Archive for the 'fires' Category

Do you photograph the good parts?

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A minivan pulled up as I got back into my car after photographing this house. “Are you with the film industry”, she asked. “I’m a tailor and sometimes they need those people”, she continued. I told her I wasn’t involved with the movie industry, and she then asked me why I was taking photos of a burned out, abandoned house. My explanation that it’s part of a long term, personal project that I’m working on didn’t seem to satisfy her curiosity. That’s when she asked, “Do you photograph the good parts too, or just the bad parts?”

I really wanted to be able to say I photograph both. Over the years, I have photographed both the good and the bad, but the truth is, lately I primarily photograph the bad parts. Rarely do I focus on the good anymore. I know there are good things happening in the city, but I don’t show them. I suppose it’s easier to just drive downtown with my limited time, and photograph the things that I see along the way. Which is pretty much what I do. It’s partly convenience, but it’s also the reality of many people’s experiences with the city. It’s hard to enter the city from any direction, on any road or freeway, and not be blown away by the amount of abandonment and decay. After more than thirty years of living in the area, I know I am still shocked by what I see in the city.

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I don’t live in the area anymore, and I find the same uniqueness, and grittiness that supposedly makes Detroit so great is everywhere. Grittiness isn’t Detroit’s secret ingredient, it’s simply a nice way of saying it’s a hard place to live. Who needs that? I’m happy for those who love the area, and truly feel they belong here, but life can be a challenge without having to fight dysfunction every step of the way.

So, do I photograph the good parts too? No. Not right now. I’d really like to, but I think I still need more distance. I need to become even more of an outsider. Unfortunately coming back to the area still brings out bitterness. I like projects such as the “walk-in portrait studio” , The Power House, and the Russell Industrial Center, but some heralded establishments are only unique because they happen to be in Detroit. In any other city, it would just be one more good place to go.

The good, and interesting things in Detroit don’t make up for streets like Robinwood, where a resident said about his situation, “It would be Hell if I was dead, but I ain’t. So that just makes the place ugly. The most ugly thing that human beings can create.” Unfortunately, Robinwood, wasn’t, and certainly isn’t, the worst street in Detroit. In some places six families would be considered a high number for a street. While the woman who asked me if I photograph the good parts said that there were good things happening in Detroit, she also mentioned there were only a few houses left on her side of the street she lived on.

Castle House burns down

I was always amazed that the house in Brush Park, known as the Castle House, had survived pretty much intact all these years. Unfortunately it now joins many other once beautiful houses that have been razed. According to the Detroit Free Press, the house burned down this morning, and was knocked down this evening.

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Fires

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Three devastating fires in three states in the same week…

Near Boulder, Colorado almost 170 homes in a scenic area known as Fourmile Canyon have burned in a fire of unknown origin. In San Bruno, California, near San Francisco, a ruptured gas line caused an explosion that killed at least four people and destroyed nearly 40 homes. In Detroit downed power lines, and illegal electrical hookup, strong winds, and apparently dysfunctional services led to fires that destroyed 71 homes several days.

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Which is the most devastating? A fire possibly caused by nature, an explosion from an approximately 60 year old underground gas pipe, or one caused by a person living in poverty illegally hooking up to the electrical system, combined with power lines that have been down for days? It probably doesn’t matter, though many of the people who lost their houses in Detroit probably don’t have home owners insurance. And while they could by a house in the city for $10,000, some probably can’t afford even that. The only upside is that apparently only 29 of the 71 homes were confirmed as occupied…