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, October 8, 2014

September In Detroit, Part V: Followup: Do Something for Detroit

"September in Detroit" is a multi-part post, part of the continuing series of musings on Detroit as I sit here, absorbing my own experience in the city combined with others' tales.  This particular 4-part series is best read from Part I below and then upward, if you can make it through...  I call it a "musing" as I attempt to make sense of what I see and experience each visit, part of my in-progress photo exhibition/book exploration of my birth city.

Posted by Crain's Detroit Business as a followup to the Detroit Homecoming is "The Detroit Perspectus: 5 Ways to Support Detroit," a list of links and resources to "Do Something" for Detroit.  Perfect as a starting point not only for we expats but for others interested in working with this beleagured but rising-again city.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

September in Detroit, Part IV Saturday 20 September

"September in Detroit" is a multi-part post, part of the continuing series of musings on Detroit as I sit here, absorbing my own experience in the city combined with others' tales.  This particular 4-part series is best read from Part I below and then upward, if you can make it through...  I call it a "musing" as I attempt to make sense of what I see and experience each visit, part of my in-progress photo exhibition/book exploration of my birth city.


At Grand Circus Park with view of Broderick Tower

I am spending one additional day in Detroit to see friends and wander a bit more, hoping to return for a more intensive photo shoot in October.  

I breakfasted with my "family by house," the Faust family of siblings whose parents had owned my family home in the Northwest and with whom I try to visit each time I am in the city.  Mary Hammons Faust, Veronica Faust and Maurice Faust represent for me the regular people of Detroit, knowledgeable about their home city, experiencing the ups and downs of everyday Detroit, ready to discuss it all.  And discuss we do, especially since I am brimful of information and enthusiasm after the past three days.

Of particular interest: neighborhood.  I mention one of the civic neighborhood initiatives already in practice: providing lawnmowers to residents who promise to care for their properties. There are families raised in the decades of decay who have watched their neighborhoods disintegrate before their eyes.  Unused to the concept of order and what it means not only for neighborhood beautification but for safety and land value, they have forgotten home pride.  

The simple gift of a lawnmower is bringing order back but, as Maurice points out, it requires that residents be trained to take care of their property, something to be undertaken by the block as a whole to ensure that this type of neighborhood pride and resultant enhancement takes hold.  A simple idea that can be suggested coming down from civic leaders on high but that also requires encouragement and guides rising up from each block. 

A great block club example is the previously noted Henry Jolly Memorial Block Club, where Veronica Faust is on the Board.  In 2013 I photographed another terrific block in the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood where the boards of what abandoned houses remained were brightly painted by residents with the words of W.E.B. DuBois, an abandoned lot had become a community vegetable garden and park, and all populated houses and yards were inviting and immaculate. While the streets  around this Wabash block were sad examples of the decay too prevalent in the city, this block shone and I would like to return soon to see what's happening today. 


Similarly and as a part of the requirements for renting a home there, the Penrose Art House and Garden development for low income families requires not only home maintenance but has also established a neighborhood agricultural center and art garden for community meetings and childhood afterschool education and activities, all beautifully designed and founded by Detroit friends, landscape architects (note Lafayette Park downtown by the Book Cadillac) Beth Hagenbach and Ken Weikel.  I've spoken about this before.

Readying for pumpkins 2013

The concept of a block club or a neighborhood community mission has been around for a long time - I am on the Board of a similar resident dues-paying organization out here in my California canyon - and it is there in Detroit (http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2012/05/plan_would_let_detroit_neighbo.html) but it needs to be reinforced and expanded.  Wherever I travel in the city, the individual residents are eager to improve where they are.  It just takes a bit of effort to organize and do so.

And right on point today: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20141006/NEWS01/141009858/duggan-in-bankruptcy-court-weve-recruited-top-corporate-team-to-run  "...  The mayor described the city’s progress rebuilding services including streetlights and buses, as well as police and fire protection. One focus has been on persuading residents to begin repairing their own blighted neighborhoods."

By coincidence my young friend David Selsky, a fellow photographer and son of great friends from my music industry days, contacted me as he was about to attend a conference in Detroit, asking for thoughts about what to see there.  Our conferences were both ending Friday and we arranged to tour a bit on Saturday.

A challenge: what does one show a city about which one is also still just learning?  I am past just showing the devastation, definitely not the full story of Detroit today, tourist or otherwise. David already knew about the Packard plant, the Heidelberg project and several other known spots so we arranged to meet in Eastern Market, where I wanted to visit with Megan O'Connell and Leon Johnson whom I met in 2013 at Salt & Cedar Press, their amazing letterpress, art, conversation and farm to table food event venue.

Our great luck: Leon's intensely thoughtful exhibition, Ark: Field  Dressings just opened at the press.  This year Leon was awarded three highly regarded fellowships: a Kresge Arts Fellow and two residencies as the 2014 Martha Daniel Newell Distinguished Scholar at Georgia College and most recently, a Bemis Foundation Fellow.  Our greater luck: to see Leon and Megan's son, Leander, hard at work packing to take Salt & Cedar Press to the NY Book Fair as well as his own zines.  It is always so invigorating to see this creative family investing in and living a Detroit that is here.  

Knowing David would be here another day and wandering on his own and that my time was limited to getting out of the city for my afternoon flight, David and I went took the "little tour," i.e., not the grand ruin but the small recent history, all of which provides a tale of Detroit today and is, thematically for this post, about neighborhood.  We drove through the beauty of Boston Edison, an leafy elegant upper middle class residential area where signs of blight are few but still are there as evidenced by glimpses of tacked on wood at windows and unmowed lawns, hopefully lessening; Highland Park, a separate city surrounded by Detroit and the site of Ford's historic factory and where, finally, the fire department building has been rebuilt although its memory as an, ironically, burned out hulk standing in sad solidarity with the police and civic hall buildings in 2011were some of the saddest memories of my first 2011 visit, but also where one could see examples of what I wrote above: one block filled with trees and children playing in the street, the next where houses stand isolated from each other by vacant lots. Finally, we drove northwest to my "own" Pinehurst block so that I could take my each-visit photograph of my Pinehurst family home and David could see real Detroit living in the suburbs today. 

Ending this visit with my home photograph seems right.  As one Detroit Homecoming participant commented when I gave him my business card with my winter photograph of my birth home, "This is just right for Detroit, for this is what the promise of it was: a modest home."

So much of this visit seemed directed to trying to bring this back.

Friday, October 3, 2014

September in Detroit, Part III Friday 19 September

"September in Detroit" is a multi-part post, part of the continuing series of musings on Detroit as I sit here, absorbing my own experience in the city combined with others' tales.  This particular 4-part series is best read from Part I below and then upward, if you can make it through...  I call it a "musing" as I attempt to make sense of what I see and experience each visit, part of my in-progress photo exhibition/book exploration of my birth city.

Same routine: 7:30 am shuttle but this time, a bit more awake and we are now chatting with each other on the bus, making friends and talking Detroit.

The short third day opened with conversation from the first woman CEO of a major automotive company, Mary Barra of General Motors who speaks to GM's past and present involvement with its native city, primarily in terms of GM's corporate and employee commitment to education and lately, neighborhood cleanup and "re-tooling" for skilled workers.

The conversation shifts to what was heretofore discussed as the "elephant in the room," the classic concerns of many Detroiters, the regular people: diversity and opportunity today combined with the changing face of the city.

Included within this: objections to the very type of convening we are attending, especially among those who now live in Detroit.  Among the objections: Many of the speakers are the developers who have their own agenda for Detroit that may not address other needs of those who are presently here and feel they are not being heard.  How does one balance the Gilbert/Illitch type of development, often with some extremely favorable tax credits, against the sinking tax base of the city in general? One example: this current post in the Metro Times during Detroit Homecoming.  There are questions raised when the residential mortgage issue is brought up - the great difficulty of obtaining them for Detroit residents eager to purchase, even when their mortgage payments would be less than the rent they are now paying - especially since Quicken Loans itself is Detroit-based.

Along with the information from Detroit Homecoming, it behooves us to absorb the varying arguments for this city but also, over time, to understand that one of the symptoms of Detroit's decline was the aspect of denial and complaint that resulted in a gridlock that prevented change from happening over way too long a period so that residents gave up and left.  Detroit must change. Detroit Homecoming is taking one approach.  Yes, of course there are others and it is our responsiblity, when we join in, to understand them them all.

A major closing panel - successful Detroiters or former Detroiters who are from the business arena,  men and women of color, Black and Latino primarily - addresses some of this: Will there be displacement when all these "new" ""young"[primarily] white businesses and people arrive and prices go up?  What will happen to the old neighborhoods and the strong historic Black middle class possibly first established here in Detroit? And most significant, "Is there a place for me in this new Detroit?"

Among them: Frank Venegas, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Southwest's Ideal Group and the grandson of a Mexican laborer who came to Detroit in 1917 responding to the "$5 Dollar A Day" allure of Henry Ford, became successful by surveying his own neighborhood, the long-standing Mexicantown and cornered the market on industrial/automotive construction, much of it by employing those around him, including the Mexican gang members who then stood on street corners but who now have become managers in his firms.  For him, the Southwest remains a vital source of cultural and economic opportunity.

Gregory Jackson, CEO of Prestige Automotive Group/car dealerships in the greater Detroit area, one of the largest black-owned dealerships in the nation, reminds us that a strong city consists not only of a strong downtown but also of the neighborhoods and that those neighborhoods also need places and services for residents to gather to market, to have a cup of coffee, to dine.  Detroit's recent good news is centered on downtown Detroit but to create a strong city, he says, retail and business services need to be encouraged back to the suburban streets.  A recent example: the re-growth of the "fashion" boulevard, Northwest's 7 Mile and Livernois.

Ron Parker - not a Detroiter but President of the Executive Leadership Council with deep contact with those in Detroit - points out today's demographics for Detroit (2013):

White      10.6&
Black       82.7%
Asian       1.1%
Hispanic  6.8%
White (not Asian or Latino) 7.8% T

The need for better and comprehensive education, primarily early education leading to later and greater opportunity, continues to be a theme among the panelists here as well as one that runs through the entire 3-day session.

Here in a specific diversity panel, emphasis is on "developing the pipeline," ensuring that there will be powerful black and other ethnic leaders for a city - and a country - that should no longer have its future decided only by "middle-aged white men."  He makes a call out to the city leaders - the government, business and foundation leaders - to ensure that this does not remain the norm, a "disruptive force," he says to ensure that Detroit's rebound is all-inclusive.

One of the most powerful statements of this conference:  "If you are not planning, you are being planned."

Accompanied by pitch competitions of five Detroit startups, we expats are finally and directly brought to the point of being here: "No Free Lunch" and thus lunch is about solutions, ideas and a request to each of us to make a real commitment to do something for Detroit.  Led by a nationally recognized TEDx motivator, we are asked to stand up and vocalize our ideas, formalize our thoughts on paper that is then pasted on the walls of the lunchroom and we gather under those ideas where we feel we can best make a contribution, whether it be financial, emotional or innovative.  It is decisive and it is clear.

Out of this, Detroit Homecoming hopes to explore investment and other concrete solutions in this first of what is hoped to be a continuing and expanding outreach to those connecting with Detroit. For expats.  For residents.  It is more than a good idea; it feels like it will work.

We end with a surprise guest, a product of  Detroit: Michael Posner, a young but already nationally noted songwriter/recording artist, who brought us his newly constructed ballad, "Buried in Detroit."  Ok... playing on our emotions but hey, why not.  It makes sense and Michael is a beautiful songwriter, a little of Dylan and Springsteen and my music roots love this ending to a well-spent three days.(and ok, I can photograph but put in into video mode and I really suck... Listen to the music, don't watch).

Returning to Detroit after this year's break, I wavered between my strong desire to be out with my cameras  and wanting to connect and hear the overall picture of what is happening today in Detroit.  I am glad I concentrated on the substance provided us by the latter.  My great thanks to Detroit Homecoming, Mary Kramer who is Publisher of Crain's Detroit Business and Jim Hayes who is the retired Publisher of Fortune Magazine, for taking this from concept to fruition and providing us the opportunity to connect and interact with so many speakers and ideas, an innovative approach for helping one of American's great cities.  As always, Detroit represents for me not only the beginning of my own story but an example of what American persistence can do.  It is happening here and we expats gathered here leave ready to enter into the "play" and frankly, play we must, for the story of Detroit is a North American story and outside of emotional or connective, it is a story we all must finish.

And oh... btw, I suppose a very tiny part of me could reasonably be "buried in Detroit" - although I had always thought that if not the Pacific Ocean, a bit of Jackson Hole or Paris or Tuscany might do - as a result of a surprise gift from Mary and Jim to each of the 150 of us gathered here: a 1/150th portion of a lot in Detroit's Virginia Park neighborhood.  What we do with this - including pay its taxes and keep it clean - it is hoped, will reflect symbolically on what we feel is our connection to and responsibility for Detroit.

And since we were now Detroit landowners, the final treat for those who had opted for this: batting practice over at Comerica Park, led by retired Tigers pitcher Dave Rozema.  While joining the others  ostensibly to take photographs I ended up batting which meant, for me, that I managed to connect the bat to the ball three out of ten tries without hurting myself or others.  Visually it was an experience to be on the grass in this silent park, right in the middle of downtown Detroit.  Keeping my eye on the other batters who were better able to connect with the ball, I wandered the diamond.

The day ended with a stroll down Woodward Avenue capturing a wedding party stopping for their photographs by the iconic Fox Theatre, my visit to the depths of the Book Cadillac and sunset on Michigan Avenue, a snippet of the dueling Coneys by Lafayette Park.  A tourist but a Detroiter.  Perfect but... not over ...

See Part IV, the 20th.

September in Detroit, Part II Thursday 18 September

"September in Detroit" is a multi-part post, part of the continuing series of musings on Detroit as I sit here, absorbing my own experience in the city combined with others' tales.  This particular 4-part series is best read from Part I below and then upward, if you can make it through...  I call it a "musing" as I attempt to make sense of what I see and experience each visit, part of my in-progress photo exhibition/book exploration of my birth city.

Ready to get to work: the Detroit Homecoming shuttle is picking us up at 7:30 am for an intensive, pragmatic look at Detroit in today's sessions.  Still on my west coast time schedule and wondering how, for so many years in the music industry when the red eye to New York was an almost monthly occurrence, I could still get up the next morning to meet people at the equivalence of 4:30 am PDT.   Nevertheless, the day begins and with it, eye-opening conversations about the current status and future of Detroit.

On the Shuttle to the College of Creative Studies outpost in the Taubman Center Building/a former GM building near Grand Avenue where the Corvette was first designed: a running commentary by Jeanette Pierce, Detroit native and founder of  DXF/WeKnowDetroit, part of the D-Hive cooperative downtown offering business and information services to connect people with Detroit in varying opportunities and experiences.  Among her tidbits of Detroit:

1.  99% occupancy now in the downtown area.
2.  The Book Cadillac required 27 layers of financing to bring it back from the ruined hulk it was six years ago when you could absolutely see through it to the landscape surrounding it.

I haven't driven up Woodward for over a year now and the change is dramatic, from the cleansing of broken down buildings in preparation for the - controversial - new hockey stadium and related development of midtown, to new retail, coffee shops and buildings, and of course, the many construction detours engendered by the M-1 Rail construction that is also inspiring clean-up and renovation into New Center, north of the I-94 as well.

The A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, the former Argonaut Building in New Center designed by Albert Kahn in 1928, was gifted to CCF by GM in 2007 and in addition to CCF studios, classes and auditorium space houses a variety of creative enterprise and foundations including the The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), "an economic development organization with a targeted purpose: providing support to Detroit’s creative industries in the form of resources, exposure, and advocacy in order to grow Detroit’s creative economy and recognize Detroit as a global center for design." and is also the home of one of Detroit's new and stellar manufacturers, Shinola Watch.

Beginning the sessions.  In the audience, one present and two past Mayors of the city, all with straightforward news about what Detroit really needs - people and the return of safe neighborhoods - and what is being done about it.

The population facts: 1.8 million residents in 1950.  Under 700,000 today.  That tax base is gone and the sense of neighborhood in this suburban city is dire. What brings them in - business investment and jobs - and what helps those already here and struggling to regain their city and their livelihoods?

1. Lights - Mayor Duggan's pledge and active work already to bring street lighting back to all of Detroit, putting up more than 1,000 streetlights per week now.  The resultant lighting of Detroit's streets has direct correlation to the decrease in crime in the city.
2. Maintaining the neighborhood parks, a place for community.  Last year, 25 out of 275 were maintained.  This year already: with the help of churches, business and neighborhoods, 256 out of the 275 are being maintained.
3. Vacant lots and vacant houses lead to squatters, trash and the devaluation in price and living standards of a neighborhood.  Today there are over 50,000 abandoned houses in Detroit and they range from upper middle class neighborhoods such as Boston Edison to the icon of Detroit, the modest suburban home.  The new civic philosophy: "Demolish the burned out houses in order to save the good ones."  The Mayor's office is accomplishing this by suing non-resident owners who have allowed their homes, lots and landscaping to decay, opening them up to squatters or scrappers.  A decision is made whether the building is capable of renovation or is sold at auction for nominal prices WITH the provision that the new owner must regularly pay its taxes and keep it up.  The same for vacant lots that, if not maintained, are made available for purchase to neighbors at $100 per lot, subject to the same conditions of payment and maintenance.

A good article about this and about Reclaim Detroit, the non-profit dedicated to reducing the blight, reconstruction and re-purposing of materials taken from deconstruction;  http://www.hourdetroit.com/Hour-Detroit/May-2014/Deconstructing-Detroit/#.VDGWjudYtXA

Below: a collapsed house on the Eastside, 2011 & in Highland Park (a separate city, encircled by Detroit), a Habitat for Humanity House, 2014

On the positive: The Henry Jolly Memorial Pinehurst Block, a stellar example of the neighborhood taking charge, this one ongoing for years now another sign has been added on the western side of the block.

Ok.... not all is pretty yet.  Mortgages are unobtainable in Detroit and a major effort by the city is to make lenders aware that there is value in Detroit, the issue even more critical than the credit records of its potential resident home purchasers.

Water in this water-rich city is also an issue, not so much in terms of its availability as a resource - our issue in parched California - but in terms of civic maintenance.  Detroit suffered over 5,000 water main breaks in the last three years.  Just this past week, a regional water board was approved by Detroit's City Council to help manage the finances and undertakings to resolve the maintenance and use issues.  http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/26577870/detroit-city-council-approves-regional-water-authority

The rest of the day was intensive; so many speakers, so little breaks, so much to acknowledge/learn and so much to inspire.  Civic leaders and doers!  Entrepreneurs!  Social Activists! Athletes! Eli Broad (a Detroit native and philanthropist to education  there)! Warren Buffet!!!!!

While many participants - invited expats as well as speakers - represented investment interests, much of the focus continued to return to those who are already there, doing well and not so well, and how we can join together to support community, education, employment, and culture to restore as well as remake Detroit.  Well-reported by the press and by the Detroit Homecoming site itself, my post here is more about the images of Detroit for I am a photographer and it is in my imagery that my summary primarily lies.

That said, as part of Detroit Homecoming's amazing program, afternoon intensive tours of targeted development in Detroit - manufacturing, real estate development, innovation/entrepreneurship, and the arts & culture - were offered and I chose manufacturing, seeking to follow the current state of Detroit's traditional work resources.

Shinola was first, a company that made a choice to come to Detroit.  On one large floor of the Taubman Center, clean large dust free rooms were filled with new watch assembly, watchband creation and packaging, providing new jobs and success models for Detroit.  Collaboration is happening with major fashion designers, extending the outreach of this innovative company even further.  The products of Shinola extend now to bicycles, other luxury products with retail stores in Detroit and elsewhere.

Homegrown business is opening/thriving again as well, exemplified on our tour by the new plans of American Axle & Manufacturing/AAM, one of the major GM suppliers in driveline and drivetrain systems that followed GM down to Mexico during Detroit's downturn but is now re-developing its primary building and adjajcent acreage, just at the Detroit/Hamtramck boundary to meet the new demands of a returning auto parts manufacturing industry.

So too, the McClure brothers represent growing success in Detroit, transitioning a family recipe into a marketable commodity.  They are native Detroiter's who, along with their parents, are readying to purchase two more machine lines/ldispensers/canners to make their truly tasty McClure's Pickles, relishes and potato chips that are presently being distributed via upscale markets and retail outlets throughout the States. They have re-purposed an older auto manufacturing building, hired and are retraining auto workers and unskilled labor, and are using locally sourced or known sources (when the harsher Detroit winters prevent locally sourced) for their ingredient streams.  Love their "story" video, a charming example of the ingenuity that characterizes so many startups/businesses in Detroit.  http://www.mcclurespickles.com/pages/from-the-jar

Foreign investment is also returning to Detroit and our tour brought us to one grand example: Sakthi Automotive Group USA, located in Del Ray/Southwest Detroit and part of the multi-national (headquartered in South India) The Sakthi Group/Automotive Components division.  http://www.sakthiauto.com/  Already manufacturing a variety of auto components, Sakthi has made major land investments surrounding its present manufacturing site, in close proximity to the proposed new US/Canada bridge, that will result in the creation of additional manufacturing facilities, a training school for personnel and best, a day care and kitchen center for many of its employees to provide affordable day care for their workers' children and inexpensive healthy meals to take home to their families after long workdays.

Sundown over on  Belle Isle and its historic Casino. GM was out there offering us driving opportunities in their new cars although the driverless car unfortunately developed a "hitch" and wasn't available.  Instead I drove the new Corvette - I learned to drive a stick shift on my father's Corvette so long ago - although driving a Corvette at 25 mph around the island was nice but hardly my "speed."   

The day ended with dinner with our continually welcoming hosts, Detroit sponsors/doers all, at the newly opened Globe Building by the DeQuindre Cut, followed by honors to Berry Gordy who flew in for this event and with rhythmic musical tributes by Detroit youth to the Motor City sounds that Gordy and Motown gave us all.

Long day, sounding a bit like a travelogue but it will take time to truly understand what was presented to us and what to do with it, but wow what a re-introduction to what is making Detroit run for today and for the future.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

September in Detroit, Part I Wednesday 17 September

14 months since I last visited Detroit and the change in the city is startling and exciting.

While the bankruptcy was entered into in summer of 2013 only one week after I returned from a three-week visit to the city, negotiations are ongoing, bargains are being made with major creditors and an emergence soon is in the offing.  Today, the greater Downtown area is vibrant and active; construction underway for a metro rail (the M-1 Rail) up Woodward all the way to Grand and the Amtrak station; new stores, coffee shops and construction providing new business and residential opportunities.  Best: people on the street.

I flew in on a red eye, picked up by the car graciously ordered by the Detroit Homecoming conference I was to attend.  Donald, my driver, and an aspiring recording artist, drove me in on the I-75, providing an impromptu insider's dawn tour of the lights and smoke from the steel plants, the Train Station and downtown entering from Michigan Avenue.  Yet another perspective on what has become a favorite city, here captured from the moving car more for my mind than exhibition photo.

I stayed downtown at the Book Cadillac Hotel.  In 2011 I had photographed designer Gary Fried's beautiful cabinetry design in a Book Cadillac penthouse.  This time I was a guest in one of its rooms, afforded a stunning nighttime view south to the River and across to Canada.

What I hadn't known: that only seven years ago the Book Cadillac, built in 1923 and designed by Louis Kamper, was a total wreck. Closed in 1984 the hotel lay vacant, vandalized and in its lowest basement, flooded from broken pipes.  Today through many civic and private efforts, it once again anchors beautiful Washington Boulevard at Michigan Avenue.  http://www.historicdetroit.org/building/book-cadillac-hotel/

Yet even with the renovation, history remains in the hotel for down down down lie the vintage boilers and generators that tell their story, colored by the rust of the floods and evocative of Detroit's older age, one that seems to be ending finally and this change is what I experienced in this short trip.

I loved staying downtown for much of my work has to do with place and the place where I am "living," even if only for a few days, definitely affects my visual perspective.  The small community centered by Washington Boulevard and bordered by Grand Circus Park, Michigan Avenue and the Rosa Parks Transit Center on Cass Avenue became my little microcosm of Detroit for this trip.

A few pics from Washington Boulevard and its environs, including Urban Bean Co., the Transit Center and from the Transit center, the still closed Book Tower.

At the top of Washington Boulevard, I wandered into the western part of the half moon hub that is Grand Circus Park, bisected by Woodward Avenue and from which a set of diagonal spurs, the streets of downtown, fan south.  Quite beautiful but with non-working fountains and few people. I could imagine the different experience of mid-century Detroit when businessmen like my father would daily cross the park from their apartments on streets like Park Avenue, on their way to and from work for while Detroit is definitely a city of cars, it was also designed for those who walk.  

Today the Park serves as a People Mover Station, an underground parking structure but it remains a place for views: Of the old facade still standing on Adams of the razed 1909 Fine Arts Building, a ghost of a structure that fascinated me when I first encountered it in 2011; of the historic house and church still extant on Woodward corners; of crowded streets and parking lots at the side of Comerica and Ford Fields and in just these past couple of years, the totally renovated David Broderick Tower - 1928 and another Louis Kamper building - and the soon to be opened for retail, hotel and residences, the David Whitney Building (1914) where Detroit Homecoming held its welcoming dinner, amid construction lights and careful access all the while looking up to the lobby's amazing clearstory, resonant of Detroit's glory, once again.

Residential and office construction is booming in the city and the occupancy rate is again very high.
It is a good time to be here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I am so sorry to have read last week of the passing of Gerald Wilson, 96 years old and a terrific jazz composer, bandleader. Among his many beautiful melodies is his Detroit Suite, written in memory of his formative years in Detroit (a graduate of Cass Tech), and from which I was so graciously granted the right to use snippets for my short early video on my DETROIT: DEFINITION project. 

The music of the Gerald Wilson orchestra has for years been recorded and distributed by Mack Avenue Records -  http://www.mackavenue.com/ - a company home-grown in Detroit and its founder, Gretchen Valade, is the major force behind the terrific Detroit jazz festival that takes place downtown over Labor Day Weekend.  I attended in September of 2011 and the streets were filled with people and great sounds.

Wonderful obits on Gerald Wilson below, some with music:

from the Detroit Free Press: 

from Mack Avenue Records: http://www.mackavenue.com/news/article/beloved_multi_instrumentalist_gerald_wilson_passes_away

from the Los Angeles Times where Gerald Wilson lived, played, composed and inspired many other musicians for years until his death: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-gerald-wilson-20140909-story.html#page=1http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-gerald-wilson-20140909-story.html#page=1

from npr with snippets of his musc: http://www.npr.org/2014/09/11/347594917/jazz-arranger-gerald-wilson-dies-at-96http://www.npr.org/2014/09/11/347594917/jazz-arranger-gerald-wilson-dies-at-96

Here is my 2012 slide show of images from the DETROIT: DEFINITION project with soundtrack from the Detroit Suite, going back to my post about this in 2012  http://detroitdefinition.blogspot.com/2012/03/detroit-in-slides-first-three-visits

It is dismaying to see that the last time I posted to this blog was more than a year and one-half ago.  It is not that Detroit and my project have not been on my mind nor that I did not keep up with not only news but friends there, but that other exhibition deadlines - and a bit of life - took precedence and, like a manuscript put away to percolate for some months, sometimes years, DETROIT: DEFINITION needed some seasoning that only walking away for a while could give it.

Today, planning to return to Detroit on a late flight tonight, my focus on the project is still not fixed but far more developed than before, as is Detroit.  Time has helped me refine what it is I am looking for: a sense of past history, a sense of today and best, a sense of the future.  This is for Detroit but it is also for me for while it is true that most photographic artists put themselves into their work, the experience of Detroit has become a personal exploration as well.  As the city changes, it is also changing me.

I have always felt that capturing Detroit, a heretofore unknown city to which I am linked almost entirely and only by the fact of my birth, would be a challenge for me.  What I've found so far: that I am not only exploring through the construct of my father's footsteps on the streets of Detroit; I am actually walking in them, entering into buildings he entered for nine years of his life, traversing the city in which he lived.  A little eerie but I do feel comfortable here in a city where supposedly the comfort level is pretty low.

As part of that transformation: while my other projects concentrate solely on the visual story, Detroit demands more and my literary and my visual perspectives - offtimes at odds between the precision of the words and the abstraction of the view - have no choice but to join together here.  I suppose I knew this since I created this blog during my first trip in 2011 and wrote each night of that trip.  It is clearer now and even though not published here, there is also writing that accompanied my most recent visit, three weeks in the summer of 2013 and definitely much to write in this near future.

This short upcoming trip - another longer one is planned for mid-October - is a bit different for it is an exciting new venture/conference created by ....

"A broad coalition of partners — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, corporate leaders, major foundations, economic development groups and others — have joined to create a powerful event that can help shape the future of Detroit. It's called The Detroit Homecoming." :

... inviting back those who lived and worked in Detroit over the years.  The conference: an intense two-day tour of the city and introduction to many of the individuals and businesses working for change, all in the hope that the invitees will return more, invest in, help renew what Detroit was and make it even better.

Lots of attendees from all over  - entrepreneurs, businesspeople, CEO's, filmmakers, and me. ... dressing in "corporate casual" ...

For this I've prepared a long overdue "update" to my original little magazine blurb about Detroit "reporting" on my very first visit there in January 2011.  As always happens, creating the little booklet, composing the "intro," and selecting sample images has forced me to focus and wish I had done this earlier.  I stay unfortunately true to habit, always needing a deadline/event to get stuff done :( .   That said, returning to my raw files to see what I missed the first pass through the experiences has uncovered several strong evocative images I missed when too close to the shoot.

All for the good.

I look forward to these next few days...

Below: an image I missed in the first pass but love now: from early early am (1:30am) at the so wonderful artist loft in which I stayed in Summer 2013.  The auto lights from the meat factory outside my window turned on whenever trucks arrived and would illuminate the loft at all all hours, and I would awake, grab the tripod and shoot.  Romantic light and so emblematic of the diversity of subject matter, just within and out my window in Detroit's Eastern Market.