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