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, January 20, 2012

Year-end Impressions/DayFIVE: 65 Years from Detroit

Day Five 2012 is my birthday, my 66th. Ironically, I am spending it reviewing LA photos from the '80s for a group show to open soon in Los Angeles. In the '80s, I had no emotional link to Detroit. I was in my '30s and not interested in my roots to a tenuous city where I had no family and spent only one year of non-verbal infancy. It now surprises me how little I knew of my birth city.

But since birthdays are about people, no matter how much I would like to avoid this in my photography, it feels important that this last "anniversary" reflection depicts them, the people of Detroit.

Detroit is a friendly city. Perhaps due to what they call "Mid-west values," but also just in the character of the residents, those whom I have contacted have given me amazing access to their homes, their businesses, their lives. They have shared stories of Detroit and of their trials and their dreams. Those whom I have met while photographing on the streets, at festivals or in neighborhoods have been open and willing to share favorite spots in their city, willing to share their lives as I do my work.

Before my first visit, I was told that as a single woman, carting expensive camera equipment, I could not walk Detroit streets alone. While there is crime in Detroit and a lot of desperation, and while I remain cautious in my work as I do in any urban city, I have encountered only curiosity and welcome from jobless citizens on the streets and have felt free walking all around.

It feels like the people of Detroit want their story to be told, but told from all sides. They know they've become a poster city for not all the right reasons but they also understand how they are not alone. What has been happening in Detroit in the 65 years since I left - perhaps my father one of the first to "go west, young man," but certainly in later decades others for reasons not only of Western opportunity but for escaping civic issues within - is happening elsewhere in the United States. What can save us is also listening to Detroit. Its citizens are aware of the pitfalls of too much "one-industry" focus, of civic governance out of control, of educational opportunity wasted. The right people for Detroit are already there. I am honored to have already met so many of them.

The Faust Family, owners of my original family home who have so graciously welcomed me into their lives.
Eric Jackson from Pinehurst, watching out for the neighborhood.

The many union members who chatted with me at the Labor Day Parade.
Those (including Daryl Howard above) in horticulture, bike repair & leadership programs at Earthworks Farm.
"J," who checks in on the Heidelberg Project when the artist is away.
Isabelle and her mother from further upstate who were having so much fun at the Hoedown.
Richard Harlan who is a fountain of Ford history at his Coneys in Highland Park.
Several of these marvelous kids at the Penrose Art Garden.
At Eastern Market on a market day.

Thanks to all of you (and many others) for making this first year of Detroit exploration - yes "definition" - for me and for Detroit what it has been.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Year-end Impressions/DayFOUR:Abstraction In A Desolate Space

The fourth day of my first visit to Detroit last year was my birthday and on that day I reported from not only that Thursday but the previous day's journey through the emotional urban landscape - the urban decay and abandonment - for which Detroit has been too well known. It was overwhelming and still is.

That said, one can learn from this landscape if one regards it not as "ruin porn" but, as did the photographer Andrew Moore, as a lesson - one of Ozymandius - that moves us cautiously upward and forward. I cannot deny that I am seduced by this and on my second visit, guided by the Detroit-based photographer, Dan Seybold, was able to capture one or two sights of this decay that horrified me but simultaneously allowed me entry into what was and what could ultimately become. If we recognize the art, then we can recognize what needs to be recovered.

St. Agnes' Catholic Church in New Center was such a visit. Abandoned. The parochial school of Rosa Parks and one I've before commented upon here. Shorn of defining characteristics but replete with emotion and spirit.

Rather than looking at these images with condemnation, today I see them as representing hope.

I do see the hope but even today, just found this article, originally posted in the Detroit Free Press this past December: http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2012/jan/01/churches-for-sale/

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Year-end Impressions/DayTHREE: Notwithstanding, there is always beauty

Street Scene/Fall in Indian Village

Much of what I have experienced so far in Detroit is the greater downtown area. At times life there seems vacant except for festivals but it is also is where the larger surge for commercial and residential renewal is happening.

Within Downtown and slightly farther out are also the historic Detroit neighborhoods. The suburbs. Still in Detroit although I continue to be amazed by those who do not consider themselves part of "Detroit," when they are. The names are intriguing (NOT in any geographical order here): Indian Village, Grosse Point, Northwest, Southwest, Eastside, NW Goldberg, Corktown. Mexican Town, Hamtramek. Boston Edison, Palmer Woods, Brush Park, Eastern Market, New Center, Midtown and Downtown.

I've traveled many of the above and probably others when I didn't even know where I was. Some sound like a developer's romantic dream. Others representative of an earlier pragmatism.

What I've found so far: there remains character to each community as it evolves over the decades, often into something else. Boston Edison is lovely, a quick left off Woodward just short of Highland Park (also a community but a separate city) on a drive north, with resplendent trees and lovely grounds. Or almost for the hints are there of a future that presently does not foretell as much hope as before. Similar to parts of Manhattan in the '70s: one block is perfect, the next not so safely traveled.

That said, I am in awe of the houses and the communities. In Lafayette Park, Mies Van der Rohe designed the most beautiful townhouses. Cranbrook Academy further out enticed world class architects and designers who left their mark on the city, visible if only one looks for it, mixed in with signs of wealth and culture of an earlier age but, in many districts even still beautifully respected and kept up by new classes and cultures. In Palmer Woods, a mixed racially, culturally and beautiful suburb with community gathering together for music, for support and culture.

Palmer Woods, above Seven Mile

Eastern Market and Midtown are lofts rivaling some of those in New York. In Corktown and elsewhere is energy and life - Slows BBQ! - reminding me of early Soho in the 80s. In Brush Park, many beautiful homes in dis-array BUT many also in renovation where the unattended gardens fight back themselves and demand a beauty uplift.

Brush Park, Spring

In the Northwest, the site of my original family home, there is community and neighborhood.

I feel the pull of an urban/suburban city. A place with a vibrancy yet to discover in anticipated visits. Perhaps even a new home in this mid-west milieu that doesn't yet resonate with me, a child of the Southern California beach, with its reputed "mid-west values" and industrial strangeness. Yet one that all of me wants to further explore.

Year-end Impressions, Day TWO

Detroit is an old city which means that, notwithstanding the failed industry and abandonment, it is simply old and the infrastructure, without care, cannot last. Detroit is not alone in its deterioration.

Here in Los Angeles, the streets are increasingly rutted, the bridges and tunnels need re-examination and repair. A recent visit to the local Post Office revealed scraps piled on the floor, doors of the trash cubicles pushed off by the mounds of trash not collected.

The signs of decay are increasing, revealing the cracks not just in our streets but in our system.

The good side of the recent focus on Detroit is that it has encouraged many within the city to pay more attention to its buildings and infrastructure, although it would be a mistake to assume that there were not already many who have been working hard for years, if not decades, to preserve this city. That said, the influx of young entrepreneurs, artists mixing with other young residents as well as those already there is exciting. The mix is leading to not only new ways of preservation but also innovative ideas of how to go ahead.

Renovation at the Park Avenue House, Spring 2011

Theatre & Shops On Woodward Downtown

UPDATE: Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Thanks to Facebook, I am accumulating a "six degrees of.... " connection list/"friendship" that recently spanned back over decades, including the fine artist Michele Zalopany, whose artwork I purchased in the early '80s days of NYC's lower Eastside art boom, and former art director/design director/ now photographer Lloyd Ziff, orignally knwon from my music days. They are both from Detroit as well and their renewed interest in their birth city matches mine.

When they post on FB something about Detroit, I go there, as I hope they and others do with my notations. Thus today, thanks to Michele, I have found Historic Detroit.org, a site concerned with the landmark structures of the city, their appearance then and now and what is going on with them. Presently on the site is their 17 December 2011 Year in Review and it illustrates well what I've been writing about this past evening.

Monday, January 16, 2012

One Year

Courtyard of the College For Creative Studies, John R Street, Detroit. Sculpture: Michael Hall,

I arrived in Detroit on Monday, January 17th 2011. One year ago today. Including that first view, after almost 64 years and now three exploratory 2011 visits, Detroit has become the place for me to be.

Each day of that first visit, one of only five days, Detroit yielded a discovery, often of people, of visitations from my personal past, of scenery and sometimes, of sadness and desolation. Detroit is a complex city, one of our nation's most amazing for generations and that legacy is not one that is easily lost, even over a period of 50 years.

For the next few days on this blog, I will post comments and some visual early impressions from these exploratory visits, one each day until Friday, my 66th birthday, 65 years away from Detroit but coming closer.

Today, the arrival anniversary: CITYSCAPE.

There is a city here. One of magnificent culture and architecture. Some of it empty today but with a rolling tide of preservation and reuse that can save it. The ghosts of Detroit's trading and industrial past are still here, not haunting but rather encouraging a renaissance of it all and, yes, it is happening.

Below are several newly printed images, to add to those already on the blog in previous posts.

Two views of the People Mover, the circular downtown metro, the second dedicated to Rosa Parks, of this city and today also, on the legal holiday of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King, significant.

Inside the Guardian Building.

And yes, I know we're not seeing people but, hey, I don't usually shoot people so why expect any here? .... A little flippant for there is a truth: Many of the structures I see, complete on the outside, are not so in the interior. That is what I'll seek when I return but for now, the knowledge that the city sits, at times dormant yes but slowly awakening, hopefully, is enough.

New Penthouse Renovation, Book Cadillac, Detroit/ Designer: Gary Fried

As an LA person, I've seen finally - and after many years - a vibrant downtown that seems to be sustaining. Lofts are soaring. The night views of downtown avenues no longer take on the noir images we so love but do nothing for the economy. Detroit is getting ready. Cannot wait to see what happens.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Countdown to Year One

The sequence begins: Eight days until my birthday and the first year of exploring Detroit. I wanted to be back there but too much work and too little funding but I'll be there soon.

I am hearing the familiar sounds of January in Detroit, primarily the Auto Show but also the moment when Detroit was the "wild card" for the SuperBowl. And play they did.

Best, this strong video "Who Is Detroit?" from the Detroit Works Project (thanks for learning about it from Austin Black II, proprietor of City Living Detroit). News is not good from Detroit lately but that doesn't mean that those who are there are not fighting for the good.