6 Instagram Photographs Capture the Lone Architecture of American Cities

Each building is portrayed with a sense of dignity ennobled through its central composition, vibrant colors and rich textures

Orli Hakanoglu Orli Hakanoglu

Starting in the 1950s, many American cities were transformed by a wave of suburbanization. The rapid movement of wealthy residents out of city centers and into the suburbs left countless cities like St. Louis and Detroit with a deeply weakened economic base and a greatly reduced population. Naturally, the housing stock of these cities suffered, as well: Many beautiful homes fell into disrepair or were abandoned entirely.

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Demond Meek’s beautifully curated Instagram account @dmeek documents some of these homes as part of his #slumbeautiful photography project. The feed takes form as a carefully crafted collection of “#HellaFiltered” images of lone buildings across the country.

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Among the abandoned houses there are also several meticulously maintained ones. The inclusion of these pristine homes contrasts sharply with the peeling paint and boarded windows of many of the photographs.

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Lonely splendor: A beautiful Detroit home stands alone with an abandoned home in the background.

Photographing the decay of cities is nothing new: Images of the Detroit Packard Plant or its abandoned Union Station are common. These images of derelict architecture, also known as “ruin porn,” are visually arresting and highlight the gravity of postindustrial urban decay. Nevertheless, there is a dark side to these images in that they permit a sort of indulgent voyeurism in which viewers consume the plight of others and do nothing to fix the underlying problems. These images delight in dilapidation rather than decry real and pressing issues faced by American cities.

What is so compelling and respectable about Meek’s project is that despite his focus on decay, he does not present the images as subjects for our consumption. Slumbeautiful avoids categorization as “ruin porn” photography. Each building is portrayed with a sense of dignity ennobled through its central composition, vibrant colors and rich textures.

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In one of his posts, Meek candidly discussed his experience in Detroit from the shock at its destitution to his admiration for the resilience of its residents. He underscored that he didn’t mean to exploit the city’s hardships through his images: “It’s literally my occupation to visually document what I see. It’s not my intention to scare people, discourage visitors, perpetuate stereotypes, be political or to disrespect the people of Detroit.”

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These melancholy images don’t need much commentary to illuminate what’s going on in American cities. In the same post, Meek shared his reflection on the forces driving urban decay: “I believe these types of closures, in certain parts of the city, are the underlying problem not only in Detroit, but in many other American cities. Disinvestment, resources and opportunities gone.”

Spoken like a true photographer, Meek suggests that images speak for themselves: “What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained.”

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Meek’s collection of work is not only aesthetically strong, but also deeply meaningful. With images alone, he offers powerful commentary of the past, present and future of the American city.

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