horizontals and arched lines, from the floor panels to the ceiling partitions.
He juxtaposes the disseminated furniture—perhaps in reference to the capsized domesticity of Detroit—with the cross-ribbed architecture on the ceiling. Similarly the large piano in the foreground places the viewer at a somewhat panoramic viewpoint, giving the image depth, with the smaller furnishings in the background. And with somewhat austere, mysterious finality, the far wall closes the image.
Within the context of the photo essay, this image exemplifies the early monochromatic scheme of the ashen city. Perhaps through light manipulation or color correction techniques, the photographer advances the rustic abandonment that underscores the photo essay. And like several other pictures, there is a definitive light source that casts a faded yellow on the otherwise pallid room, which is deliberately cropped and framed to encompass the entirety of the room’s width.
I think the purpose of the natural light’s intrusion is to suggest how the outside elements have usurped the room’s former interior decadence. The essay portrays the abandonment, even betrayal, from the further inhabitants of Detroit. I think images like this one are most compelling because they evoke emotions of desertion and emptiness—visceral reactions to scenes and places that many of us fear for ourselves. And one of America’s most iconic, once-flourishing metropolises falls victim to this kind exodus, it creates anxiety for the viewer. It’s effective in not only raising awareness, but also in cultivating a bit of personal angst that might translate into action on behalf of Detroit.