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.

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.