Excerpts from my journal during a 3 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late winter 2014, searching for the seeds of the New Miracle of Detroit
April 4, 2014, Friday, Detroit
Cool, upper 30s, overcast, foggy, mild easterly wind—rain forecast, again.
After a bit of imagined bad news out of the way [a waking nightmarish fantasy about lost love] I can get to the better news, how life is in Detroit for me photographically. Lifting me out of the 4 day no photo doldrums I’d been in, yesterday afternoon [April 3, 2014], thanks to Mike who laid out numerous possibilities for examples of Detroit Up for me to photograph, I met and extensively photographed and interviewed Alan Kaniarz in his shop in the Russell Industrial Center on Detroit’s near East Side.
60 years old, with a long white mustache and matching goatee, tall and thin, wearing a dark leather long-billed cap and a paisley shirt, he toured me thru his shop. (I thought my son-in-law Phil would admire such a shop and pursuit and must remember to tell him about Alan.) Alan is multi-talented: wood, metal, glass. He invents, constructs, and repairs wood furniture and cabinetry. He collects and repairs antique lamps. He renews old picture frames and other wooden antiques. He commented that being so multifaceted helps him over the tough economic times he, Detroit, and the nation have recently faced. He also teaches at the College for Creative Studies and invited me to photograph him later if the administration gives us permission.
I told him I was searching for the seeds of a new Detroit miracle and asked, are you one? Without hesitation, he answered, yes. And explained that he employs students from the college, and has recently purchased a derelict building that he will rehab into relatively reasonably priced apartments for students. He is part of an association that includes Mike, possibly fosters clever social entrepreneurship, and goes by some initials that I did not record.
After my long session with Alan, at least 90 minutes, I explored the old factory complex, designed in 1915 by Albert Kahn. He’d explained that its first use was as a carriage-making factory, the entire complex, then with the rise of the automobile, it converted to making car bodies, not Fisher, but something equivalent. After other iterations, it now houses more than 140 tenants, mostly artists and craftspeople. I discovered 2 cars cut in half and affixed to walls. I discovered faces made of scrap metal. I discovered a set of words that resonated with me. (I hope to use them somehow, maybe transcribed as a footer or added to a display.) I discovered long hallways, mostly empty. I did not penetrate any studios so what’s behind the doors and walls remains a mystery to me.
Alan gave me more leads including the CEO of Quicken who apparently invests in a socially wise manner. And Whole Foods, committing to the city, a true outpost in the realm of food. (For lunch yesterday from Whole Foods I gobbled down a chocolate chip scone, with milk, heated. I—and I presume many others—cannot survive without my daily consumption of spiffy food. Good bread in particular. And chocolate chip anything. Also peanut butter without sugar, chunky style.)
As usual finding the place presented problems. But the roaming brought me into new zones where I might return to pursue my sub theme of industrial landscape.
Reminding me that I temporarily live in Detroit in a relatively tough neighborhood, out my window yesterday early evening I noticed a heavy woman walking on the opposite sidewalk, apparently tracked by someone in a car. The driver pulled into a driveway to block her, left the car, and walked hurriedly to her. Is this a case of domestic violence unfolding before my eyes? I mused. He confronted her, held her. Because of the distance I couldn’t quite make out the tone. I picked up my phone and thought I might immediately phone 911 to report the incident as it unfolded—let the cops handle the situation. Then a succeeding and perhaps much wiser thought occurred: monitor the situation, outside where he can see me, with phone in hand. Deliberately banging my door, I stood conspicuously on the porch, phone in hand, and observed. He seemed to notice me. From confrontation the mood seemed to change to reconciliation. Another woman cracked open the rear door of the car and shouted something to the couple. He held her, this time maybe lovingly, and escorted her back to the car. No violence that I detected. And they drove off. All three were African-Americans.
What was the true story? Would he harm her later? Should I have intervened more forcibly, either by phoning the cops or walking into the scene? How much risk would that entail? To me and to the woman? Should I have brought my camera, as another form of intervention, not necessarily to use it, but to be ready to use it?
TO BE CONTINUED