What America’s banks did next

Michael Vahrenwald’s project, The People’s Trust, looks at how US bank buildings have been repurposed
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Untitled, Detroit, Il, 2012, by Michael Vahrenwald
Untitled, Detroit, Il, 2012, by Michael Vahrenwald

On high streets across the western world, they’re a familiar sight: grand, neoclassical bank buildings now housing less auspicious concerns. New York-based photographer Michael Vahrenwald has been documenting these repurposed buildings in North America for his series The People’s Trust.

Beginning in the home of American banking, Wall Street, Vahrenwald’s series looks at defunct financial institutions in various states of reinvention across Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Upper Manhattan and rest of the United States. Some have been completely refurbished, while others are still empty.

The Providential Loan Society of New York, Brooklyn, 2011, by Michael Vahrenwald
The Providential Loan Society of New York, Brooklyn, 2011, by Michael Vahrenwald

Vahrenwald, who graduated from Yale and has exhibited his photographs across America and has had solo shows in Paris, is fascinated by these defunct buildings and what they say about our culture and values.

“A lot of it is simply being struck by a time when money was more local, banks spread out and anchoring individual communities,” Vahrenwald explains. “Thousands of solid stone structures in place of a handful of glass skyscrapers downtown across the globe.”

 

The Cicero Trust and Savings Bank, Cicero, Il, 2012, by Michael Vahrenwald
The Cicero Trust and Savings Bank, Cicero, Il, 2012, by Michael Vahrenwald

These heavy stone constructions are at odds with today’s fragile, flighty banking system. “The grandiose way in which they were fortresses built to last – all that is in contradistinction to what they're used for now,” he adds. “It fascinates me that in their current state, these structures still project so much of their former authority.”

 

The Lincoln Savings Bank, Brooklyn, 2011, by Michael Vahrenwald
The Lincoln Savings Bank, Brooklyn, 2011, by Michael Vahrenwald

To see more of Vahrenwald’s The People’s Trust project, go here. For greater insight into long-form documentary photography, take a look at our photo books, here. To learn more about the style of architecture emulated in many of these banks, also take a look at our Neoclassicism book. Buy them all from the people who made them, here.


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