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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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