American Beauty: The Opulent Pre-Depression Architecture of Detroit

The Architectural Photography of Philip Jarmain shown in San Francisco

by Valentina Ieva
8 Love 4227 Visits

These are the last large format architectural photographs for many of these structures”  (Philip Jarmain).

The photographic work of Canadian photographer Philip Jarmain is shown at Meridian Gallery in San Francisco until October 20th 2103. The exhibition, called "American Beauty: The Opulent Pre-Depression Architecture of Detroit", is dedicated to Detroit’s early twentieth-century vanishing buildings.

Vanity Ballroom, Architect Charles N. Agree 1929, Photograph Philip Jarmain 2011

Since 2010 Jarmain has been documenting the increasingly rapid destruction of the interiors and exteriors of monumental public buildings. Twenty fine art prints 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 feet in size, are installed on all three floors of Meridian Gallery.

The Lee Plaza, Architect Charles Noble 1929, Photograph Philip Jarmain 2011

Philip Jarmain photography is work of great visual impact, the scale and definition of the images translating for the viewer into space that one enters, a physical presence that one feels, and history that one contemplates. These images are an opportunity to consider the historical and current state of Detroit as an American city.

Mackenzie High School, Architect Wirt C Roland, Smith Group 1927, Demolished 2012, Photograph Philip Jarmain 2011

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.

Fisher Body Plant No. 21, architect Albert Kahn 1919, photograph Philip Jarmain, 2013

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 1.8 million people in the 1950s to a current population of 706,000.

The Farwell Building, Architects Bonnah & Chaffee, the Russel Wheel and Foundry Company, and Tiffany Studios of New York, 1915, Photograph Philip Jarmain 2011

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.

Highland Park Police Station, Architect Van Leyen, Schilling & Keough, 1917, Demolished 2012, Photograph Philip Jarmain 2011

Philip Jarmain is a photographer specializing in conceptual advertising and is based in Vancouver and Toronto. His personal work has focused on traditional architectural photography of significant structures in cities around the world. His cinematic background has made him a photographer who concerns himself with process and the team that help to achieve that process. Jarmain’s work has received many awards as well as being featured in international publications.

Highland Park Police Station, Architect Van Leyen, Schilling & Keough, 1917, Demolished 2012, Photograph Philip Jarmain 2011

Cover image: East Town Theatre, Architect V.J. Waiver, 1930, Photograph Philip Jarmain 2011

  • Valentina Ieva

    Valentina Ieva


    Bari / Italy

    Laureata in Ingegneria edile-architettura, giornalista per professione, web writer per diletto. Amante di architettura, design, fotografia e libri di carta. Dipendente dai social, Instagram e InstaStories su tutti. Affamata di vita, viaggi e storie da scoprire. Qualunque forma d'arte mi affascina da sempre e non posso pensare una vita senza: emozioni forti, immaginazione, buona musica, cucina pugliese, sole e gatti. Per dirla con le parole di Battiato, non potrei vivere senza: ‘un soffio al)