Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Kira van Lil

Second Advisor

Claire Farago

Third Advisor

Robert Nauman


This project considers the ambivalent uses of contemporary ruin photography (pejoratively known as "ruin porn") in Detroit, Michigan. Although ruin photographers emphatically deny historical context in favor of sensationalism, they participate in a cycle of victim blaming that can be traced to the 1960s. News media coverage of the 1967 Twelfth Street riot in Detroit used photographs that documented the melee in order to thrust blame upon inner-city black citizens for their participation in the riot. At the same time, these sources acknowledged the structural inequalities in Detroit that preceded the riot, including segregated housing practices, unequal access to education and employment, and police brutality. In a similar fashion, popular media sources that use ruin photographs create a narrative that posits Detroit as the victim of deindustrialized late capitalism. Simultaneously, however, these narratives erase Detroiters' agency, implying that they are incapable--and unwilling--to change their environment. The visual negotiations of blame in ruin photography and documentation of the Twelfth Street riot articulate historical and ongoing anxieties surrounding race, class, and urbanism in the United States.