The columns and pilasters of these immense buildings recall a more assertive past. In that foreign country, powered by coal and steam, the 20th century was young and dynamic. The future held an intoxicating vision of progress. Now the future has arrived and that promise has been left strewn across the tarmac, mingled with broken glass, rusting iron and the encroaching scrub of the woods.
Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, the photographers who took these pictures, have built their professional lives on ruins. Both born in the 1980s, they started photographing derelict buildings in the outskirts of Paris, where they grew up. Since then they have shot America’s abandoned cinemas and its empty office blocks. At first each had his own camera; now they use just one. “Often”, Marchand says, “we cannot remember who took which shot.”
Marchand and Meffre tend to show their pictures in Europe but take them in America – especially Detroit, the metropolis created by the automobile in the first half of the last century. But, they point out, the car also sucked the life out of downtown Detroit, which has lost more than half its population since its zenith in the 1950s. The ensuing decay is the subject of their book, “The Ruins of Detroit” (2010).
In 2005 they began to take pictures of the rusting hulks of American industrial heritage, much of it, like these buildings, in the north-eastern states. They were drawn by the towering scale of what they found. “We felt like archaeologists in temples,” says Meffre. “Even though the buildings are not religious, they express a belief in the future and in the system. They are their cathedrals. They have a sort of naivety, a dream, an awareness of destiny that is a bit like religious belief.”
Pictured: Baltimore, Maryland Westport, one of America’s first power stations, built in 1906 and demolished in 2007