A few weeks ago, a couple of photographer friends and I decided to take a quick road trip to Detroit, Michigan. Was a last minute decision, having some time off and wanting to go see a city that is going through hard times in hopes of getting some shots we wouldn’t normally have a chance to see. I wasn’t really ready for what I saw.
In July 2013, the city filed for bankruptcy, the largest american city to do so. Once at just under 2 million residents in the mid 1950s, there are around 700,000 now. Hundreds of thousands of abandoned houses, empty commercial buildings and lots of urban decay. Seems that everywhere we turned, there was something run down to photograph. It was honestly overwhelming. But in our few days in the city, the one thing that I was amazed at was just how warm the people were. I had some great chats with homeless people (namely Kenny, a man who told me the story of his friends being victims of a hit and run a few days before), people smiled at us and asked what we were doing. Like Mike and his friend, who, after we told them where we were from and what we were doing, were great at pointing us to some of the more run down places to go check out. We actually crossed Mike a few hours after parting ways, he yelled out “MONTREAL!” as he road by on his bike. And then there was Damon. Living in east Detroit, we met him in an area we thought no one lived. Made a whole blog post on just him.
Sure, the new Transformers movie was being filmed while we were there… we saw Bumblebee and almost got a glimpse of Michael Bay. But those images won’t be part of this photo essay.
The city can be a very dangerous city. We rarely ventured at night, and when we did, it was just around our hotel. Many of the streetlights downtown are not turned on at night. We saw fights, we saw people yelling and on a few occasions, took a detour as we weren’t feeling too comfortable walking around.
I was inspired by some urban exploration shots I saw online, dating back to just a few years ago. But in that span of time, those buildings have been gutted, usually by scavengers looking at making a buck. Some are totally surrounded by razor wire to discourage people from going in. I’m all for exploring, but I have my limits.
Yes, modern Detroit left a odd mark on me. It kind of changed the way I do urban and street photos. Trying to tell stories instead of just showing images.
Before I post up the long photo essay, here’s a bit of mood music. One of the songs that was going by on my itunes while I edited the images, so I feel it is a bit fitting to have it playing while you look at the shots. Keep in mind that most of these shots are from downtown… a few from east Detroit. We just walked and these places popped up… we didn’t have to go too far to find them.
The shots were all taken with a Fuji X100S. A retro looking digital camera that is very silent and not as in your face as a big dSLR. It has one fixed lens, no zoom. So I was limited in shots I could take, but the fact that people are intimidated by the camera, I was able to get some shots of people that I normally wouldn’t get.
That is actually the Transformers set in the back. We had wanted to explore the building, but they wouldn’t let us by.
Detroit has a few major sports teams and we followed crowds to see where they were going… the Tigers Stadium to watch their team play the Washington Nationals (who happen to be the ex Montreal Expos)
We managed to get to the top of one of the two parking garages to get shots like this.
And then I decided I wanted to go to the top of the other parking garage… the one attached to a hotel with a security guard. It is a prime vantage point to get shots and they don’t want anyone up there. After telling him we drove 10 hours to be here for some photos, we aren’t media, he allowed just one of us up.
We had nicknames for some of the buildings. This one was called the Love Building for all the hearts painted in the windows.
Our destination on this day was the old Packard Motor Plant. We had to talk about an hour and a half out of downtown where we ran into…no one for the longest time. You can see images of the Packard Plant HERE.
The house below also had a cute nickname…. we called it the Blood House.
These ladies worked the reception of our hotel. When I told them I was looking for cards, they both escorted me outside for a few blocks to find a little store that sold cards. It was about 10:30pm. Not that it’s that dangerous, I think they were just looking for an excuse to go outside for a bit 😉
One of the buildings we really wanted to check out was the old train station. It is supposed to be amazing inside. But as I said before, the place is no longer accessible and is currently under renovations, so there were workings around… well, we think the weird noises we heard inside were workers.
And that was our last stop before the 10 hour drive back home. We all were taken by the city. I’m planning on going back.