Philip Jarmain’s American Beauty: Photographing Detroit’s Decadent Decay

Since 2010 Canadian photographer Philip Jarmain has been documenting the increasingly rapid destruction of Detroitʼs early twentieth-century buildings. His emphasis in this work is on the architecture itself of these vanishing edifices: The form and the detail. In Jarmainʼs own words: ‘These are the last large format architectural photographs for many of these structures.’ Jarmain’s Detroit photographs are presented in twenty large-scale fine art prints that measure 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 feet in size, depicting the interiors and exteriors of monumental public buildings, installed on all three floors of Meridian Gallery, comprise the core of the exhibition. The exhibition of Jarmain’s works at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco is on display through 20 October 2013.

About the exhibition

The city of Detroit has had an unprecedented impact on the industrial age and the modern world. Once called “The Paris of the Midwest,” it was a city driven by innovation and
craftsmanship. The architecture of Detroit in the early 1900s rivaled that of New York, Chicago, or Paris. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s. Though Detroit would
rise again, the era of opulence was over. The boom of the 1950s did not produce another architectural renaissance. In 2009, the US recession hit Detroit like a second Great
Depression, compounding the decline and the ruin. The population dropped from 2.8 million people in the 1950s to a current population of 706,000. The unemployment rate is
now over 30%. The majority of these majestic pre-Depression buildings are presently being destroyed at an exponential rate as they lie victim to scrappers, arson, and
demolition. Despite these events Detroit — Motown — remains a cultural powerhouse and the passion of its residents is infectious.

The exhibition American Beauty is curated by Sheeka Arbuthnot who says of Philip Jarmain’s works: ‘Jarmain communicates the exquisite attention to form and material that architects such as Albert Kahn or Charles Noble envisioned. It is an attention to
detail and precision that is repeated in Jarmain’s own photographic process. The full grandeur of the architecture, much of it descended into disrepair, is revealed as you
stand before the magnificent, mural-size prints that compose this exhibition.’

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