Detroit's Mediated Past: Rethinking the Media Archive

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Issue Date
2014-04-26
Authors
DeLeon, Joseph
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Abstract
This paper expands the definition of the archive to account for urban exploration, or “urbex,” as a practice of media history that interrogates space and the urban environment. Urbex groups in Detroit have engaged primarily with this spatial media reproduction of history through both photography and digital renderings of Detroit’s oft-represented and decaying built environment. This paper focuses on one urbex group, “DetroitUrbex,” which has produced a photographic and digital architectural archive on a now-demolished high school in Detroit, the prestigious Cass Technical High School. This case demonstrates the useful application of an expanded archive in media history that includes not only extensive photographic records of a range of historically significant structures in Detroit, but also a foregrounding of the cultural practice “urbex” that has enabled the creation of this archive. Using an analytical framework that expands on different conceptualizations of the archive in recent works of media history as well as Steve Anderson’s writings on history and cultural memory and Eric Gordon’s work on the “possessive spectatorship” of digital technologies, I demonstrate that the limits of the archive can be productively expanded and redrawn to accommodate media works that have a foregrounded spatial and embodied component to their production, as exemplified through DetroitUrbex and “urbex” itself as a cultural practice. This paper focuses on one urbex group, “DetroitUrbex,” for they have produced a photographic and digital architectural archive on a now-demolished high school in Detroit, the prestigious Cass Technical High School. This case demonstrates the useful application of an expanded archive in media history that includes not only extensive photographic records of a range of historically significant structures in Detroit, but also a foregrounding of the cultural practice, “urbex,” that has enabled the creation of this archive. Using an analytical framework that expands on different conceptualizations of the archive in recent works of media history as well as Steve Anderson’s writings on history and cultural memory and Eric Gordon’s work on the “possessive spectatorship” of digital technologies, I demonstrate that the limits of the archive can be productively expanded and redrawn to accommodate media works that have a foregrounded spatial and embodied component to their production, as exemplified through DetroitUrbex and “urbex” itself as a cultural practice. This expansion of the concept of the archive will allow for an interrogation of media practices that perform an historiographical function in the present.
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