In Between Detroit’s Failing Streetlights

With Detroit’s pending emergency manager likely addressing the city’s failing streetlight system, and business groups funding streetlights on their own, I thought it was time to post an excerpt of a project on which I’ve been working since 2009.

When I moved from Chicago to Southwest Detroit for the summer of 2009, I was determined to photograph more than the ubiquitous Detroit “urban exploration” scenes. To do so, I developed strategies to photograph the built environment that could contribute to the discourse about Detroit rather than simply reinforce the dominant perception of the city as someting like an urban wasteland.

One strategy was borne from reflecting on the few functioning streetlights off of the arterial routes. While most every neighborhood in Chicago is fairly well illuminated, Detroit neighborhoods are not. Even my street in an active neighborhood in Mexicantown was totally unlit until about a month into the summer, when one light bulb was installed in one of the many streetlight posts.

One consequence of this neglect is that residents often provide their own light. Porch lights and commercial floodlights punctuate darkness nearly as frequently as do public utilities. Streets take on a patchwork appearance from the hues of private light sources: the bluish whites of fluorescent signs, reds of neon gas and pale yellows of porch lights. This private provision of a public utility is begrudgingly maintained like so many other services in Detroit: perhaps as equally from altruism as protection. Consequently, the relationship between individuality and community that is obscured elsewhere by the passivity of the disinterested taxpayer is exposed by the immediate need for action.

As such, the images in this series do not dwell on the absence of streetlights; instead, they focus on the relationship between lightness and darkensss. In so doing, I hope that they serve as a reminder of the commonality produced by casting light into one’s community.

Another selection of this work was originally published in Tinne Van Loon‘s 2010 book, Impressions of Southwest Detroit. Additional photographs from my Detroit work can be viewed on the main website.


Lit Sides

Lights

Family Treat

Illumination

Alpha Super Market and Liquor

The Fire: Walking by a House in the Haze

Illumination, Rain (and a Little Lightning Glow)

Streetlights, or the Lack Thereof

Nemo's

The Fire:  Walking, Liquor Sign in the Haze

Jaye Dee's Mart at Night

A Year of Demolition in Chicago (and Some Travel)

After filling 2010 and 2011 with travel, I changed gears in 2012 to spend most of the year in Chicago working on two local projects.

The first was the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation supported To be Demolished series, in which I photographed 100 buildings threatened with demolition throughout the city. Among my goals for the project was to get a sense of the range of buildings lost, from minor buildings receiving no public attention to those in the limelight. The full series is viewable on Gapers Block, and you can read more about it in this column by Mary Schmich.

To be Demolished Screen Shot

The second Chicago project was the simultaneous undertaking of my dissertation and a documentary film about a group of South Side Chicago residents who are being displaced. I will be posting more about that work within a month; in the meantime, here are a few frames from the film. Update: The film is now online, and I’ve included it above the screenshots.





While the local initiatives kept me busy, I still found time to extend projects in Belfast, Northern Ireland and nine other U.S. cities. I visited Belfast to continue documenting the activities of Eleventh Night and The Twelfth, and most of the U.S. visits were structured around wrapping up the fieldwork component of my collaborative effort with Michael Carriere, which I’ve previously mentioned on the blog and was written up in The Atlantic Cities.

Below I present a selection of photographs from most of those cities, alongside a few more from the Chicago area.

Elsewhere in the Chicago Region

With Train Yard, Fog and Car

In Their Garage

Marktown, Indiana Aerial Looking East

From Across the Street

Belfast, Northern Ireland


Burning the Kids' Bonfire

Building a Bonfire

Buffalo, New York


Towards the New York Central Terminal (Buffalo)

Cincinnati, Ohio


Frank's

Chama, New Mexico


Through the Trees

Cheyenne, Wyoming


In the Parking Lot

Denver, Colorado


Gothic Theater

Detroit, Michigan


Walking in the Morning

Indianapolis, Indiana


Dried Pond, Houses

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


At the B & C Lounge

Buffalo, New York

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Buffalo, New York to help the Society of Architectural Historians prepare for their April conference. Subsequently, I spent most of my time preparing traditional architectural photographs, but I did have time to do some personal work. No matter which kind of subject, I was immersed in buildings constructed before WWII.

Thanks to Buffalo’s early access to hydroelectric power, it is among the cities with the best per capita early Twentieth Century architecture. Among the luminaries are those familiar to Chicagoans, including Adler and Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright and the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Still, the decline of the Erie Canal’s importance and well-known effects of deindustrialization and suburbanization have challenged the city since the 1950s. That contrast is clear as one moves through the city.

The following is a small selection of images from the visit. As always, more are available on flickr.


Towards the New York Central Terminal (Buffalo)

Ellicott Square Building, 1895-6

Buffalo City Hall Lobby Temple Beth David, 1924

Sloan's Antiques & Modern Furniture Office

St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church, 1883-1886 (Towers, 1908) Dun Building, 1894-5

Memorial, New York Lottery Advertisement

Silos at Night

Denver, Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming

Last week I traveled to Denver, Colorado to attend the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting and to continue my work on creative grassroots responses to urban problems. The conference and Denver kept me busy, but I was also fortunate to have an extra day to make a supplementary trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

During the visit, I was struck by how each state capital was defined by its history as an important thoroughfare. While both were enhanced by 19th century Western expansion, they have been more recently and visibly affected by transcontinental automobile traffic; for Denver, it was U.S. Highway 40 and, later, Interstate-70, for Cheyenne, it was the Lincoln Highway and, later, Interstate-80. The corresponding mid-century development framed my experience of both places, where I often focused on place, commerce and transportation. So while I photographed throughout both cities, I’ve primarily selected related sample images below.

As always, click on the city titles to see other selected images I posted to flickr.

Denver, Colorado

Englewood Self Service

Gothic Theater

In the Park

Queen City Architectural Salvage

Rio Grande Co.

5380

Drive Thru

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Rail Passage at Dusk

1972 Committee, Frontier Days

Pioneer Hotel Mailroom, Lobby

Family, Cowgirls of the West Museum

In the Parking Lot

At the Eagle's Nest

The Loyalist Bonfires of Belfast, Northern Ireland

Bonfire on the Street

I recently visited Belfast, Northern Ireland to continue documentation of Eleventh Night and The Twelfth, two controversial holidays during which Protestant Loyalists build massive bonfires and parade through city streets. While Loyalists describe the events as “family friendly” cultural activities, doing so ignores their role as expressions of Protestant political power and steadfast support for Northern Ireland’s membership in the United Kingdom. Given Belfast’s ongoing conflict between the Loyalists and the Catholic Republicans who desire a politically united Ireland, the holiday activities operate as claims over the contested city.

While the political nature of the parades is somewhat buried in historical references on banners and the often unspoken lyrics of flute band songs, the bonfires unambiguously express political perspectives. Viewers need not know that the stacked pallet and tire bonfires are references to a 17th century Protestant victory over Catholics to know the political and religious stakes. In most communities, political allegiances are boldly proclaimed through flags, whether through the nearly ubiquitous flying of the Union Jack or the burning of the Irish Republic’s Tricolor, as well as through political slogans such as “KAT” (shorthand for “Kill All Taigs” [Derogatory slang for Irish Catholics]) in more aggressive districts.

As the Troubles fade and the reconciliation process continues, the City Council is attempting to facilitate a transition to a new Eleventh Night model by offering financial incentives to burn wood chip beacons in recognition of the historical victory without burning of flags and tires. Still, most Loyalist communities rebuff the subsidies not only because the beacons are fast burning and less visually stunning but because they fear loss of the tradition and the already waning youth interest in bonfire construction — and, ultimately, the political conflict in general. These communities’ perspective on the issue can be summed up by one 2012 bonfire banner: “Culture Above Cash.” When put in context, the banner could just as easily read “Politics Above Cash.”

The following bonfire photographs are selections from my recent work in Northern Ireland. I will be updating my Belfast series page with some of these images shortly. Many additional images may be viewed on flickr.

Loyalist Bonfire, ASDA

Burning the Kids' Bonfire

Massive Bonfire Through Fence

City Center Bonfire

In the Shankill

Bonfire Near the Westlink

Bonfire in the Village

Watching the Bonfire Burn

Watching the Shankill Bonfire

Detroit, Michigan

I spent last week in Detroit attending the Society of Architectural Historians‘ annual meeting, where I also had a few opportunities to continue working on my Detroit project. Selections from that work are below, followed by a few traditional architectural photographs.

Walking in the Morning

Residential Buildings at Dusk

On His Motor Bike

Down the Street

Now Burnt

Late Afternoon Snacks

Special Events $25

With Car


Fox Theatre
The Fox Theatre

Guardian Building Interior
The Guardian Building

Guardian Building Interior - Lobby
The Guardian Building

McGregor Memorial Conference Center Detail
McGregor Memorial Conference Center

The Fillmore Detroit
The Fillmore Detroit

Photographs from Another Year of Travel

Last year I compiled a list of representative photographs from many of the locations I visited in 2010. This year was similarly packed with travel, so I decided I should do it again, starting a year from when I made the last post. Nineteen U.S. metropolitan areas and Vancouver, Canada are represented, although there are a few other places I visited that I didn’t include.

A quick note about what you’ll see below: After I visit a place, I typically make a short blog post wherein I share a handful of favorite photographs from the visit. To make it easier to see those images, I’ve linked each city name to a post. Where there isn’t a post, I’ve linked the title to my full flickr set from the approximate place and labeled it with a “[f]”. You can click on any image to see a larger version of it on flickr.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Filling the Water Tank

Colonia residents fill their portable water tank from a new well on the Pajarito Mesa, southwest of Albuquerque. The 400 family community has no public utilities, including running water, electricity or direct access to school busing for children.

Baltimore, Maryland

Perlman Place, Before and After City-Initiated Demolition

The left image was made on the first day of the Perlman Place demolition on April 16, 2010, the right on November 19, 2011. The simplified backstory is after years of neighborhood decline, a developer decided he wanted to turn this block into upmarket, renovated row houses; however, he didn’t have enough financing to make it work. The result was a stalled project, leaving the block in the state it was when pictured in the 2010. In response, the city initiated demolition. There are no immediate plans to replace the demolished units with new housing. The remaining residents are pleased that there are fewer derelict buildings to mask criminal activity, but they are terribly sad to have lost the block.

Chicago, Illinois [f]

Lake Shore Drive in the Blizzard

Cars remained stranded in the snowdrifts on Lake Shore Drive as the blizzard gusted on the morning of February 2.

Cleveland, Ohio

No Road

A closed road on Cleveland’s East Side restricts vehicular traffic from one community to another.

Dallas, Texas

Elmers Drive-In, Downtown Dallas

This convenience store is one of a few retailers nestled between bail bondsmen and other lower rent businesses near the county’s criminal justice complex. Downtown Dallas rises in the background.

Dayton, Ohio [f]

Neighbors

A historic cemetery is crammed into a busy commercial strip in south suburban Dayton.

Detroit, Michigan [f]

West Fort Appliance (After the Neighbors Turned on Their Lights)

The locally-owned West Fort Appliance is illuminated by a neighboring building in the absence of functioning streetlights in this part of the city’s southwest side.

Indianapolis, Indiana [f]

Black Friday: Best Buy Line

Late Thanksgiving night, shoppers waited to take take advantage of discount prices at a Best Buy in an Indianapolis suburb. I walked the length of the parking lot just before midnight, photographing the line’s accumulation in front of four other big box store locations. Two of the four were occupied.

Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri

Railroad Tracks, Grain Elevator, Skyline

Railroad tracks branch out into no fewer than 22 lines before converging into Kansas City, Missouri.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Walking Home

A man walks home from work through his apartment complex on the near east side of Las Vegas.

Lubbock, Texas

Oil Pump at Night

An oil pump churns through the night on the eastern edge of Lubbock, Texas. Here is a short audio recording of how it sounded.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin [f]

Sitting on His Stoop

This man moved to Milwaukee eight years ago after living in Chicago for most of his life. Tired of living in Milwaukee, he is planning on moving to Minneapolis sometime soon.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Residential Buildings, Boys on Bicycle, Falstaff

Two boys ride a bike by a shotgun house marked for demolition on a short residential street. The former Falstaff Brewery is visible on the right side of the frame.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Awesome Books

One of many stores along the burgeoning Penn Avenue Arts District, Awesome Books sells a range of secondhand books.

San Diego, California

At Play

Children play in one of the many mobile home parks located along I-5 between San Diego and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Santa Fe, New Mexico [f]

Along the Highway

A painted billboard rests outside a derelict mall along I-25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Topeka, Kansas

Hanover Pancake House, McDonald's, Water Tower

Hanover Pancake House, which has served Topeka since 1969, is flanked by McDonald’s and a water tower during a February snowstorm.

Tushka, Oklahoma

Preparing the Chairs

Tushka High School students break down desks and other damaged materials following a tornado that destroyed much of the small Oklahoma town.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Regent Hotel, Union Market, Hastings Street

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is the location of a major redevelopment effort due to its high number of boarding houses and SROs, a few of which are seen here.

Washington, D.C. [f]

Occupy D.C., Freedom Plaza

The Occupy D.C. demonstrations are located on two sites: Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square. The Freedom Plaza encampment (seen above) is adjacent to the District of Columbia’s government building and within sight of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Working Legacies: The Death and (After) Life of Post-Industrial Milwaukee

Your Company Name & Logo Here
Your Company Name & Logo Here (2011)

Since Fall 2009 historian Michael Carriere and I have been working on a project documenting a range of community and economic initiatives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

On Friday, December 16, the first public presentation of that material will open at the Grohmann Museum in Milwaukee. The exhibition, entitled “Working Legacies: The Death and (After) Life of Post-Industrial Milwaukee,” will run at the Grohmann, 1000 N. Broadway, until February 6, 2012. A Gallery Night event with the two of us will run from 5-9pm on January 20, 2012.

Additional information about the show is available in this interview on Salon. Background information can be found on The Huffington Post. An image of the exhibition and sample photographs follow.


Working Legacies: The Death and (After) Life of Post-Industrial Milwaukee
A view of “Working Legacies” at the Grohmann Museum

Foundry Worker at Falk
Foundry Worker at Falk Facility, Rexnord (2011)

Growing Power
Growing Power (2009)

House, Froedtert Malt Corporation
House, Froedtert Malt Corporation/Malteurop (2011)

Swing Bridge, Grain Elevator, River, Neon Light
Chicago and Northwestern Transportation Company Swing Bridge (2011)

Sweet Water Organics
Sweet Water Organics (2009)

Occupy Everywhere

As I’ve been traveling in the last few weeks, I’ve visited Occupy Wall Street affiliated locations in six different cities: Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and both locations in Washington, D.C. Now that winter is approaching and Occupy locations are changing, I thought I should share a couple of photographs from each location.

I will add additional photographs here as I have occasion to visit new sites.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Grant Park

Tax the Rich

Arrests Begin at Occupy Chicago Demonstration in Grant Park

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – McKeldin Fountain Square

Occupy Baltimore

Occupy Baltimore in McKeldin Park

CLEVELAND, OHIO – With Occupy the Hood

Occupy the Hood/Occupy Cleveland

Occupy the Hood/Occupy Cleveland

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Grand Circus Park

Occupy Detroit

IMG_0098

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Freedom Plaza

Occupy D.C., Freedom Square
Occupy D.C., Freedom Square

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – Garden Park

With His Occupy Minneapolis Shirt

Occupy Milwaukee at Night

WASHINGTON, D.C. – McPherson Square

Occupy D.C., McPherson Square

Signs from Occupy D.C., McPherson Square

Perlman Place and Baltimore, Maryland

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to present at the American Society of Criminology annual meeting, around which I tacked a couple of extra days to photograph throughout D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.

I was particularly interested in following up with Perlman Place, a row house block in Baltimore I photographed when visiting the area in 2010. The product of years of decline and a failed redevelopment project, the city planned to demolish of 67 of the approximately 80 houses on the block. Two images of Perlman Place are below: the first is from the day demolition was initiated in 2010, the second image is from Saturday.

The pair is followed by several of my other favorite images from this recent visit to Baltimore. I will share other images from Washington, D.C. later, but more images from both locations can be viewed on flickr.

Perlman Place – April 16, 2010
Perlman Place, Baltimore

Perlman Place – November 19, 2011
Perlman Place, After City-Initiated Demolition

OTHER IMAGES FROM BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Enter to Worship

Gutting

Baltimore

Brick Harvester

Walther Hall, Man, Cats

On Her Stoop

Y & M Chinese Food Carry Out

Laundromat, Light, Man Leading

Metro Grocery Carry Out