Photographers find hope in the old industrial heart of the United States

Julia Sperling and Beatriz Escobar
City College students Julia Sperling(left) and Beatriz Escobar posse in front of their work at the Galleria Obscura, in the Ocean campus.Oct. 24, 2013. Photo by Calindra Revier/The Guardsman


By Calindra Revier:

City College students Julia Sperling and Beatriz Escobar traveled to Detroit to explore the blighted city that was once the automotive capital of the world and an industrial mecca.

Their goal was to photograph abandoned buildings and houses, but they ended up finding life and hope.

“As a photographer, you get inspired by so many things, and I told Beatriz, ‘as soon as we get to Detroit we will be inspired. There is no way we won’t,’” Sperling said.

They found inspiration on the first day of their picture hunting.

Sperling and Escobar came upon a seemingly abandoned building and found a woman inside.

“[She] was our inspiration,” Sperling said.

The woman inside, Sander, had created a sanctuary in the decrepit structure, and during their collaborative project, Sperling and Escobar were surprised by Sander’s kindness and hope.

“She [has] seen the beauty in that place,” Sperling said. “You just can’t help to see it too.”

Sperling reflected on accomplishing her dream of going to Detroit to photograph the city’s abandoned buildings.

“All the positive thinking really inspired me,” Sperling said. “It’s just amazing how people are there.”

As international students in the Bay Area—Escobar from Brazil and Sperling from Germany—are used to a vibrant city.

“There are all these jobs [here] and rent [is] rising,” Escobar said. “It is kind of based [on] the industry, the tech industry. Just like Detroit was based [on] the auto industry. What can we learn from that? The city was really a victim of the industry.”

Sperling feels that the focus should be on the root of the problem.

“Within 5 years or 2 years, it’s [all] gone. Why did that happen? We should focus on that,” Sperling said. “Kind of like City College, it is still such a wonderful school and then one year later they tell us they’re going to close it. It’s like what the heck?”

However, Detroit is once again becoming popular with artists and entrepreneurs.

“You can tell it has to get better. [This] has to be the bottom,” Escobar said. “It can’t get worse so you kinda see hope.”

Sander and her building were the peak of the student’s trip.

“She just got us thinking,” Escobar said. “If all those buildings … had a person like this building had her, the city could have been different?

The photographers’ powerful black and white images of Detroit’s once-beautiful churches, structures and brick homes have been on display along the walls of Gallery Obscura.

Their photographs of abandoned buildings, most left to rot, hang in white frames, which makes the images clear and crisp in contrast with the white walls of the room. The subtle light illuminates the photographs and highlights the emotions within.

The gallery, located inside the Visual Arts Building at Ocean campus, has showcased the exhibit since early October. The photos can be viewed through Nov. 6.

You can also view the photographers project at  www.meanttosave.com.

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