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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Last Day. First Visit. 21 January.

Friday, the 21st of January, cold but sunny. It is a day to photograph with clouds creating ghostly shapes across the landscape, highlighting then hiding.

The day starts at the very top of the Penobscot Building, once one of America's most celebrated skyscrapers and where my father returned in the '60s & '70s to serve on its Board of Directors. From this high, all of Detroit is clean and clear.

From within the Penobscot, the beauty of the details and the glamour of vintage Detroit remains.

On then to peek in at the Guardian Building. The deep and varied reds of this Mayan revival building made of brick, terra cotta and murals is overwhelmingly dramatic and I am not alone in staring.

There is a part of this musing in this first visit that makes me feel as if I am writing a travelogue and in part, I suppose that is exactly what I am doing. From conversation to conversation in just a short 4 day period, with very few photographs taken and even those in a different manner - quick, often in the presence of someone else - I am simply surveying the city with no true understanding of its meaning. It is frustrating in many ways for me as I want to do more yet as I walk or drive - often too cold or, I am cautioned by others, sometimes too dangerous to be alone with my expensive camera equipment - it feels like I am recording. Perhaps this is why as well that I am journaling and that early step is in fact my own little log from which ultimately I'll discover what it is I am hearing; what it is I am seeing.

What is apparent this day from my first visit at the Penobscot and the Guardian and viewing even smaller buildings such as Annis Furs, or the Detroit skyline in general: one can see that Detroit of old was a city of visionaries. The sadness: other buildings constructed with these dreams presently stand empty, many of them of the size and grandeur of the Guardian and the Penobscot.

Beauty needs people to appreciate and explore it and people add their own amendments to beauty when the economy and social system create the right environment to do so. Architecture remains along with an interest to preserve it, but what can preservation do in the stark face of economic disaster? Industrial Detroit remains - a quick peek into the annual Detroit Auto Show presents new ideas from Detroit's main industry - and perhaps finally that industry is taking note of the change it has itself forgotten about for too long.

As I leave Detroit, it is to the hard work already being done as well as the new ideas from individuals, from social interest groups, from neighborhood block clubs and from industry itself that one must look to go forward. This IS happening (see Model D's review of the Ann Arbor Conference that took place today, "Revitalization & Business: Focus Detroit.")

It is inconceivable that Detroit cannot rise again but much as I already am enamoured of the city in this very brief visit, I cannot get Percy Bysshe Shelley's words in Ozymandias out of my mind:

""My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. My future wife was my date for the Warren High School Senior prom and we had dinner that night, along with my best friend and his date, who would eventually be his wife, at the rooftop resturant of the Penobscob building. Their famous desert was Flaming Cheeries Jumbilee, of which required two to order, but no one else was interested that night, so I did without. And that dessert was the whole reason I had selected that resturant to eat that night!