Bill Rauhauser, Stone Burlesk, Woodward Ave., Detroit, about 1960.
Detroit Institute of Arts. ©Bill Rauhauser, 2012
Detroit is the Star of a new Photography Exhibition at Detroit Institute of Arts
Motor City Muse: Detroit Photographs, Then and Now presents a fascinating take on city
Nicola Kuperus, Flat, 2006. Detroit Institute of Arts. ©Nicola Kuperus, 2012
Many Detroiters will recognize familiar landscapes, people and neighborhoods in the exhibition Motor City Muse: Detroit Photographs, Then and Now at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Dec. 14, 2012–June 16, 2013.
Motor City Muse looks at Detroit’s history, diverse population and culture through the eyes of photographers from as early as 1947 to as recently as last year: the Detroit pride in people who live here; the individuals and the city that powered the booming auto industry; fantasies woven into car ads; funny, unexpected moments; everyday life; gigantic cityscapes; and intimate portraits. The exhibition is organized by the DIA and is free with museum admission. Support has been provided by the Chrysler brand and Quicken Loans.
“Detroit’s culture has long held a deep fascination for photographers,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “It is fitting that we have two sponsors also focused on Detroit’s vitality and we are grateful to both Chrysler and Quicken for supporting this presentation of Detroit as seen through the lenses of some of the most notable photographers in the world.”
Bill Rauhauser, Kresge Court, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1960s.
Detroit Institute of Arts. ©Bill Rauhauser, 2012
The featured photographers are:
French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson visited Detroit while on a cross-country trip across the U.S. in 1947. Cartier-Bresson believed Detroit was an American phenomenon that reflected the values and lifestyles of average Americans. His fascination with everyday life in post-World War II Detroit is illustrated in photos of a veteran’s parade on Woodward Avenue, a shift changeover at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge Plant, workers dwarfed by the enormous blast furnace on Zug Island and wedding couples near the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle.
During more than 40 years taking photographs on the streets of Detroit, Bill Rauhauser built an archive of more than 10,000 negatives, each of which vividly evokes the feel of the city as the years passed. Whether photographing a bored teenager behind a french-fries counter at the Michigan State Fair or a highly groomed shoe salesman in front of a Woodward Avenue storefront, Rauhauser has said, “I tried to find something that somehow said something about people…and human nature.”
Rauhauser frequently worked on thematic series using Detroit’s landmarks, public spaces and local events as a backdrop for his subjects. Select photographs from these series include an amateur photographer snapping pictures of loved ones in front of the now-demolished Ford Auditorium, a stylish female smoker caught unaware in the DIA’s Kresge Court, and two old women chatting in front of Detroit’s notorious and bygone Stone Burlesk club.
In 1955, Swiss-born Robert Frank traveled through America to make a “broad and voluminous picture record” of how Americans lived and worked. Frank drove to many cities, but considered Detroit and its legendary Ford Motor Company River Rouge factory a priority. He gained rare access to assembly lines at the Rouge plant, where he took pictures of the harsh conditions, repetition, and danger of factory work. Frank captured ordinary moments that were both strange and dynamic in their depiction of day-to-day physical exertion on the assembly lines. One photo shows the front end of a 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria as it dangled precariously above an autoworker who was finishing its assembly.
During his time in Detroit, Frank also took photos of diners, drive-ins, and parks. He saw Detroit culture as unique to the American experience, and select photographs became part of his groundbreaking 1958 book The Americans.
In 1973, 25-year-old Dave Jordano photographed some of Detroit’s most distinctive and oldest buildings and neighborhoods. When he rediscovered these photos more than 30 years later, he realized how dramatically Detroit had changed and was inspired to photograph the same locations in 2010. His pictures provide a fascinating look at the changes that occurred at familiar Detroit locations in the span of 37 years. Included are the John Bagley Memorial Fountain at Campus Martius, the Great Hall in the Michigan Central Station, and the site on Farmer Street where Crowley’s department store once stood.
Jordano also shot portraits of Detroit residents for a project he called “Detroit Unbroken Down.” He said, “I wanted to share my experience that Detroit is still a living, breathing organism, full of life and movement.”
Detroiter Russ Marshall photographed at the Ford River Rouge plant and other Midwestern factories from 1969 to 1993, many for the United Auto Workers’ Solidarity magazine. He noted that most people liked to have their picture taken, “if approached directly and shown a little respect.” One 1993 photograph entitled Assembler, American Beauty Electric Irons and Heaters, Detroit, Michigan captures a worker in a recently demolished factory. Marshall, the son of an autoworker, experienced the era of downsizing and factory closings in and around Detroit. He understood the importance of creating lasting images of Detroit workers and commented, “… I knew and sensed over time that these jobs and these workers and these factories would someday be gone; replaced by something or nothing. It wasn’t lost on me that I had this opportunity to document and preserve the fact that these workers did exist at this time and in this place.”
Russ Marshall, Detroit Steel Plant Laborers, 1979.
Detroit Institute of Arts. ©Russ Marshall, 2012
German artist Karin Jobst photographed in Detroit between 2010 and 2012. While investigating the history of photography and art in Detroit, she visited the DIA to study Robert Frank’s 1955 photos. Jobst suggested her work be installed with Frank’s because of the unique perspective they brought as European artists photographing the city.
Jobst experiments with film exposures to alter colors and enhance a sense of time and place. Through color, she intends to remind us of different decades in the city’s history: the art deco glow of the 1920s Fisher building or the stark creamy interiors of the 1970s-era Renaissance Center.
One of her works is a grid made of small vignettes of Detroit’s cityscape, architecture, public parks, freeways, and stills from films about the city. Together, the images present what Jobst calls “timelayers”—architectural styles and other city sights that represent different decades in time.
Detroiter Nicola Kuperus, who previously assisted on commercial car shoots in and around Detroit, played with the idea of commercial car photography and the female model in her personal work. Inspired by fashion and advertising photography, Kuperus stages large-scale color photographs that feature beautiful vintage cars and well-dressed women in questionable scenarios. A 2006 photo entitled Flat shows the body of a woman passed out with a tire iron in her hand near a rare 1950s Chrysler 300. Kuperus notes that her work isn’t a direct reaction to advertising photography but “… is influenced mostly by the absurdity I feel in life on a day to day basis. It’s based on my reactions to experiences, what I’m feeling at that moment and how I translate that tension into my work.”
The Detroit School of Automotive Photography
Detroit’s association with cars created a legendary school of automotive photography. Work by early innovators is featured, including Walter Farynk, Jimmy Northmore, Mickey McGuire and Vern Hammarlund and Warren O. Winstanley. Selections featured illustrate the careful attention these photographers gave to lighting, composition and color to create the perfect image. Collaborating with art directors on set design, model casting, styling and final visual concept, these photographers helped create lifestyle fantasies surrounding the automobile’s “latest model.”
Hours and Admission
Museum hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. MUSEUM HOURS WILL CHANGE BEGINNING NOV. 13 TO: Tuesdays–Thursdays, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.; Fridays, 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Saturdays–Sundays, 10 a.m. –5 p.m.
Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for ages 6-17, and free for DIA members and residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. For membership information call 313-833-7971.