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, April 13, 2011

Back in Step

I would have started the Detroit project at a better time but it was important to start on my birthday for this is a project that is inspired by my personal history and it felt right to do so.

The timing was however unfortunate in that my birth date was in the middle of an intense period of several ongoing projects; the three photo/art festivals in Los Angeles (I rushed from one, to Detroit, then back to another); the Chinese New Year celebration which I always photograph and thereafter write my quarterly newsletter; two deadlines for the continuing Chinatown project, FINDING CHINATOWNS, that I am preparing to exhibit this summer here in LA; and then, the curation and last evening's exhibition of PACIFIC RESONANCE, a conceptual open-air image-projection project for the Month of Photography LA (MOPLA) showcasing the work of seven noted Los Angeles photographers with original music composed and recorded by the well known LA avant-garde cellist, Michael Intriere.

An incredible evening but today, the day after and one month since my last Detroit post, I am eager to return to DETROIT: DEFINITION. One concern: in the midst of our rains (not Detroit winter weather for sure but for LA, quite extraordinary), an electrical blackout took out several external drives, especially the one with my Detroit work. I have the underlying raw camera files but all of my printed work was destroyed and I have to start and print again. Since I had delayed formal thank you's which were to include some early prints to those in Detroit who were so gracious to allow me into their lives, communities and businesses, and have been deadlining so since then, I was devastated and hope to get most of this out this week. In so doing the time delay does have a small benefit, allowing some sense of perspective from the emotion of that first visit.

Starting to plan the May trip and, in this long interim, Detroit is brimming with news, a lot more positive - a Whole Foods in midtown? - even amid the continuing economic setbacks. Have started to listen to the Craig Fahle Show on WDET. This past Monday, the 11th: a discussion of the return of Detroit's famed Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Although concerns remain about the DSO's longterm financial future, I look forward to hearing them hopefully in May. During the conversation, related to the DSO and other events in downtown Detroit: will those from the suburbs come into the city?

Living in Los Angeles where what is "downtown," and who will go there has been a constant albeit for different reasons - huge traffic gridlock (my other long-term project!) in LA - I am again struck by similarities between my home and my home city and yet how these parallels at the same time can starkly highlight their differences.

In March in LA, I attended SUPERFRONT LA'S Seminar DETROIT: A BROOKLYN CASE STUDY. Curated by Chloƫ Bass + Mitch McEwen, the exhibition and workshop consider Detroit "both as a specific city and as a set of circumstances." Speakers were urban planners, architects, social engineers speaking to some of the issues and solutions that have arisen in Detroit and that can be applied to other urban areas as well as urban experience elsewhere that may be applied to Detroit as the city itself reforms. While most participants in the project are not from Detroit and in fact, until a few days prior to the workshop both Chloƫ and Mitch had not been in Detroit (love their introductory video), a sharp and piercing discussion about the need for smaller cities and how to deal with land and infrastructure in one, such as Detroit and others, where the urbanization and sprawl has left bleak areas of fallow land and rusted pipelines, sewers and urban decay. The historic traditional land division (a left over from Civil War times) needs to be reinvented to allow for something other than the squared off blocks, reforming land.

Urban agriculture and green belts where once there was vacancy and decay again is posited as a significant part of any proposals. From the same April 11th Craig Fahle Show, positing the question of a public/private partnership for a vineyard project on Belle Isle.

Superfront has purchased a micro property (25 square inches) in Detroit through the LOVELAND project that seeks to use the vehicle of ownership as a personal reinvestment tool for the city. With this space, they have sought requests for proposals for the project, again adding the creative imaginations of many coming from the arts and architecture, environmental and urban planning factions to continue a discussion that is really about what this 21st century will be. In Los Angeles, models for that RPF are in exhibition at SUPERFRONT LA through May 20th, located at the Pacific Design Center (Blue Building SteB208).
Plans are being made to bring the exhibit to Detroit this summer and I am presently reading SUPERFRONT's book on the project .

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