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.

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