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The deterioration of the American inner city stands in stark contrast to the prosperity characteristic of the United States for much of the twentieth century. Skyscrapers that once defined the modern era stand derelict and abandoned. Massive industrial manufactories lie rusting, their cavernous interiors dark. Formerly vibrant theaters shed bricks and terra-cotta ornaments. These desolate fragments of America's cityscapes are the legacy of decades of proud investment in the urban realm followed by decades of devastating neglect.
Photographer and sociologist Camilo José Vergara has spent years documenting the decline of the built environment in New York City; Newark and Camden, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Chicago; Gary, Indiana; Detroit; and Los Angeles. His photographic sequences—images of the same sites taken over the course of many years—show once-sturdy structures as ghostly ruins and then as empty lots or flimsy new buildings. Grand civic edifices—the Michigan Central Railroad Station in Detroit, the Essex County Jail in New Jersey, the Camden Free Public Library—have become empty, roofless shells, dusted with snow in the winter and filled with stray plant and animal life in the summer. Monumental commercial and industrial buildings such as RCA Victor's "Nipper" Building in Camden and the Packard Automobile Plant in Detroit bear broken windows and rubble-strewn interiors. At once a scathing critique of national indifference to the plight of the inner city and a meditation on the aesthetic impact of desolate and neglected buildings, American Ruins stands as a witness to a vanishing era of the American city.
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Camilo José Vergara is the author of Twin Towers Remembered and The New American Ghetto and coauthor of Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery. He was awarded a 2002 MacArthur Fellowship. Since 1977 he has documented urban destruction throughout the United States as part of his New American Ghetto Archive; included in the archive are the South Bronx, Harlem, and North Central Brooklyn, New York; Newark and Camden, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois; Gary, Indiana; Detroit, Michigan; and Los Angeles County (South Central, Downtown, East Los Angeles, Pacoima, Compton, Vernon, South Gate, and Huntington Park), California. Vergara has received numerous awards, including grants from the New York Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. His photographs have been acquired by the New York Public Library, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, the Chicago Historical Society, and Avery Library at Columbia University.
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