I moved to Detroit in 2013, in January. I remember landing and oddly enough it was 18 degrees C and recall the taxi driver stating that he “loved this global warming shit”. I couldn’t argue given that my expectations would then turn to reality the day after. Minus an awful lot of degrees. It was freezing.
Went to work the next Monday. A new place, a new work environment, a new everything. The snow. I was amazed by the piles and piles of snow on the side of the road. I had relocated, I was here. Detroit.
A few months after my soon to be wife would come to Detroit as well. She moved right after Detroit declared bankruptcy. The biggest city to ever declare bankruptcy. And I thought, “well this will be interesting”.
The next month, November, my wife and I, together with some friends, would go visit the notorious Packard plant. Below is a photo I took with my iPhone.
People at work would ask me if I went there with a gun. Or at least with someone with a gun. No. I didn’t. And just for the record the day after we went they had found a dead person.
Not the pretty scene you typically think you want to photograph. Rubble. No sun. Bricks. No straw hut.
Yet there was that desire to go see what the once automotive plant looked like. Another factory, one of the many that I visited around Detroit. Some call it “Ruin Porn” and are irritated with photography that focuses on these scenes only shows the worst of Detroit.
It does. I agree. But it is part of history. It’s like hypothetically going to Las Vegas in 200 years and seeing the MGM abandoned and with slot machines lying all over the place. Wouldn’t some one want to photograph it? Compare to what it once was?
Imagine? I want to imagine.
The people, the workers. The lives that were supported by this manufacturing plant. The economy. The glamour.
So we went, walked around, and imagined what could have been. I loved it.
A few years after my wife would give me my first DSLR. A Nikon. And from then on there was no turning back. I wanted to document life. Life around me. Discover through photography.
And on July 31st, I came to find out that Bill Rauhauser passed away. A name I had heard in the photography community in Detroit. But only with his recent passing did I do a little more research on the Detroit-native and Detroit-lover. He loved his wife and Detroit. He documented its streets for decades, and looking at his history and art I cannot but relate.
He was an architectural engineer until he went to New York. He saw a Henri Cartier Bresson exhibition and he began thinking that there was the possibility of making a living with photography. This was during WWII, in 1947.
No. Paris and New York were not, and are not Detroit. Detroit was the “Arsenal of Democracy” where automotive plants were converted to manufacture items to support the war.
Before graduating in Business Administration I started in architecture. I love Paris and New York. But Detroit…
Detroit. What a city. “Detroit Hustles Harder”. One of the first shots with the DSLR, as I learned the mechanics. But it was the message that caught my soul.
Bill Rauhauser loved Detroit, loved his wife, started in Architecture, and then ended up teaching generations of photographers to come. He would also teach my photography professor, Rob Kangas. He loved it. He loved the streets. He loved the life on it. And I’m sure he loved Life. He loved it all. I understand him. I truly do.
From an article I read Mr. Rahauser reportedly passed away after another day shooting.
So I began looking at some of his photography. And without knowing it the cover of the book Motor City Muse was a photograph taken by Bill.
The book also contains images from the greats, Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank. What a dream to have a picture exposed as the cover of a photography book with photos taken by some of the greats.
What have I learned through his images?
Shoot what you love. He took this photo of his wife, which I absolutely love. The contrast between the black and white, and obviously the contrast between the lines, diagonal lines for that extra edge. The grid and the ones on the t-shirt are almost perpendicular, adding dynamic features to the composition.
One morning, like every morning I should add, my wife was making coffee. A typical moka coffee machine, which you can find in every household in Italy.
The kitchen was a mess, or should I say, the sink was.
Home. In that moment, that was home. I love it. I love her. I picked up my camera and snapped a shot. I had noticed the lines on her arm which for me gave the image some mystery. There is confusion in the picture because of the sink, but the symmetrical shadow pattern gives some order.
But most importantly, it spoke to me. It caught me. It made my heart feel “warm and fuzzy”. I was inspired.
I love my home, my wife. And I love Detroit. I love this City, as the techno song says.
And from the rubble that I was first attracted to in the first picture, I graduated to a more mature love and appreciation. I did the same at home with regards to my wife. Detroit isn’t much different.
Why not ask some guys if they can stand tall in front of the building that, at least for me, symbolizes Detroit? I was walking to the Riverfront, and saw them joking, laughing, making fun of each other’s basketball skills. When I got to a point where I knew the background was what I wanted I asked them to pose for me.
“Where is it going to be published?” One asked. “The Detroit Free Press?” he continued. I smiled and answered “Not yet, but maybe one day”. And I had not thought of this blog at the time.
Were they friendly? Yes. Were they surprised when I asked them? No. Would Bill have asked. I’m sure. But you have to try, put yourself out there.
Does this image represent Detroit for me? Yes. It’s how I choose to express my love.
Until next time,
Cold Cold Feeling