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Archive for the ‘Detroit’ Category

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016—or writing later.

Quakers to Refineries (photos)
Added November 23, 2016

Johnny’s Neighborhood (movie)

I find myself at a crossroads with this project, nearly 7 years since I began it. Now I cannot decide what to do next—consider the active photography ended, make small changes in my direction, or make major changes like devise a new strategy. Do I have too much brick and mortar, i.e., buildings, and not enough blood and guts, i.e., people? I wonder, for you the viewer, of the dynamic I have studied and tried to photograph, what comes thru?

To gain some clarity I’ve joined a group exhibition at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts. In my portion of the exhibit, referencing the exhibit theme “Hope Springs Eternal,” rather than show only finished exhibition size prints  I chose to show a set of thumbnail prints, each about 1.5 by 2 inches on 13 by 19 paper.  I ask you, the viewer, to vote by noting file names of photos that interest you, and sending me the names. My late mentor, Andy Towl, once asked me, when you view an exhibit, Skip, what stops you?

What if anything in my array of these small photos from one of my six sessions at Motor City (rapidly becoming Bicycle City) stops you? Please let your eye dance across the images, with as little conscious thought as possible. What strikes you?

If you click on the array below, you’ll see a matrix or grid. You can then click on the array, individual grids will pop up, and you can use the arrow keys to run thru the set. To enlarge the image so you can read the file names of individual thumbnail sets, please click on “view full size.” You can easily comment in the space on the lower left of the unenlarged grid. (A little complicated, I realize.)

Feel free to comment to this blog, write me at skipschiel@gmail.com or phone me at 617-441-7756.

I plan to return to Detroit in June, mainly for urban agriculture and events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the uprising.

Here’s my general statement:

Searching for the Seeds of the New Detroit Miracle

An examination of the shifting dynamics in the country’s iconic post-industrial city

I have been photographing, making movies, and writing about Detroit since 2010, when I attended the U.S. Social Forum that summer, initially awed by the abandoned and scrapped buildings and the enormous swaths of vacant land. Later I learned about burgeoning urban agriculture, the arts movement, numerous civic projects, innovative reuse of buildings, the rise of bicycling, Big Money pouring in to build sports stadiums and commercial and residential housing, etc.

The inner core, some 20% of the land thrives with the injection of Big Money, largely from local billionaire entrepreneurs. Paramount among them, Dan Gilbert, the founder and chief of Quicken Loans, and the late (died Feb. 2017 at 87) Mike Ilitch, founder and owner of Little Caesars Pizza. Together they might own more than three-quarters of the newly developed property such as sports stadiums, office buildings, and luxury housing. Black and largely economically suffering people, many suffering from the recent bankruptcy of the city, inhabit the remaining 80% of the area.

I was raised on Chicago’s Southside from 1940 to 1955 when my family ignobly was the first to flee African-Americans searching for new housing. I have always been ashamed of this part of my family history and recently realized that by returning regularly to Detroit, living in a Black neighborhood, part of the 80% land mass, I have returned. I’ve made friends among my neighbors, developed a portrait series about them, and I’ve interviewed some about changes in their neighborhood.

Influenced by mentors Robert Frank and his book, The Americans, and W. Eugene Smith with his Pittsburgh Project, I hope to reveal aspects of Detroit beyond what’s now termed “Ruin Porn” and ultra beautiful and expensive development. I hope to portray the dynamic between Big and Little Money, development and gentrification of the urban core fed by Big Money, and the effects on housing, education, water access, urban agriculture, and economic development in the periphery, resulting from Little Money. This includes reduced pensions and health benefits of civil retirees and, to a lesser extent, police and firefighters.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of what some call “The Uprising,” others “The Riots,” marking a new phase in Detroit’s demotion from what had been named “The Paris of the West.” And now? I intend to continue my photographic exploration. As W. Eugene Smith has stated, “Truth is my prejudice.”

I ponder: will Detroit become the model for post-industrial urban resurrection or self implode?

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Anniversary of Uprising

Turning Derelict Buildings into an Urban Farm in Detroit

Riverwise magazine

James and Grace Lee Boggs Center for Community Leadership

 

 

 

 

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Shrine in Delray to someone murdered

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Shrine from at least two years ago, near Delray, near the Detroit River, near Historic Fort Wayne, near Delray

Delray in southwest Detroit

Delray in southwest Detroit

I believed it was necessary to investigate photography, dismantle it, jettison all the non-essential components, and begin again with a stripped down but more powerful idea of what is, or could be photographic.

—Lewis Baltz

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 5, 2016, Monday, K’s house, Detroit

As I neared home by bike [on September 4, 2016], after visiting Delray and attending the Jazz Festival, I noticed flashing red lights in the distance along Grand River Avenue. Closing in I saw they were fire engines. Closing in further I saw they were at the intersection of Grand River and Washburn Street, my usual turnoff. I then noticed smoke and water, the water pouring from hoses directed by two fire fighters on an extended ladder. Another Detroit fire, an abandoned building, perhaps set alight by kids, perhaps by someone needing the insurance money. With Gene Smith, the pre-eminent photojournalist who made the monumental photographic exploration of Pittsburgh in mind, his use of light, I tried to line up the water streams with the setting sun behind them. I tried several positions, the last directly into the sun.

Fire in an abandoned building along Grand River Ave, apparently arson

Fire in an abandoned building along Grand River Ave, apparently arson

As I worked the light I saw a black car suddenly race between the fire equipment. People shouted, stop, hoses! The driver stopped at the hose and then gunned the engine in reverse. More shouting. Crash! Right into a fire truck, ripping off the left rear fender of the black car. People raced to the car. Police arrived. Poked heads inside the car. Pulled out the driver, a woman who looked drugged or drunk. Cuffed her and put her in the police car.

I photographed the entire event, thinking for me this might be the find of the day. For her, disaster. Talking with an African-American fellow on his bike, watching the events with me, I asked, what do you think of the Detroit fire department? He answered, the best, responsive, effective, can’t ask for more. I conclude, could be, they get a lot of practice. I might have asked what did he think would happen to the woman?

Biking home I chanted a Buddhist prayer for her, who now was probably on her way to jail and maybe eventually prison. All because of a few drinks or a tiny brief poke of the needle. One life, for now, possibly ruined. A tragedy on a small-scale, city-wide, nationally, internationally. A major event for that one woman, perhaps also her family. Does she have dependent kids? What a fiasco.

I am eager to tell K about all this; she seems inordinately interested in my project. She is my local confidant (Anne also but not as directly). What would the project be without her, both for her house and for her interest, companionship, and suggestions?

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS:

“What About Delray? The Past and Future of Detroit’s Forgotten Neighborhood” (2012)

“Drug Abuse Patterns and Trends in Detroit, Wayne County, and Michigan—Update: January 2014” (National Institute of Drug Abuse)

“New chief putting mark on Detroit fire dept.” (Christine Ferretti and George Hunter , DetroitNews, 2016)

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Dearborn

Dearborn, Michigan, along Schaefer Highway, photo by Skip Schiel

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 10, 2016, Saturday, Detroit

Biking in to Dearborn yesterday [September 9, 2016] I stopped at the bicycle shop on Schaefer that I’ve frequented earlier, to pump air in my tires. A voluble employee (at first, from the way he acted, so forthright, I assumed he was the owner), short and curt, felt the tires and declared, your tires are full, pumping more air into them might make them burst. Then he spotted my camera, which I always carry around my neck, fully exposed. Wanna take some pictures here? he asked. Sure thing, what would you like?

Is this gonna cost something? he asked. No, is this gonna cost me anything? I replied. Everyone in the store chuckled.

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Eddie’s Bike Shop, photo by Skip Schiel

That led to portraits of him outside the store, inside the store, the storefront itself from outside, and then the owner, Mr. Eddie Merhi, and two customers, Black women, mother and daughter, who were having their tricycles adjusted.

The daughter, Woody, and I chatted awhile about the pleasures of biking. She, like many here, admired my folding bike, inquired about it, and said, I’d like to eventually ride one like that. She invited me to visit them at their home near me—she was ecstatic when she learned where I live (as if to think, wow, this is some kind of White guy, living where he is, probably the only White guy in milespretty fuckin brave, or insane.) I find living where I do builds credibility.

She asked me to photograph her on her bike, which I did. She lacks email and we couldn’t figure out how to transfer the file from my camera to her phone with Bluetooth. So she snapped a photo with her phone from my camera screen, decidedly inferior.

Mother and daughter, Detroit residents, buy tricycles

Woody and her mother, Detroit residents, have their tricycles adjusted, photo by Skip Schiel

I had a thought about a daring next step for my Detroit project: photograph on public buses, compare city bus riders with suburban bus riders, and photograph at different times of the day. I’ve long felt that one can gain a quick impression of one aspect of Detroit by riding the city bus at night. Riding the same bus during the day might create a different impression. And riding the suburban buses yet another.

The big question is how to do this? Sneak photography (aka, hip pocket), ask permission, carry a big sign announcing the project? It may involve some risk, especially at night, me alone. I’ll consider this. Maybe I can find a colleague, preferably Black and from Detroit. (Like George a few years ago who toured me to different neighborhoods.)

A sequel to A Summer Bus Ride in Detroit. A movie by Skip Schiel & Teeksa
Photography, October 2010

A precedent is the photo series of South African workers riding at night to reach their work sites on time. David Goldblatt did this with his series, The Transported of KwaNdebele. I recall phoning him in the 1990’s while setting up one of my South African trips. I heard a dog barking in the background, rendering the call very personal even tho at such a great physical and cultural distance.

25 After a day’s work they take the bus from Pretoria to KwaN

9:00 p.m. Going home: Marabastad-Waterval bus: For most of the people in this bus the cycle will start again tomorrow at between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., 1983 from David Goldblatt’s, “The Transported of KwaNdebele: A South African Odyssey (1983–84)”

Maybe I’m getting too old to pursue all my dream projects, like Detroit metro busing. How many more years remain for me and my work?

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Biking home to Detroit from Dearborn, photo by Skip Schiel

To be continued

LINKS

Bike Detroit

A bike ride thru Dearborn by Skip Schiel, 2010

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“The Feeling of Being Watched: A Town Hall Discussion on Profiling and Surveillance” at the Arab American National Museum, Dearborn

The gravest responsibility of the photo historian or journalist is the search through the maze of conflictions to the island of intimate understanding, of the mind, of the soul, amid circumstances that both create, and are created by—and then to render with intelligence, with artistic eloquence, a correct and breathing account of what is found; and popular fancy, myth can be damned. Meaning: get to the guts of the matter and show the bastards as they are.

—W. Eugene Smith (Let Truth be the Prejudice about Smith by Ben Maddow)

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 10, 2016, Saturday, Detroit

At the Arab American Museum last night [September 9, 2016] I attended the program about governmental spying on people in the United States, especially human beings thought to be The Other. It was titled, “The Feeling of Being Watched,” and was a co-production of the museum and an organization called Take on Hate. All four participants were eloquent, knowledgeable, personally experienced with the topic, and had much to offer. I learned mainly about a Homeland Security program called CVE, Countering Violent Extremism, that enlists community members in surveiling their own community. It could be regarded as insidious collaboration, turning students, health professionals, teachers, clergy, anyone in frequent contact with others, into implanted cameras and audio recorders, passing information to the government about suspected terrorists. Pilot programs exist in St Paul, Los Angeles, and my city, Boston.

I could be enlisted—or I could be targeted. Maybe I could report suspicious behavior in my photographic workshops, or I could be reported on the basis of my Palestine-Israel work.

Because of the host site, not only the Arab American museum but the city of Dearborn, Muslim Americans were the focus. But other groups could be targeted as well, notably people of color and immigrants. As several panelists observed, marginalized communities, those living in poverty or extreme racism for instance, are often the most seriously watched.

How effective is such surveillance? was a question raised by several panelists. One panelist claimed that a similar program in New York City has resulted in no arrests of actual terrorists. I’m sure some would argue that this claim is false or irrelevant, but the question remains: given the work and expense involved surveiling, how often do the programs have demonstrable effects? Result in so-called “actionable intelligence”?

Cameras, for instance, may be effective as a deterrent even if they are not hooked up; the idea of being watched may curtail violence. I experienced this yesterday when eating at the New Yazmeen bakery. Some patrons had left food, the space was empty, I helped myself to some delicious-looking flat bread, and considered taking more uneaten food. Then I noticed the cameras, I stopped eating the bread, I smiled at the camera.

History was another sub topic. An immediate precursor of terrorist watch programs was COINTELPRO, the Counter Intelligence Program of the FBI under Hoover, targeting radical Black movements like the Black Panthers. Before that, anti communism programs, most notably the infamous HUAC, House Un-American Activities Committee, hearings and the hero of some, Joe McCarthy. Programs existed before that targeting union organizers, Black leaders, “Bolshevism,” the Irish, other immigrant groups, etc. Surveillance has a long history in this country, as it might in many. Fear seeds suspicion. What precisely is the psychology of surveillance? Not a topic mentioned, except in passing when an audience member asked about the role of psychologists in these surveillance projects.

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Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American­-Islamic Relations

When asked about the future of this program and surveillance generally, a panelist mentioned the need for privacy factor, whether people value their privacy enough to oppose programs like CVE. Because of the proliferation of on-line self disclosure—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc—often encouraging opening lives to public view (I myself exemplify this, my blog in particular, and how much I might potentially disclose about myself if these journals that I adapt for the blogs ever become public), one might guess that many folks do not highly value their own privacy. Thus they may not be too eager to fight for limits to surveillance.

Assia Boundaoui, the director of the film we watched a clip from, The Feeling of Being Watched, summed up the evening well when she built on the idea presented by another panelist, a Wayne State—the panopticon. This is a prison design that places guards at the center of the building, able to observe the prisoners existing in cells isolated from each other. She called for two approaches to surveillance, analogous to prison reform: open the cells to each other so the prisoners can communicate and organize, and reverse the line of sight so the prisoners can observe the guards. That is, all communities affected by surveillance need to coordinate and form coalitions to resist unreasonable surveillance. And those watched need to watch the watchers.

Freelance journalist and former Al Jazeera America producer. Assia Bounadoui

Assia Bounadoui, freelance journalist and former Al Jazeera America producer

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Panopticon

After noticing others making photos with their phones I felt emboldened to bring out my camera and from more than half way back in the hall make a few photos. I began with the moderator, a striking Black woman. I pushed the camera to determine just how much I can do in low light. Given the topic, I wondered if I’d be viewed as a watcher.

Asha Noor, TAKE ON HATE Advocacy and Civic Engagement Specialist

Asha Noor, Take On Hate Advocacy and Civic Engagement Specialist

Later I spoke with a museum staff person, David Serio, who’d introduced the program. He wore a keffiyeh, now known as identifying the wearer as a supporter of Palestinian rights. I offered him two observations: your keffiyeh resembles a Jewish prayer shawl, and have you ever noticed that the keffiyeh design suggests barbed wire? He’d not noticed either but said he enjoys the ambiguity. Talking further, I promised to suggest to Jewish Voice for Peace-Detroit that they link with the museum and the Take on Hate program. And I’d suggest to JVP-Boston which has an ongoing campaign about Islamophobia that they also connect with Take on Hate. I picked up two Take on Hate lapel buttons but they escaped my plastic bag when it ripped open as I crossed Grand River coming home by bike.

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Keffiyeh, courtesy of the Internet

While awaiting the start of the program, after eating Arab nummies, I examined the photographic exhibit, “What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization.” When I initially learned about this I discounted it, thinking, what a weak way to use photography. But examining it more closely I felt it was tremendously moving and brilliantly and simply conceived. I wrote those remarks in the guest book.

The photographer had invited immigrants from Muslim and Arab countries, Iraq and Syria mostly, to choose one thing they brought with them. The artist, Jim Lommasson, then photographed the object and asked for a written comment from the immigrant. So many were touching, like photos of family; in fact, family was a central theme—missing them collectively or missing individuals like grandparents.

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From “What We Carried” by Jim Lommasson

At the end of the exhibit the photographer installed a wall panel asking viewers to write what they would bring with them. I demurred. What would I bring? First thought: a family album in digital form, or all my journals in digital form, or one camera, or something my dear friend S had given me, or one of my kids had given me, or Louise had given me, or something from my mother or father. So difficult to decide. I was reminded of Linda Hass’ photographic project about the stuff her mother’s had accumulated and might send her notification of this show. Linda’s was a different case entirely. She photographed what her mother had accumulated in the United States after she’d lost everything escaping the holocaust.

To be continued

LINKS

The Feeling of Being Watched (movie)

Take on Hate (campaign)

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

What We Carried (exhibition)

Arab American Museum, Dearborn Michigan

“FBI: Hate crimes against Muslims in US surge 67 percent” (2015)

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Jazz Festival, claimed to be the largest free jazz festival in the world

Detroit Jazz Festival, claimed to be the largest free jazz festival in the world

Shrine marking a death

Shrine marking a murder

The city as a living entity with it being an environment for—and in turn, an environment being created by—the people who give it heart and pulse. I will observe, with intimate photographic scrutiny, these individuals as I encounter them during participation in the daily life of the city. (Yet, I will respect their ethical right of non-invasion of privacy.) Unlike other essays of mine, such as The Nurse-Midwife, I will not, this time, (photographically) know any individual as a complete person. For the individual, in my present essay, is a part of the teaming into the teeming whole that is the city, singular, and—Pittsburgh, the City of, is my project and is the individual to be known.

(From W. Eugene Smith’s 1956 application for a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for his Pittsburgh Project)

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 12, 2016, Monday

I wrote a long letter yesterday to S and will rely on that to bring my journal up to date:

this may be my last email to you until I’m home (or maybe one enroute on the train). i leave tues evening, arrive wednesday evening, inshalla, as they say, god willing (or the train and its staff willing and able).

weatherwise, i think you’ve been spared the hot weather that has afflicted detroit and southwest michigan. your region [in New England] apparently continues to suffer drought but here there’s been ample rain all summer. I’m mindful of this because 1. i love weather and once aspired to become a meteorologist, trained at mit, 2. I’m a gardener with paternal “roots” in iowa farming families, 3. food quality and prices and farmers in new england have suffered, and 4. i worry about climate generally….

my last days in detroit have been frustrating. today, for instance, i was to have photographed johnny, my next door neighbor, in his buffalo soldier uniform from the civil war on his horse (he’s a re-enactor). but at the last minute, after days of delay, he announced, a friend of mine, a vietnam brother (johnny is a vietnam vet) is in hospice and i need to visit him. plus, my neighbor across the street, anthony, known as “little anthony” to distinguish him from his father, never showed up for our appointed portrait-making session this afternoon. i’d photographed him and johnny on previous trips. there’s still tomorrow and tues.

 

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Johnny, my next door neighbor, 2011

counteracting these disappointments, S, this morning at a quaker meeting we commemorated the 15th anniversary of 9/11. movingly, simply, with personal reflections by two people. 

on my mind was faith, what it is, how to gain it, how to express it. for some individuals and for our society and perhaps the world, 9/11 was a pivot point. one might argue that it set off the catastrophe we now face with the mideast wars and the refugee crisis, perhaps the major debacle of our century (and we refuse to hold the perpetrators accountable, adding to the debacle). but out of this tragedy sprang large scale resistance, first noted in 2003 when millions flooded the streets thruout the world to say, stop the war, stop the violence, be civil, be human. i was among them in nyc, maybe you also made your stand. the climate march in nyc that you and i attended 2 years ago is another example of worldwide action. let’s not forget the arab spring and the occupy movement, and now black lives matter. [and locally in detroit, massive resistance to water shut offs and the pollution in flint]

where does faith come in? i believe we may be on an upward trajectory and that widespread, international resistance with a call for renewal can be effective. textron [manufacturer of cluster bombs and components of nuclear weapons in wilmington ma, near my quaker meeting in cambridge], which you remember our meeting vigils at monthly for going on 7 years, recently announced they will end the manufacture of cluster bombs (next march). i have faith that our little vigil series affected this decision, along with many other larger, louder groups protesting textron. ditto, for now at least, about the north dakota pipeline, resisted by thousands of native people and their supporters. i have faith; i believe that such actions can be productive.

well, S, enough from me. i wonder what you think about faith, in your life, and generally. see you soon i hope.

A mouthful, for sure. Perhaps I intimidate her or perhaps—my hope—I inspire her.

Other than the disappointments yesterday and the grand Birmingham Quaker Meeting (in Berkeley—a strange confusion of place names, not Birmingham Alabama but Michigan, and not Berkeley California but Michigan) with the subsequent business meeting that I attended for the first hour only (to return home for the assignations that never occurred), I’m still uncertain about the quality of this trip, the photographic quality. Is Billy correct in writing, “safe,” meaning not too digging, not too provocative? I need to ponder this.

One example of safe might be my experience yesterday riding home. Al at the meeting, keeper of the gate, an old wizened limping black man, showed me the kits that Song and Spirit folks, a Franciscan Brothers’ facility rented by Birmingham Quakers for their Sundays, distributes to homeless persons. Consisting of cap (fleece or baseball, depending on the season), gloves (light or heavy depending on season), and toiletries, I took two, and later gave them to 2 black men who I thought might need them. The older of the two accepted the kit gratefully, extending his hand in thanksgiving, the younger said, I don’t need this but I will give it to someone who does. Both were very appreciative.

Why didn’t I photograph them? I might have, and they might have agreed, in part because of perceived obligation. But I didn’t. Was I too timid, or did I respect their humanhood and in the case of the older man did not want him to feel obligated nor chosen because of his condition. I carried the camera over my shoulder, in plain sight, and they might have noticed and asked to be photographed. Which happens periodically (as at the bike store recently, which led to what I hope are some decent photos).

I might have photographed Al. This case differs from the above. No obligation to say yes, and not picking him because of his dire condition. But I just never found him in the correct light or position or setting. Leaving I thought, a photograph of Al in front of the building?, but it never happened. Instead I photographed what may have been the safer choice, the large garden behind the building that he told me about. Was this a good choice? Too safe, in Billy’s estimation?

Such are the choices facing me regularly.

D-Town Farm, a cooperative farm in Rouge Park

D-Town Farm, a cooperative farm in Rouge Park

To be continued

LINKS

Birmingham (MI) Friends Meeting

Song and Spirit’s Outreach Care’avan

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Downtown development

Downtown development

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

 

One should avoid picturing a land which can never be reached, and arousing hopes never to be fulfilled, for the indulgence only makes existence harder.

– Haniel Long, Notes for a New Mythology

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016

PHOTOS

September 11, 2016, Sunday

Yesterday was another day off, either the first or second of this trip. The weather was windy and wet, my destinations such as the refineries and Capuchin farm were distant, I debated the risks of bicycling, and finally, reluctantly, decided to remain home and do: house work. (I biked only to the liquor store for a pint of Stout.)

Yesterday I did not attend or photograph the following:

A street fair in Midtown (AKA Cass Corridor)

An auction in Indian Village which would have provided entrance to homes

An exhibit of antique cars at Greenfield Village

The refineries

Eastern Market

A Greening of Detroit Farm

The Earthworks Farm of the Capuchin Franciscan Monastery

Did any of this significantly affect my project? What would I have photographed if I’d persisted? Would volunteers be working in the garden and farm? Would the street fair have been fun and exuberant? Would I have been drenched or driven back by strong winds?

I will never know. This is one of the minor mysteries of my project—the places, people, events, issues, things that I missed.

The days before my last in Detroit close in. What might surprise me today, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, what remains of this trip—and for the rest of my life? And which of these surprises will be important?

Here are a few surprises thus far on this journey, some or all I told Karen about yesterday as we sat on the front porch eating fish, stir fry veggies, and Basmati rice, while watching the sun descend:

Bike accident (she noticed the bright red glaring gash on my knee)

Visit with Latoyia, the principal at Noble School  (and with this a discussion of whether the blue shirt Karen lent me that I wore to the visit resembled a prisoner’s shirt)

Johnny inviting me to photograph him—and his horse, both in costume

The ghost bike (she’d asked to see recent photos, they included the bike, I did not tell her about my fears concerning bicycling)

Gloria’s aunt dying and Gloria going to Arkansas for the funeral (how Gloria is such a reliable neighbor)

And possibly a few others.

Are any of these significant?

I forgot to tell her about Kitty inviting me to give a forum about our Palestine-Israel process at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts. That the process represents a major surprise for our community, a form of unity around one limited aspect of that explosive situation.

Billy L wrote, in response to my short description of my Detroit project:

Sounds very “safe” skip. I understand your motivation on the ” radical” end by allowing folks who are not close to the Motor City happenings a look at what is going on but what about the entities on the other side of the line? The perspective of negativity  experienced by the working poor? I hope you are successful with your assignment and wish you the best.

Safe? Which aspect of my project did he refer to? The entire project? Safe? I must consider this.

As a general description of my Detroit project I’d written:

As most people now realize, Detroit has become an icon of the failed post-industrial city in the United States—suffering poverty, racism, corporate dominance, and corruption. However, as always, there is another side: resurgence through urban agriculture, grass-roots politics, arts activism, and the high-tech auto industry. With my photography I strive to expose the seeds of the new Detroit miracle. 

To be continued

Other than that, Icarus, how was the flight?

– W. Eugene Smith (about his Pittsburgh Project)

LINKS

“It’s boom time for developments in heart of Detroit,” by Louis Aguilar (January 2016)

“Detroit Resists fires back at Venice Biennale’s U.S. pavilion curators over community engagement”

Suspect arrested in gas station shooting caught on high-definition surveillance video

Detroit Street Watchers—”I’m doing what people think is crazy,” said Walter Gildersleeve (the founder). “I go through these abandoned houses, I go in the back of these yards.”

Ghost Bikes

“Fatal bicyclist crashes surged 57% in Michigan last year”

 

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Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Excerpts from my journal

PHOTOS (in two parts)

November 25, 2014, Tuesday, on the train east of Cleveland heading home to Cambridge

The main event of yesterday [November 24, 2014], other than my departure from Detroit after 3 weeks (which on the universal scale counts for very little) was photographing the Boggs School, a publicly-funded charter school. Initially the head, Amanda Rosman, seemed nervous about my presence and asked me to estimate how long I’d be in the school. She also cautioned me against photographing the kids of one family whose mother refused blanket permission for photography, a prohibition that baffles me, especially at such a renowned school as the Boggs.

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I was deeply impressed with the quality of education. The teachers seemed skilled in handling their subjects and discipline problems (the latter were frequent in one art class I observed, not in others). A main pedagogical principle is place-based education, meaning the students are to learn about where they live and go to school. One group, with the theme of orienteering, went for a walk around the block. When they stepped outside, the teacher, a burly fellow with thick arms teaching gym or physical education, asked them which directions were north, east, etc. I added and he agreed, what direction are the clouds coming from? and he added, and that means the direction of the storm—all central to moment and place.

[Place-based education is] local, and it’s connected to students in a way that they can identify with. It’s either a problem in their community or an event that’s happening, or it could be a geological phenomenon. But it’s something that they’re familiar with….so it means something to them. And then we ask questions about it.

—Cay Graig, Vermont teacher

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After the walk —perfect for me because it shows the East-side neighborhood, typically deteriorated—they built something inside that I failed to locate and photograph.

Another teacher dealt with garbage, putting on the board 3 key questions: what happens to our garbage, where does it go, and what does it mean to throw it away? She had them write in their notebooks, and then read from them. Later she showed them an effecting movie about garbage.

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The school runs kindergarten thru 5th, in 3 groups, something like kindergarten, 1-2-3, and 4-5. One teacher wears a hijab, about 1/3 the other teachers are black. Amanda, now softened toward me, not overseeing me as she did at our first location, the playground, and apparently assured I will do the school well, is a cofounder. I promised to send her a selection before I post, to make sure no kids whose parents refused permission are included.

Upon entering I noticed immediately two things: pizza for lunch and the policy of choices rather than self-control. The latter came up when a teacher in a contentious situation, rather than preaching self-control, reminded the student that he had choices. This reflected a conversation with my dear friends, Anne and Fred, when Anne advocated the choices approach. A good principle to keep in mind—with one’s self as well as others.

Because Thanksgiving was later in the week, let us think about Native Americans

Other observations: the art teacher showed them drawings of Indian language symbols in the context of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. (I wonder what spin they’d put on the traditional Thanksgiving story, probably a more accurate one.) Water bottles with names were in many rooms, presumably an effort to teach conservation. On my second pass at the bottles I photographed them with neighboring houses in the background. Often I used my Canon camera’s pullout viewfinder so I could hold the camera at my waist level, thereby distracting the children so they noticed me less.

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Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say ‘no’ to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.

—Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Now the big story of that event, altho minor in the grand picture (too bad that I have no photos), this meant a great deal to me: wind. Gusting to more than 50 mph, swiveling between south and north, it blew me to the school, but ferociously resisted me on my little pedal machine (my folding bicycle) later when I tried to return home from the school. It nearly blew me over when I left the protection of a building and entered an intersection. I shifted down to the lowest gear to make headway against the tumultuous wind. Crackling, snapping, flaring, ripped-by-the-wind power lines forced a detour. I thought I might not make it without the intercession of either a divine being or someone like my neighbor Johnny with his huge truck. One block from the school, it blew over my bike when I stopped to photograph a recently burned house, stepping thru bags of what turned out to be shit to get a position. The wind-induced fall damaged my bike light needed in the dim, dank, afternoon darkness. Riding on the leeward side of buildings, on sidewalks, I achieved my objective: home. Thank god, humdilila. Outside my home I washed the shit off my boots and bike pedals and brought my bike inside.

My bike ride thru the wind might represent the school’s course thru the perils and challenges of troubled but perhaps recovering Detroit.

Down the street

Burnt house

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Boggs School website

Boggs School Facebook page

A story about the founding of the school

Place-based education

“The Boggs School Oral History Project: Linking Youth and Elders to the Past, Present and Future,” by Laura de Palma, December 2014

Children’s Voices, Dave Eggers Illustrates Stories by Elementary Schoolers,” by Maria Russo, December 2014

Detroit Walk-In Portrait Studio, a video about a photographic project at the school conducted by Corine Vermeulen, December 2014

New coalition on Detroit schools unveils its membership,” by Ann Zaniewski, December 2014

Activist Boggs honored for work toward social justice,” by Amy He, December 2014

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