January 2011: I am preparing for my first real visit to Detroit, the city of my birth. I am a Californian, where I have been since age one when my parents packed me into a car to seek fame and fortune in LA. It is strange to be defined by something unknown but when asked if I am a "native" Californian, I answer, "No, I was born in Detroit." It seems time to investigate what that means. So I have come "home" on my birthday to photograph Detroit.

This blog is part of an accompanying journal about the project.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Holidays in Detroit: Part Two

From the Detroit News:
Shedding light on Hanukkah customs
: Jews and others celebrate downtown as holiday begins

From the Huffington Post/Detroit:

Kwanzaa Detroit 2011: Events Celebrate Holiday's 7 Values

With this, narrated by MAYA ANGELOU, one of my favorite authors (and whose poem I used in my first book, LIFE DOESN'T FRIGHTEN ME):

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Holidays in Detroit

At this time of year, super sweet music abounds, shoppers cram the stores as economic levels are determined by how may shopped on Black Friday and up until Christmas eve, and we gather together for the many holidays of the season. Family. Friends. Generosity. Community. All present now. From absolute elation to unmitigated depression, the season calls out and so do we.

I am not now in Detroit, my birth city, but home in LA freezing at 60+ degrees. From a call placed today to Detroit, I hear that Detroit today was "mild," a term certainly relative to a Southern Californian.

Although last winter in Detroit at the time of my first visit was startlingly cold for me, it is to that first experience that I have returned as I think about the holidays and prepare my holiday greeting.

I want to share Detroit this year with all of my friends, represented by an image that I love and that I captured last January: a view across Ferry Street in historic midtown, with its older houses now being repurposed and full of the hope and energy that signifies a rebound. I so want to others to know about this complex and beautiful city for there are many and equally as beautiful images if not in the traditional sense but that speak of effort, personality, and determination. Detroit has taught me a lot already and I know it will do far more in the succeeding years.

A good, safe, and fruitful holiday wish for Detroit and for us all.

Sara Jane Boyers

And btw, love this Detroit News article about historic xmas activities in Detroit:
Christmas traditions in Old Detroit: Pigeon pie, horse racing, tapers on trees

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Los Angeles/Detroit

Wilshire Theater, Santa Monica November 2011

It is the end of November and I have not been able to make it back to Detroit yet. Too little money for a major trip at present. Too much to think about before I return. Thankfully, so many images to continue to review and print. I am doing that now.

While working on the photographs and putting them into a context for at least Issues Two and Three of the magcloud musings and thinking of some crowd-source funding, still a photographer, I drive around Los Angeles. And because I keep the ever-present little Leica D-Lux5 in the car for the occasional addition to the GRIDLOCK series, I see and I shoot.

After three trips to Detroit, finding the energy and rebirth but unable to filter out the empty storefronts and boarded up houses, Detroit resonates with me wherever I drive in LA. Even in the more affluent sections, I cannot help but note the changes that our American economy has wrought even upon this most magical and strangest of cities, my home. Permanency has never been LA's strong point - earthquakes and a culture of the new has taken care of that - but with a now better educated eye, the vacancies and cultural changes - perhaps movie theatres are now a thing of the past as industries change - I see portentous
signs that it would pay us to notice.

Thus out here it behooves us to also be interested and involved in what is truly happening in Detroit for, even with the still bad economic woes, there is attention being paid to the people, what is being saved and what is being regenerated for the good. Let those lessons be absorbed and applied even out at the beach.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I am rethinking the project.

Planning to return to Detroit in October for the Fall, for the leaves, I am not ready. The time of non-focused exploration is at end. I have learned a lot, met inspiring individuals, entered into amazing buildings and made friends. It is time to figure out what Detroit means to me, how it is defining me, how to photograph it and by so doing, how I wish to define Detroit. This to do before I return.

Yesterday at my Italian study, the word arose: "ruminate" ("ruminare?" or "meditare?"). It is time to chew the cud, gather in the stories others have told me, dive into my own photographs and emotions. And yes, I would love to run in for a day or so to photograph my infant home with the leaves around it, the home becoming an iconic image for the project, but there is more to DETROIT: DEFINITION, far more than I anticipated before last January's first visit, and before I return again, perhaps still in fall to meet my seasonal goals, that is what I need to discover.

And for what I will miss, there is already a wonderful truth about the city for there are events - social, art and music-filled, symposia, design-oriented, neighborhood - always happening in Detroit. There are residents and a population always eager to rebuild the city all the while enjoying and working in it as it is now. I regret not returning so quickly for each time I am there, I am filled with hope.

In the interim, within even the devastated Eastside filled with orphaned or abandoned animals that can no longer be afforded good homes, there remains community, even if among the dogs themselves.

And then, when the dogs need more than just community, there is also help...

Detroit Dog Rescue http://www.detroitdogrescue.com/


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Two Cities

My parents would speak of Detroit during the war. Of the rations. Of a city where food was scare and they would travel over to Windsor, Canada for meat. Not much conversation and today, I wonder why or wonder what it was not what I was hearing. No one to tell me now.

Nevertheless, with only a few clues, I am curious about the relationship between the two cities. The two countries, touched by a river, a straight. People in Detroit today tell me of times when a small boat would simply land on the other side. Belle Isle is in the middle, easy for access even now

I made a mistake crossing back into the US border from Windsor in May by declaring when asked by US Border Patrol why I had traveled to Canada and responding that I traveled to Canada to "shoot' the Chinatowns. Luckily an agent with a sense of humor who asked how many Canadian Chinese I killed.

I am from a state, California, where the presence of another country, another people is a critical part of our culture. The Spaniards and Mexicans were here first. My parents made this history critical to my upbringing, pointing out the names of our land - Santa Monica. Palos Verdes. Los Angeles. San Bernardino. Our field trips were to the missions and my own elementary school was the third oldest in LAUSD, on historic Spanish land grant property and where we donned homemade mantillas and wide skirts in May to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. How then did the Mid-West, especially Detroit, approach, then and now, their proximity and no doubt symbiotic relationship to another country? And how does that factor into each city's existence today? I was told, unchecked, that Windsor Canada, perhaps because of its proximity and dependence upon Detroit, is one of the poorest regions of Canada.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Urban Gardening

While going through my "summer" pics, a majority of them about the urban gardening movement in all of its configurations, I noted this article today about the downside: the city at times getting in the way. There is always a balance between individual contribution and legislatation designed to protect citizenry but that can get in the way when something new and innovative is in process.

From what I have seen so far in Detroit, urban gardening while perhaps not the answer for a major economic shift, is at least a strong source for community effort.

From Grist: http://www.grist.org/urban-agriculture/2011-09-20-urban-gardener-memphis
Another urban garden bites the dust.

Oak Park Woman Faces 93-Days in Jail For Planting Vegetable Garden: MyFoxDETROIT.com

Internet Buzz: Concept of Jail Time for Growing a Vegetable Garden : MyFoxDETROIT.com
On July 27th, the homeowner was cleared of all charges but only after the news becoming viral and protests.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer In The City

Compuware Downtown Community Garden, designed by Kenneth Weikal & Beth Hagenbuch

or the end of it, Labor Day weekend... and it is cold from the moment I am here, arriving before dawn on the redeye on Sunday morning 4 September. I had not been able to make "summer" before with my exhibition up so Labor Day seemed the time. Labor Day in the midWest and the East has more meaning than for a Southern Californian for it quite truly signals the end of a season of warmth. With its celebration, the city comes alive. And even with a dramatic seasonal announcement - thunderstorms closing down football at the U of Mich on Saturday night for the very first time and trees down with resultant power outages - Detroit in fact was jumping.

Major action was at Hart Plaza, the end of Woodward - the US's first paved boulevard - and the end of the country as well for Detroit is a border town and geographically unique as the only American city where, across the river, Canada is south of the United States. The annual Jazz Fest produced four full days of live music from Hart Plaza to Campus Martius. On Monday, an amazing number of Southeast Michigan union members from the UAW to electrical workers to teachers and government employees marched down Woodward for the well attended annual Labor Day Parade with the added benefit of a rousing address by President Obama. Their message in these troubled times: Jobs. Jobs. And more Jobs. The President heard them loud and clear.
Even without all of the people, Hart Plaza is a draw with its view to the river, the steps to the Riverfront, the fountain and best, public art that is internationally known. This includes Robert Graham's "Joe Louis Fist;" "Transcending," an arch commissioned by the Michigan Labor Legacy Project and funded solely through donations from union members without the aid of public or corporate money,designed to celebrate the history and contributions of labor (http://www.thedetroiter.com/site/laborpage.html); and the Underground Railroad Project, (actually twin sculptures, the second residing across the river in Windsor CAN) to commemorate Detroit's significant participation in helping slaves escape to freedom in the mid-1800s.(more on Ed Dwight's -the sculptor -pages http://www.eddwight.com/public_art/underground_railroads/index.htm ). I was told of an Underground Railroad Museum that I plan to visit on the next trip .

The trip re-adjusted with the weather, seemingly a mid-West condition that reminds my of my husband's memories of Chicago where Spring and Summer come and go so quickly. Thus Saturday before I arrived, the temperature was in the 90s before the thunderstorms and Tuesday, 6th of September, the weatherman advises to "pull out those parkas."

Luckily, even with the oft rainy weather or inclement skies, I wandered through urban gardens bursting with summer fruit and flowers or readying Fall planting. There are many greening programs in the city and I photographed the urban business-sponsored Compuware community garden in the shadow of the Book Cadillac; established non-profits (Earthworks Urban Farm, run by the Capuchin Frères); the Brush Park Community Organic Garden; in midtown, the North Cass Community Garden and the tenant-inspired citizen garden in front of the West Will Apartments, just down the block from the gated North Cass; the block effort by HushHouse Detroit in NorthwestGoldberg; to the Penrose ArtHouse & Art Garden, again designed by land planners/landscape architects Kenneth Weikal & Beth Hagenbuch for their non-profit, Growtown.Org, that created, in collaboration with Sam Thomas of Starr Development, a community space for Penrose Village Detroit, lovely modular homes in a forgotten neighborhood (E of Woodward, W of John R and 7 Mile) that attract and provide place for community youth to gather to create art and invest in agriculture and community effort, perhaps for life.

More on this in a following post.

West Will Apartments Garden

For now, as I start to review my photographs, it was lovely to end the visit with a chat
at the Fisher Building with a local preservationist and architectural aficionado, Mark Armitage, who is actively producing and filming a series of public/cable television programs on the buildings and people of Detroit.

There are hidden treasures in Detroit, the people at the very least but certainly as well the buildings, land and energy that depict a city working hard to preserve what is there and create a structure anew. It was a good trip.

Delta Airlines has graciously provided me with an incredible sunset view for my return trip home.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


In preparation for my quick Labor Day visit, finally I am going through the May/Spring photos that I have not had time to review in the press of my solo show and other deadlines this summer. So Detroit's deadline is now.

And now in review as I try to document the new, as I hope to preserve the dignity and spirit that I can see is there and that will be the primary factor for Detroit's revival ... I am stopped. Stopped by the visions that I forgot and that I captured. Stopped by the ruin of St. Agnes Church and School. Historic - that of Rosa Parks but now abandoned. Books on the floor. Left.

If I, a visitor only, am left so breathless and shocked how can those in this city live everyday with this? Visually so appealing, I can understand the photographers who want to capture this always for, so do I. A photographer's dream and a city's nightmare. A writer's nightmare as well and that is also what I am.

I know I'll snap out of this and luckily, it is Detroit this coming weekend that will pull me back from this abyss for, in Detroit, I will also see life. I will see the people. I will see new growth. I will understand how things can change. But here alone in the night, with these images, I can only see the despair.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Deconstructing Detroit

A new video with the premise that for the same cost as demolition, the abandoned houses of Detroit can be deconstructed and saved, earning approximately $40,000 for resale of the salvaged materials and the major benefit of putting people to work.

With experience photographing the unique repurposing of airplane parts into residence (the 747 WING HOUSE, comprised of parts of a deconstructed Boeing 747), how can I not be fascinated by this! Cannot wait to investigate this further.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting Ready for Detroit/Labor Day

Gardella Furniture Corner, at Chene & Gratiot ©Copyright 2011 Sara Jane Boyers

Finding out what's going on and, where to go and... a lot more! Starting a list here (to be added to):

Eat Detroit - chatting about markets (waiting for a Whole Foods but... in the meantime)
Faded Detroit - quick but informative posts about the D
Forgotten Detroit - "musings on ruins and society"... love the August 12th musing on European ruin parks (Kloster Eldena)
The Night Train - a blog about Metro Detroit history

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Projects and Projects

FIRST: starting to get ready to return to Detroit, Labor Day Weekend, my "summer" visit. While it is true that Labor Day is often considered the start of Fall, Detroit friends assure me that the warmth is still there, the flowers should still be up and best yet, there will be people in all of the streets, and not just for the Jazz Festival. This is what I seek: a city that IS vibrant, even while it rebuilds.

And "rebuilds" seems to be the operative word today as papers fill not with stories of decay but with stories of enterprise and community effort. I count myself lucky to be experiencing the city at such a time.

Just this past week: DETROIT COULD BE THE NEXT BIG STARTUP CITY/Business Insider
"Many have written the Motor City off for dead. But three key figures from, of all things, the world of basketball give me hope that the city will reemerge as a powerhouse for innovation and new high-growth startups.

Would be interested in responses from those actually in Detroit to this.

SECOND: Even as I gather these articles, go through, finally, my photographs from May and create the second issue of DETROIT: DEFINITION: THE MAGAZINE, I am immersed in my current exhibition in Los Angeles, FINDING CHINATOWN, and absolutely delighted with the critical recognition this decade-long project is getting! From yesterday's Los Angeles Times, an almost half-page art review.

Friday, August 5, 2011

From and soon Back to Detroit, finally!

While still busy with my FINDING CHINATOWN exhibition - two walk-thru's tomorrow - I am back to printing Detroit from Visit TWO in May, creating Issue Two of DETROIT: DEFINITION and planning Visit THREE, now scheduled over Labor Day weekend for a few days (Summer), including Detroit's Annual Jazz Festival, DETROIT JAZZ FEST.

Among the prints are some from those moments when Detroit comes together. Below: from a Saturday at Eastern Market and the Flower Fair in May.

Another major part of Detroit; The music. Music is in my blood and my past from years in the music industry. In Detroit, it also brings everyone together and when I see this, it reaffirms that this IS a city that can join and go forward, contradictory to so much heard outside.

So, thanks to Detroit Nation that often keeps me up to date, here is a terrific musical interlude from Larry Callahan & the Selected Of God Choir, Lose Yourself, expanding the work the choir did in the SuperBowl Chrysler commercial, Eminem's "Imported from Detroit". I've already bought this, sales to benefit three Detroit Charities, – Abayomi Community Development Corporation, the Yunion mentoring service (will find contact here soon), and Robert S. Shumake Scholarship Relays, "a premier class A track and field competition for high school students across the nation. Its unique model is unprecedented in that it has a dual focus. The Shumake Scholarship Relay competition highlights both athletic ability and academic achievement. Prizes are awarded to the athlete on each team with the highest grade point average, teams with the highest score at the end of the meet and athletes who place 1st through 8th."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

FINDING CHINATOWN at Craig Krull Gallery (& in Windsor CAN)

My decade-long photographic project, FINDING CHINATOWN, opened last night at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, CA. The opening was packed and the worked looked terrific, once I was able to get over my anxiety of this, my first solo show.

Working on the project has aided me immeasurably as I photograph in Detroit for FINDING CHINATOWN has honed my eye in how to capture community, and Detroit is definitely comprised of many communities. It is a very different project as well for in the Chinatowns, I so often walked alone, without preparatory research nor many conversations. Detroit requires a different interaction, a different preparation, some that challenges me but then, there is an edge that attracts me and is infiltrating my imagery that I seems to need in this next stage of my work.

Now, with a major deadline for FINDING CHINATOWN almost done - still more "walk-throughs" and press - I look forward to returning to Detroit, not only physically to photograph more, but here, now, in my studio to take the time since I was last there, finally review and reflect upon what I have already photographed and understand where I am and how I will go forward.

Below: several images from May's vist, fittingly, from Windsor's small remaining Chinatown block:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Last Shuttle Launch

Photo Courtesy of NASA
I grew up in the era of space launch, an achievement and industry that also fed my Southern California existence.

My childhood on the westside of Los Angeles, while now known for it's high-priced living, was that of living among the engineers and scientists working at Douglas, Rand, Lockheed and the myriad of aerospace and flight industries who populated the Southern California landscape. One of my parent's best friends was the inventor of the atomic clock and evenings spent in his presence were always memorable, one time sitting with him on the bench of a Hammond Company organ, shipped to him by Hammond to just "tinker" around.

Los Angeles was then dependant on just two main industries: aerospace and movies. They both offered employment to thousands/millions(?) of residents and brought others to this land. With the loss of aerospace, other business fills part of the gap but it continues to be an adjustment, not dissimilar to that with which my other hometown, Detroit, has struggled in order to evolve from its one-industry mode to an attractive destination for business and jobs.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 14th - Detroit: A Brooklyn Case Study

I earlier posted about the SUPERFRONT exhibit and conference, DETROIT: A BROOKLYN CASE STUDY, when it was installed in Los Angelers. Curated by Chloë Bass and MitchMcEwen, it is a wonderfully inventive, piercing and thought-provoking look not only at the issues of Detroit but those facing other urban areas.

The exhibition and discussions are finally coming to Detroit. I recommend this heartily!

SUPERFRONT is proud to announce that DETROIT: A BROOKLYN CASE STUDY opens at Marygrove College Thursday July 14

The exhibit includes works by: Chloë Bass, Dana Bell, Brent Birnbaum, Brennan Buck, Lynn Cazabon, Sara Conde, Philip Dembinski, Jill Desimini, David Freeland, David Karle, Erin Kasimow, Amanda Matles, Juan Alberto Negroni, Paper Tiger TV, Kaleena Quinn, Jon Stevens, Anusha Venkataraman, Margi Weir, Audra Wolowiec and others.

Within this exhibit across art, architecture, and urban documentary, SUPERFRONT also presents the 25 Inch RFP (Request for Proposals) – results from an international call to develop new construction at SUPERFRONT’s micro property in Detroit. Last fall SUPERFRONT invited artists and architects to propose a buildable project for 25 square inches of Detroit, located at 13949 Evergreen Rd, Detroit, Michigan, purchased in partnership with LOVELAND micro real estate. The winning entry, LIGHT UP! by Ellen E. Donnelly and David Karle, will be exhibited for the opening night only, before being installed at Evergreen Rd. The selecting jury for the 25 inch proposals included Paul Amitai (New York), Andrea Bauza Hernandez (San Juan), Christina Heximer (Detroit), Jerry Paffendorf (Detroit), and Craig L. Wilkins, PhD AIA, ARA, (Detroit).

DETROIT: A BROOKLYN CASE STUDY opens July 14, with a reception from 5:00 – 7:30 PM. The exhibit will remain on view through August 26, 2011.

DETROIT: A BROOKLYN CASE STUDY | July 14 – August 26, 2011 | 8425 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, MI 48221

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cool Detroiters

From a post on Detroit Nation, a terrific group of Detroit ex-Pats who love their city and have been organizing meetings and visits to "give back:"

This cool Flash Mob scene at Detroit River Days by Michigan BlueCrossBlueShield employess, sporting t-shirts with "At home in the D."

Michigan Blue Cross Flash Mob at Detroit River Days

The music "beeKoo Mix" by Laswell http://ccmixter.org/files/lazztunes07/12238

Saturday, June 18, 2011

So Many Projects, So Little Time

It is a month tomorrow since I returned from my second visit to Detroit, the spring trip where I discovered that "spring" in the MidWest is not quite what I expected: cold and rainy with only the beginning - but what a beginning! - of flowers sprouting, alternating with the sense of summer's hot, humid days. Actually liked them both except when I was over in Windsor, Canada photographing for the Finding Chinatowns project and it was 44 degrees, windy and raining. My Southern California thin skin was throbbing with the painful cold and, I've learned, again, that when one returns across a border and is asked what one was doing in a foreign country, NOT to say that I was "shooting!" Luckily a border agent with a sense of humor who asked me how many people I killed. "Photographing," Sara, not "shooting." I remember this in airports but here, hmmmmm....

But it is a month and I've not even had a moment to look through my photographs from the trip for it has been so very - wonderfully - busy on my two other ongoing projects: readying for the solo show this summer on FINDING CHINATOWNS and meeting several deadlines on the continuing project photographing and documenting in part the construction of the incredible 747 Wing House almost finished at the top of Malibu. A lot of what I am learning on that house, especially in terms of the complexity of shooting architecture, is being applied to my work in Detroit for Detroit is about buildings, the environment and those who pass through them. Each time I visit, I find that the challenges of place relate back to what is happening there. In fact, cannot wait until I can get into these spring pics, hopefully this next week now that I have the exhibition and printing in production.

In the interim, this past Thursday, 16 June, Sam Lubell of the Architect's Newspaper has written up and published in the A/N Blog a "Sneak Peek" of the 747 Wing House, using some of my photographs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Hub

Detroit is crawling with terrific media. In just these past few months stories from, of course, the venerable Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and best of all, the online news blogs and radio including The Detroit Hub, Model D and WEDT (101.9fm), an active NPR station out of Wayne State University. From a variety of perspectives, catching up with the real news has so changed the view of this city from the caricature depicted outside to that of a vibrant city filled with character, will and strength within.

From just this morning rummaging around The Urban News Hub, both present and past:

and best of all, today
17 June 2011 DEAR WORLD: SMART KIDS LIVE IN DETROIT .... JUST SO YOU KNOW reporting on the number of terrific, "smart" college-going kids who just are graduating from the Detroit Public Schools.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kunsthalle Detroit

With a strong background in contemporary art, I absolutely applaud yet another terrific sign of Detroit's ascension again: the opening of the Kunsthalle Detroit http://www.kunsthalle-detroit.org/#!

In a neighborhood west of Wayne State, Kunsthalle Detroit is starting off with a spectacular exhibition of some of the more prominent video artists. Not all from Detroit yet the show is making a statement for this city where so many artists are flocking, listening no doubt to Patti Smith (see Times blog below), as well as their own always avant-garde instincts. Detroit's combination of an easier cost of living for always financially-strapped artists while being a place where the history, amazing and tough, combined with aestheitc perception and expression provides a symbiotic fertile ground for innovation and growth.

In her Times blog, "Go to Detroit, Young People," Detroit writer Karen Dybis quotes David Byrne: "The skies here are bigger than in New York."

I love periodically returning to the city at this time and historically, wasn't this a similar experience in those early days of Ford and others that too provided a growth moment - a long moment - for this city? It's happening again.

Check out the Kunsthalle's FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kunsthalle-Detroit/108340745867164

And the video of the opening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em3iCTBnol4

some other press on the Kunsthalle:
New museum, Kunsthalle Detroit, to open exhibition space

Video art museum takes shine to Detroit's gritty charm

Art museum to open in rough section of Detroit

A New Cultural Light in Detroit

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reclaiming the industrial waterfront

The riverview in Detroit is incredibly beautiful with the flowing Detroit River, a bridge to Belle Isle, and the across river view of Windsor, Canada, the only point in the United States where Canada is south. The riverfront was formerly filled with industrial buildings but now a public walkway is developed and even during my rainy Spring visit, while at the Hoedown in Hart Plaza, I looked down on so many on promenade.

So I love this news from the Architect's Newspaper blog:
Now Docking: Detroit's evolving waterfront gets new terminal building.

Detroit is filled with significant architecture and it looks like this little building will add to the mix.

An organization worth checking out, one bringing Detroiters already and hopefully a burgeoning tourism to Detroit: The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, responsible already for the three-mile walkway. http://www.detroitriverfront.org/ and the Dequindre Cut Greenway, an urban recreational path.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

American Pie

A friend passed along this video made in Grand Rapids in response to those who also call it a "dying city."


My entry into "career" life started with Don McLean's "American Pie," released by United Artists just days after I started work there. It's theme, even after 40 years, is again significant in the narrative of our lives for just back from my second visit to Detroit, I can see the same spirit and joy in this great midwestern city.

From Detroit's Annual Downtown Hoedown 2011, Saturday 14 May 2011.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Magazine Up

The first issue of DETROIT: DEFINITION, A WORK IN PROGRESS is published and available at the POD site, Magcloud. www.sarajaneboyers.magcloud.com

This is the first in a series of seasonal "reports" about my photographic exploration of Detroit, the city of my birth. I will return each season over the next year and one-half.

I've just returned from the second visit, "Spring," and am sorting through pics, thoughts and experience. Cannot wait for summer!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Back in Detroit

In Detroit already for 4 1/2 days. So busy I haven't yet posted.

On the first afternoon, last Thursday 12 May after a very early morning flight into unseasonably hot and muggy Detroit, a visit to Belle Isle at dusk seemed the thing to do. I was far from alone in that thought.

On the drive toward the western point: scenes seemingly sprung from Seurat's Grande Jatte. Electric green lawn descending down past the ducks and geese to the river. As the sun lowers, the dual points of Detroit downtown and Windsor, Canada narrow the straight in a lovely gray silhouette.

I drive the Island twice at least, stopping to watch the families headed over the bridge to picnic at the end of the day, then on a known section of the circular drive where are parked rows of cars with trunks open and groups of teens lounging in/leaning against each, their gaze more inward to the other cars than perhaps to the view, reminiscent of my youth cruising Hollywood Boulevard (never telling my parents) with girlfriends in the yellow convertible GTO.

The weather has now turned what I thought was unseaonably cold and rainy and yet all of this is Detroit in May. Notwithstanding, the streets now busier, tulips even in front of the more sketchier home, and on the weekend both at the Eastern Market with its annual flower day/weekend and at the confluence of the annual Hoedown, the largest free country music festival in the nation, and the Tigers at home, a diverse and fun crowd on the streets. More to come...

Just discovered, from last September's Detroit Free Press, a magical series on Belle Isle, its beauty and its concerns and those who are fighting against invasive species while inviting even greater exploration of the wonders of this park, larger than NYC's Central Park:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother in Detroit

My friend and fellow photographer, Aline Smithson, asked us to send in a photograph of our mothers to celebrate today, Mother's Day 2011, on her terrific LENSCRATCH blog.

Immersed in my magazine creation, I could only think of this photograph of my mother. I am guessing is from December 1944, only a couple of months after her marriage to my father and her move to Detroit to be with him. The notation looks like it is 1944/45 but I am assuming it was '44 since she looks quite thin and if it were December of '45, I would almost be born and she would be looking very pregnant.

She is wearing my favorite pin, a '40s Alfred Philippe Trifari Jelly Belly Frog, that she gave me decades ago and that I wear to this day.

The window from which she is looking out is not the Pinehurst home. Possibly the address at 3444 Second Avenue? She looks delighted to be in Detroit.

When it comes down to it, Mother's Day reminds us that we are full of hope and thoughts about the future and how we accomplish that to which we aspire. For what is the birth of a child, if not a moment of dreams? The concept of "rebirth" speaks to renewal and a fresh new life. Detroit is in this stage.

I am looking forward to returning there at the end of this coming week.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Great Quote

Working on a magcloud magazine, a progress "report" of sorts with photographs from my first visit to Detroit. It is helping me define the work as I plan my second visit in two weeks! Over HoeDown weekend. Who knew there was a country music festival in Detroit?

Finding more pics that I like but also realizing how much I need to return and focus in depth where I have already been almost before I continue the journey.

Fell in love with Grace Lee Boggs quote from her 14 April 2011 interview on Democracy Now: "I think it’s very difficult for someone who doesn’t live in Detroit to say you can look at a vacant lot and, instead of seeing devastation, see hope ...see the opportunity to grow your own food, see an opportunity to give young people a sense of process, that’s very difficult in the city, that the vacant lot represents the possibilities for a cultural revolution."

At 95 she's got a new book out:

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Motor City/Gridlock Wanting

I've been engaged in a longterm project, GRIDLOCK, stuck in traffic on the freeways and highways primarily of Los Angeles although gridlock is not unique to LA. Shooting from within the car with my little Leica D-Lux 5 (formerly 3) as I ride the clutch, hoping to catch that elusive moment when everyday traffic turns into something wonderful.

Why shouldn't I apply this to Detroit? ... .although it may not be about traffic, of which there is little (and do I mourn this? hmm.... ) is it about moments that perhaps I shouldn't get out of the car, or cannot. A few pics from January, cold and at first forbidding although that did quickly change. I rather like the elusive, grainy slightly out-of-focus/no tripod feeling with light reflecting off the dirty icy car window as I navigate the city streets.

And the highways ...

And even the bikeways...

And then, at times, there is an abstraction of form that gives weight to what I see, leading back to GRIDLOCK.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Finding More

Wandering through my prints with this almost three month perspective.

Above, 3444 Second Avenue, noted in some sort of application I had found among my father's ephemera as the first residence for my parents when first married in the mid '40s, before they bought the Pinehurst home. A brick building on the way to downtown, the only building that remains on the east side of the block.

I was there with Dan Seybold, the photographer/urban explorer who toured me around one day in January. Dan was also the guide for Andrew Moore for his project, DETROIT DISASSEMBLED. No one on the streets around here, except one lone man with his story of bad luck. A former auto worker like so many, reduced to asking for a handout. Dan chatted with him while I caught a couple of shots of the facade of this locked apartment house.

I have to deal with how to photograph with people around me. It makes me self-conscious and conscious as well of the time spent for my style is to wander silent and alone, my senses open to the light, the sound; something that at that moment catches my interest.

This is a different project and the circumstances of the journey - both from safety, from not knowing where to go, from the sometime necessity of company or guide - are making me realize that I cannot expect that I will capture what it is I want for a while. That said, I'll just go on photographing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And the crash turned into a benefit...

For had I not had the disk crash, I may not have gone back into my files so quickly. In that process now, several months from January's trip and looking toward May, I am discovering more that I want to print, understanding the city more even from that first quick visit. Yet I am also struck again by the bleakness of a city in the despair of the times. In the despair of the winter.

The emptiness of a declining population and the sparse vistas of a winter environment with a population, especially one with a high rate of poverty, inside combines to raise the level of Detroit's drama.

That said, the year is moving seasonally toward renewal and in my next trip in May, I anticipate flowers and ... more people plus the growing sense that incredibly creative proposals and already working ideas are happening there. I just cannot wait to capture these coming moments of growth and light.

And, just to see how another Detroit native has returned home and sees the city, I absolutely love Allee Willis' blogs about her early April trip to Detroit, her hometown, as part of the 3rd Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference, where Seth Beattie, founder of the conference and program manager at the [Cleveland] Community Partnership for Arts and Culture says:

“In a city like Cleveland or Detroit, what we typically have seen or framed as a real disadvantage or problem in these communities (vacant housing, land and warehouses) actually is affording artists an opportunity to be creative and to go out and do something like the Heidelberg Project. ... An artist living in New York likely will not be able to experiment and open a gallery or launch a community arts project in a vacant parcel because there's such a scarcity of land... . Collectively, we in the industrial Midwest have things in our communities in which artists can carry out there work. There are specific amenities we have compared to newer cities. ...

Industrial cities in the U.S have strong arts and culture sectors because the arts were heavily endowed at the turn of the century, largely by philanthropists who'd made their fortunes in industries. That offers artists employment opportunities and a strong base of arts supporters .... [plus] very affordable access to space that allows artists to be creative and use their imaginations in the ways they live their lives."

Wish I could have gone to this but seeing the upcoming lineup of events in Detroit, know that I'll not be missing out on the opportunity to be there, right at this key time in the next year or so, to watch my home city rise.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Back in Step

I would have started the Detroit project at a better time but it was important to start on my birthday for this is a project that is inspired by my personal history and it felt right to do so.

The timing was however unfortunate in that my birth date was in the middle of an intense period of several ongoing projects; the three photo/art festivals in Los Angeles (I rushed from one, to Detroit, then back to another); the Chinese New Year celebration which I always photograph and thereafter write my quarterly newsletter; two deadlines for the continuing Chinatown project, FINDING CHINATOWNS, that I am preparing to exhibit this summer here in LA; and then, the curation and last evening's exhibition of PACIFIC RESONANCE, a conceptual open-air image-projection project for the Month of Photography LA (MOPLA) showcasing the work of seven noted Los Angeles photographers with original music composed and recorded by the well known LA avant-garde cellist, Michael Intriere.

An incredible evening but today, the day after and one month since my last Detroit post, I am eager to return to DETROIT: DEFINITION. One concern: in the midst of our rains (not Detroit winter weather for sure but for LA, quite extraordinary), an electrical blackout took out several external drives, especially the one with my Detroit work. I have the underlying raw camera files but all of my printed work was destroyed and I have to start and print again. Since I had delayed formal thank you's which were to include some early prints to those in Detroit who were so gracious to allow me into their lives, communities and businesses, and have been deadlining so since then, I was devastated and hope to get most of this out this week. In so doing the time delay does have a small benefit, allowing some sense of perspective from the emotion of that first visit.

Starting to plan the May trip and, in this long interim, Detroit is brimming with news, a lot more positive - a Whole Foods in midtown? - even amid the continuing economic setbacks. Have started to listen to the Craig Fahle Show on WDET. This past Monday, the 11th: a discussion of the return of Detroit's famed Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Although concerns remain about the DSO's longterm financial future, I look forward to hearing them hopefully in May. During the conversation, related to the DSO and other events in downtown Detroit: will those from the suburbs come into the city?

Living in Los Angeles where what is "downtown," and who will go there has been a constant albeit for different reasons - huge traffic gridlock (my other long-term project!) in LA - I am again struck by similarities between my home and my home city and yet how these parallels at the same time can starkly highlight their differences.

In March in LA, I attended SUPERFRONT LA'S Seminar DETROIT: A BROOKLYN CASE STUDY. Curated by Chloë Bass + Mitch McEwen, the exhibition and workshop consider Detroit "both as a specific city and as a set of circumstances." Speakers were urban planners, architects, social engineers speaking to some of the issues and solutions that have arisen in Detroit and that can be applied to other urban areas as well as urban experience elsewhere that may be applied to Detroit as the city itself reforms. While most participants in the project are not from Detroit and in fact, until a few days prior to the workshop both Chloë and Mitch had not been in Detroit (love their introductory video), a sharp and piercing discussion about the need for smaller cities and how to deal with land and infrastructure in one, such as Detroit and others, where the urbanization and sprawl has left bleak areas of fallow land and rusted pipelines, sewers and urban decay. The historic traditional land division (a left over from Civil War times) needs to be reinvented to allow for something other than the squared off blocks, reforming land.

Urban agriculture and green belts where once there was vacancy and decay again is posited as a significant part of any proposals. From the same April 11th Craig Fahle Show, positing the question of a public/private partnership for a vineyard project on Belle Isle.

Superfront has purchased a micro property (25 square inches) in Detroit through the LOVELAND project that seeks to use the vehicle of ownership as a personal reinvestment tool for the city. With this space, they have sought requests for proposals for the project, again adding the creative imaginations of many coming from the arts and architecture, environmental and urban planning factions to continue a discussion that is really about what this 21st century will be. In Los Angeles, models for that RPF are in exhibition at SUPERFRONT LA through May 20th, located at the Pacific Design Center (Blue Building SteB208).
Plans are being made to bring the exhibit to Detroit this summer and I am presently reading SUPERFRONT's book on the project .