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.

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 Chloƫ 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 Chloƫ 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 .