Giorgio Orlandi uses his trusty 35mm lens to capture beautiful images of a once thriving city
Be inspired by a collection of poignant images of Detroit that document the sad decline of this once vibrant and thriving city
Detroit, Michigan, is one of the largest cities to ever file for bankruptcy. This happened in 2013, when I first moved here. It was hard to imagine that this dilapidated city, which was littered with decaying factories, office spaces and theatres, was the home of the US auto industry for almost a century.
I took the wet floor shot  in an old abandoned factory, just outside downtown Detroit. I was drawn by the apparent symmetry, with the leading lines in the ceiling reflected in the puddles of water on the floor. Itypically shoot in Aperture Priority mode, and to capture the ripples and freeze the wall fan that was spinning in the gusty wind, my shutter speed needed to be quite quick, so I had to increase the ISO.
I use a fixed 35mm lens because I once read that it is a great way to force oneself into thinking about each shot, and this was certainly true for the shot with the planks by the window . I was drawn by the messy stack of wooden planks, but I didn’t immediately see a composition that worked. I snapped a few photos with the window on the left, but I just felt it didn’t quite work. I then noticed the green tank through the other
I use a fixed 35mm lens because I once read that it is a great way to force oneself into thinking about each shot, and this was certainly true for me
window. I thought Icould try framing it while using the planks as my anchor, and to do so I had to move around quite a bit, and to shoot from different heights for different perspectives.
The final photo  was taken at the Fisher 21 Plant, an abandoned industrial paint shop. I shot it with a shallow depth of field because I wanted the viewer to focus on the blue pieces of glass that had fallen from the surrounding windows, but I also wanted to give a sense of the vastness of the plant by playing with an out of focus background. I feel that the windows in the back give it the sense of depth I was looking for.
These images are fantastic, Giorgio. They are technically proficient, plus they capture a fascinating, sombre part of history. Your central framing in the factory floor shot is spot-on. The leading lines on the ceiling and in the water below draw the eye in to the centre of the frame, as you say. The graphic shape and deep contrast of the fan blades in the distance hold our gaze as the main feature within the photo, underlined by the stripes of light pouring in through the windows and onto the floor. And the piles of rubbish on the right and graffiti on pillars on the left add weight to the edges of the frame, holding the eye inside the photo.
Taking the time to reposition, recompose and study a scene is the hallmark of a skilled photographer, and the time you spent setting up the planks and window scene has paid off. A random jumble of timber placed against a wall is a chaotic nightmare for composition, but you’ve managed to create structure in your shot of it (see page 76 for more on this). You’re right to place the window to the right, and to frame the water tower inside the window. It would have been easy for a less experienced photographer to crop that out, miss it entirely or
You’ve managed to turn broken glass and concrete into something that’s really rather beautiful
simply cut the end of the window frame out. By running an imaginary diagonal line from top-left to bottomright, you can see there’s interest but simplicity in each half of the frame.
Your close-up of broken glass completes your trio of images brilliantly. Getting in close like this really focuses the viewer’s attention on the grit, grime and glass of a city that’s quite literally broken, and the result is both an intimate portrait, and a reflection on what’s been lost. You’ve managed to turn broken glass and concrete into something that’s really rather beautiful. We especially like the placement of the shards at the bottom right, and how they balance and echo the shapes and colours of the openings at the top left; and the way the hard shadows lead the eye from one to the other.