Andrew Moore, House on Walden Street, East Side, 2008, Digital chromogenic print scanned from film negative

Andrew Moore’s must see photographs in Detroit Disassembled at the Queens Museum of Art capture the ruinous state of Detroit after the collapse of the automotive industry.  The colors are lush, the light, ecclesiastical; and Moore captures the intensity prescribed by Frederick H. Evans who urged photographers to “wait till the building make you feel intensely”.

The demise of Detroit is so devastating as to remind one of Chernobyl’s aftermath vis-à- vis Michael Forster Rothbart’s photographs commemorating the 25th anniversary.  In 1950 America, Detroit was the center of the universe in the production of 10 million motor vehicles, 70% of which were on the road in the U.S. at a time when the United States represented only 7% of the world’s population.  Now, the U.S. Census report (two years ahead of Moore’s three month visit to Detroit in 2008-9) shows it has lost 25% of its population in the last ten years.

Did Moore intend to educate the viewer about the demise of an industry that unleashed a social revolution of unprecedented personal freedom to travel unchecked and the lessons therein for voters and policymakers? It’s hard to say given his visual syntax, which is tainted with a commercialism most often associated with magazine assignments.  The tendency is increasingly apparent when reviewing his treatment of hotspots like Bosnia and Vietnam, and controversial projects like Robert Moses’ New York.

The days when photographers needed to be of two minds—working for the magazines “by day” and on their own projects “at night”—are long gone.  Yet the boundaries are blurred with Detroit Disassembled.  Whose story does Moore tell?