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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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Excerpts from my journal during a 2 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late summer 2013

PHOTOS

September 6, 2013, Friday, Detroit

Very cool, high 40s, clear, still.

Yesterday [September 5] was primarily a long bike trip to Dearborn: in search of the New Yasmeen Café and Bakery and a bike store and possibly to touch in on the Arab community here. I succeeded in the first two, failed in the third. At the bakery I loaded up on stuffed grape leaves, Baba ghanoush, yogurt, and sweets. At the bike shop, Eddie’s where I’d been before, owned by a cigarette-smoking, short, older man, probably Arab (judging from the TV playing), I bought a bike bell and rear view mirror. A black man helped me install them. And told me about Slow Roll, the weekly bike parade thru Detroit that I hope to join some Monday evening. I felt in good company. He told me biking is way up, especially downtown, and folding bikes like mine are newly popular.

On this journey I am primarily a street photographer, not a photojournalist. I work randomly, spontaneously, without much planning, certainly with minimal contacts. Contrasting with photojournalism where initial design is more important, and research, and solidifying contacts.

I discovered the huge Ford Motor Company complex. World headquarters of Ford, the Henry Ford Centennial Library renamed for Ford which I visited, and nearby the Ford Museum complex which I once stopped in at but never entered. Maybe this time, including a Rouge River plant tour. (I recalled that Ellen, a Quaker who took my photo workshop at Friends General Conference many years ago, works or worked for Ford. I will try to contact her for an inside tour.)

The library is large, spacious, airy, with good views out to the green zones and the conflicting huge Ford headquarters, and features a partial second floor looking over much of the first. It exhibits mundane paintings, and a spectacular mural slightly resembling the USA . Well endowed, I am covetous of this museum, a counterpoint to the conventional image of an impoverished Detroit. Of course this is the town of Dearborn, cousin to Detroit, in many ways far better off—as Windsor Ontario Canada is to Detroit, just across the river.

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Mural in Ford library

The biking exhausted me, I am thankful for the cool weather. Cold at night. I believe the folding bike is less energy-efficient than a touring bike so I need to work harder to gain the same amount of distance. However, I am pleased with my bike, and consider bringing it to Ann Arbor this weekend when I visit Anne and Fred and Karen.

My photographic work is inch-by-inch, millimeter-by-millimeter. Perhaps yesterday’s main discovery was the Ford complex. Too bad it did not result in photos. Main work the day before was AW and Johnny, with photos showing AW. Today, who knows? The weekend, ditto. So it goes. As Gertrude Stein stated, “I write a little bit each day and in that way a lot gets written.”

Reflecting on my dream last night of exhibition failure I suspect the fear of not being shown is equivalent to what Primo Levi wrote about Auschwitz inmates—their nightmare that when released and home and safe, no one wanted to hear their stories.

A horrifying dream in which my photos apparently did not make it into a major exhibition, whereas the art work of “my partner” did. Mine were large, mounted on stiff board about 3 by 4 ft., in a box that resembled a bike box. I felt humiliated. Merging with this dream another in which a Black man chased me. I fled and hid in the cavernous exhibition space I just mentioned. And this dream melded into another that featured the death of a man. Others discovered his decaying, stinking body. Alex K, dressed as a priest, was to officiate at the funeral. He and I tried to squeeze out thru a narrow hole in the wall.

Working at my neighbor Gloria’s last evening (for the internet) she told me about her “grand baby” (now 10) who won a bike by diligently continuing her studies over the summer. Grandma Gloria pushed her so when the good news of the bike registered, her grand-daughter said, Grandma, you deserve this bike! At 7 years old she finally rode without training wheels, with the help of Gloria, but now, because of the bike’s complexity, she is again afraid to ride it. I offered to work with her.

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Gloria Milligan (photo from 2011)

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Jaina (photo from 2011)

I note in passing how obese many African-Americans are here. (Gloria is a clear exception, as are Johnny and AW.) More women than men. The food they eat—fatty, sugary, with little nutritional benefit—must play a gigantic role. Also depression and other effects of living under the gun of racism. Would they be slimmer if less oppressed? Is there a correlation between suffering and obesity? (Since I work every morning at McDonalds because of the internet connection and notice the plethora of adverts for fatty sugary food, I hope to make a series of photos to show this.)

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Karen’s house is working well for me. And the neighborhood, so far. More than on other trips I seem this time more tuned to crime, worried that I’ll be robbed or the house burgled. Last night as I drifted into sleep a loud sound startled me, probably a car horn. At first I thought, oh shit, someone’s breaking in! Gloria mentioned that Johnny is a sort of neighborhood watch. He might serve to dissuade local robbers. But what about my meanderings around the neighborhood? Say on a walk or bike ride. Will someone attack me? How would I nonviolently resist?

My (temporary) home in west Detroit

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George, my guide, informant, and driver in front of Karen’s house

I make the house my own in many ways: setting up my meditation space this morning with a candle and candle holder I found in the ante-room, ash tray to hold the incense, bow to the fake Xmas tree because I forgot to bring my midget Buddha, and sit on the hassock rather than zafu and stool in the front room. Or shitting. Or cooking delicious beans last night and eating breakfast at the dining room table where I write. Or visiting with Karen when she arrives late afternoon today.

I ponder how rapidly this house could self-destruct if abandoned. Paint peels, water creeps further in, plants erode structure, birds may enter, varmints as well, people even. Someone tosses a rock thru a window. Or sets fire to the garage. Before long the house is junk. Maybe someone attempts to clear it of furniture. Piles it up outside the house, a clear sign of abandonment as is so frequent in this neighborhood. I wonder if I should photograph the interiors of abandoned homes, a form of meditation. Or has this been done sufficiently? Surely with major buildings like the Michigan Central Train Station.

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In my neighborhood

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Henry Ford Centennial Library

Abandoned Houses: One Block in Detroit,” by Danny Wilcox-Frazier/Redux

 “Duggan neighborhood plan targets abandoned house, scrappers,” by Matt Helms [Duggan is a mayoral candidate.]

Investments in Detroit homes

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Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.

About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.

In several parts, with photos and videos.

PHOTOS

The mindful apply themselves; they don’t amuse themselves in any abode. Like swans flying from a lake, they abandon home after home.

—The Dhammapada, verse 91

July 3, 2010, Saturday, Detroit

Another day of much bike riding. This time thru the Arab Dearborn community, making a video as I scouted the store fronts from the Al Ameer restaurant (Al Ameer means prince in Arabic) to the truly wondrous New Yasmeen bakery. There also I videoed, thinking someone might stop me as I scanned the backs of customers waiting patiently for their turn at the deli bar, the bar itself in the background with its display of food. No one did. Even tho I tried this 3 times, thinking 4 times might test my luck. I asked, any magluba?, the delicious Palestinian upside down casserole. No, sorry. But one of the best chicken shuwarmas I’ve had, on a par with those in Ramallah, but smaller, and for $3.19. I ate it later, along with a fruit filled confection, sitting in the shade of a small tree near an abandoned industrial complex on Greenfield Ave.

Heading south, I found myself once again in the refinery district, this time knowing the scene better, videoing along the marathon expansion to process heavy or dirty tar sands oil. Thinking again that someone might interfere, I kept a 3rd eye out for security. Pausing in front of the main entrance, noticing security I think noticing me, I thought, this might be it. They’ll approach, ask, what are you doing? And I’ll say, either what I am doing, that is, fascinated by the industrial landscape, an independent photographer, here’s my card, or I’ll suggest an exchange, you explain to me why you’re asking and what the operation is, and I’ll explain why I’m photographing. However, I never had the opportunity—no one stopped me.

This has been a consistent experience in Detroit: no interruption of my photography.

From the industrial district along Jefferson to as near the Detroit River as I could. Finding a fishing area, meeting Jarvis who’s fished this region for 30 years, finding the fish disappearing, maybe the pollution, maybe the entrance of other species because of the opening of the st Lawrence seaway. And met a white fisher who asked me to ask the drilling crew what they were drilling for. They said, hiding something I’m sure, drilling on contract for a commercial firm, testing the soil and the water table. The fisher felt confident the commercial firm was the one searching for a suitable site for a new bridge.

I’d been curious about what prevents people from boating or swimming across the relatively narrow strait to reach the US or Canada. He said, it is heavily patrolled at night, and during the day someone would be noticed. I remain curious about this question.

Finally a stop in Cobo Conference Center for a much-needed 2nd crap of the day and a nap, this time interrupted by an obese young black man on security. The hall was filled with black women, some wearing wildly flamboyant hats. Excuse me sir, are you part of the conference? No? then you’ll have to leave. We can’t have people sleeping on the floor. One week earlier during the US Social Forum I’d have been allowed to sleep: a different clientele, a different milieu, a different attitude.

The group was Link, a black organization coordinating volunteer work.

Dropping off my bike where I rented it, Wheel House Detroit, I met Karen in front of the Renaissance Center, took in the exhibits at the relatively new Museum of Contemporary Art in the cultural district, dined at Cass Café, sharing our favorite salmon BLT (along with a garlic curry soup and sautéed spinach), and the movie.

Big night of dreaming: X had returned from India and offered to teach kids Indian crafts. Either she invited others and me or I knew about it. As I was about to join the group, seeing her for the first time in a long time, another young man entered as well. I was jealous of him, sensed he was her lover. Now, whether to join the group or not, watch her from a distance or up close?

Related to the movie Karen and I watched last evening, Ajami, in a second dream I was with a group of men shooting at other men in a graveyard. We all took cover behind concrete gravestones, shot at each other. I recall vividly firing at 2 men opposing me who each hid behind stones, they fired at me. I was worried, not panicked by this fighting, and had no idea, nor cared, what we were contesting.

And in a third dream I was with a group of mixed skin color and gender people honoring Howard Zinn. Someone narrating his life mentioned how linked he was with black people. As he or she spoke these words I looked at 2 black women friends, pointing to them or tapped them on the shoulder as if to say, he’s talking about you. One was particularly beautiful and I believe we kissed.

Karen hated Ajami, found it demeaning toward Arabs, even tho a joint production between an Israeli and a Palestinian. I partially shared her opinion but did not find the film troubling—on those grounds. Set in Jaffa, showing a form of gangsterism among the Palestinian population, revenge killing, drug dealing, families acting tribally, Karen thought this was the entirety of Arab experience depicted. The Israelis by contrast were also lethal but with some justification. One man killed an Arab thinking the Arab had murdered his brother.

Despite my reservations I felt the movie was very well acted and photographed, the story line was somewhat convoluted, using flashback to portray different versions of an incident, and the film was clearly bloody without redemption. My gripe would be more this: all suffering, no hope. I took the film more as an indictment against the general or overall Arab Jewish Israeli culture than targeting Arabs.

LINKS:

Arab Detroit

Arab American News

Photo Story: The Arab Community in Detroit

New Yasmeen Bakery

Ajami

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