Kai Ryssdal: The Occupy Wall Street protests moved uptown today. In New York, people took to the streets and marched past the homes of some of the rich 1 percent they’ve been protesting against for a month or so now.
Elsewhere, it continues. More than 50 demonstrators have been arrested in Boston. On Friday, Detroit is scheduled to join, what is known now as simply, “the occupation.”
It’s not so hard to imagine why Detroiters are frustrated. It’s been in a recession longer than most of the rest of us — chronic unemployment, rising crime rates, foreclosed houses everywhere. That last bit is where photographer Kevin Bauman comes in. He’s been taking pictures for years now of Detroit’s abandoned and rundown houses.
Kevin Bauman: Thanks. Great to be here.
Ryssdal: You started taking these pictures back in, what, the mid-’90s right?
Bauman: Yeah, that’s correct.
Ryssdal: How come?
Bauman: You know, Detroit was a natural subject considering it was what I consider my hometown. And I’d always heard the stories my parents told me about how great Detroit was and the crowds that would go down there to places like the Hudson building. I never knew that Detroit. I only knew the Detroit that had a high crime rate, high unemployment, abandoned buildings. So it was kind of my own curiosity and trying to understand the city better.
Ryssdal: Speaking of curiosity, there’s a curiosity to these pictures because you can look at pictures that were taken six or eight months ago and pictures you took 15 years ago and it’s almost timeless. Right? This image of an abandoned house over time.
Bauman: Yeah. In Detroit, unfortunately that’s the case. You can’t tell whether this is Detroit circa 1995 or Detroit 2011. There are a lot of abandoned structures there. I think at last count somebody said 40,000 or so.
Ryssdal: There is one [that’s in our slideshow — house No. 37]. It’s almost gothic looking. It’s got what look like towers and it’s old stone masonry and it’s clearly abandoned — everything is boarded up. But on this picture and all the others, the only thing that you see is the house. So I need you to give me some idea of the neighborhood and of the surroundings of some of these places. Is it abandoned house after abandoned house after abandoned house?
Bauman: It all depends. That house was called Luben Apartments. A lot of these houses are so large that they were eventually turned into apartments as the wealthy folks moved out of that area and went further north or to the suburbs. This house, unfortunately, Nov. 28 of last year caught on fire. They think it was probably squatters and was razed later that day, so no longer is there. But much of the houses in that area are striking because they are large mansions and they are isolated. There isn’t anything next to them.
Ryssdal: It’s interesting you mention that if you go there now, a lot of these houses aren’t there. You know, the mayor, we had the mayor of Detroit — Mayor Dave Bing on the show maybe a year ago and his proposal was to bulldoze a lot of these houses and just make everybody move to the core and concentrate Detroit.
Bauman: Sure. Right-sizing.
Ryssdal: Yeah, that’s right.
Bauman: It’s tough. The ideal situation would be to reuse these, but I think the last census had Detroit’s population at just over 700,000. It was at one point almost 2 million. I kind of understand the desire to do that.
Ryssdal: There is on your website — and work with me on this one here — it’s vaguely like a real estate catalog, you know? Like if you went to some realtor’s website, you’d see row after row of houses.
Bauman: Yeah, and I do. I get calls — in fact, I think I had one just on Friday of someone asking how they would purchase one of the houses. The name kind of goes along with it — 100 Abandoned Houses. At the time, I kind of became obsessed with shooting them the same way, same angle, always the same kind of distance — trying to isolate the building. And then I could put all 100 of them together and it would have a lot of impact. So that’s why I did and it is kind of a catalog. It’s a real estate catalog, but not in the typical way.
Ryssdal: Yeah, no not at all. Photographer Kevin Bauman, his website is called 100abandonedhouses.com. Kevin, thanks a lot.
Bauman: Thanks so much.