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These Detroit photos are my attempt to express why the city fascinates me. 


When I first started in my current role, I handed my manager a recommendation for my geographical focus, which included Miami. He basically handed it back to me with an “uh, no” and pointed out that, since I live in Chicago, focusing on Detroit would make better sense. Detroit is not how I roll: Miami is how I roll. But clearly my boss does not give a damn how I roll.

As it turned out, I love going to Detroit. Technically a Minnesotan I identify with the Midwestern sensibility and humor found there, the men are the most handsome in the country (actually, the men in Miami are good-looking too, but too many play on the other team), my co-workers are cool, DTW is efficient and easy, the Middle Eastern food is a refreshing change, staying at The Henry is a treat, my customers are nice and the town is so damn photogenic.

I know. You don’t think of Detroit as photogenic, right? Well, it all depends upon the type of photos you like . If your taste runs towards pictures of sunsets, rainbows and kittens dangling from branches then the city may not be your cup of tea. But if you harbor a bit of a dark streak, an appreciation for edginess and a healthy sense of morbid fascination then Detroit has a lot to offer you and your lens.

I am perfectly happy just driving through the neighborhoods (in the daylight, doors locked, windows up) and snapping away. There’s no shortage of weirdness, decay, contradiction, humor and displays of the human spirit to be captured here. I hope my Detroit photos have done the city justice.


The abandoned building looming over the intersection of I75 and I94 has fascinated me since I first saw it.

Abandoned building in Detroit photos

I finally mustered up the courage to see it up close.

I75 and I94 Building

This next one is my favorite of my Detroit photos.

Cartier in Detroit

I love the Cartier in roaring 20’s font contrasting with the competing graffiti beneath it. Below that, a phrase painted in what appears to be Russian font. Further down, “BOO AMaNDA”. Who wrote it and what does it mean?

A quick google search and I learned that this structure is the Fisher Body Plant 21, built in 1919 to manufacture automobile coaches.

I ran across some amazing urban art not far away, close to Eastern Market.

Funky Detroit Photo

There’s so much to love about the image above: the attention to detail, bright colors, humor, movement: but the aspect of it that especially cracks me up is that the artist’s style evokes that of the cartoonist Don Martin of MAD Magazine (and I have not picked one up in decades).


Detroit Indian

Some random driving in the same vicinity brought me to this house.

Bright House Detroit Photos

A forsaken residence that exclaims, despite all appearances, that everything really is ok. What I want to know is, who is parking their bicycles in front of it?

The front door to the It’s Ok! House:

Detroit Door

I hope you enjoyed my Detroit photos.

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My interest in Detroit’s Heidelberg Project began in Chicago.


I was attending an exhibit of the work of the photographer Xavier Nuez, whose Alleys & Ruins series has mesmerized me for a few years now. The series includes photos of abandoned buildings, the underbellies of bridges and graffiti-scrawled alleyways at night. The otherwise ominous images glow with saturated color, reflecting a lights from unknown sources. The effect is other-worldly.

Motor City Xavier Nuez

Nuez was delivering a talk after the exhibit — and since I’ve wanted to know how the hell he shoots his shots and lives to tell of it — of course I attended the event. The photographer shared his stories (taken here from his website):

Long after dark, I venture into bleak urban settings, seeking out their illusive splendor. With the city humming in the background, I find inspiration, peace and refuge where none should exist.

My determined and intense outings often lead to journeys into dangerous neighborhoods, at times resulting in trouble. I’ve run from street gangs, been accosted by crazed drug addicts and have had guns pointed at me.

Nuez projected photos from his series behind him as he spoke. The image of a dilapidated house to which dozens (hundreds?) of stuffed animals had been affixed especially caught my attention. I asked about it in the Q&A session and learned that the house was part of Detroit’s Heidelberg Project.


From The Heidelberg Project brochure:

In 1967, a 12-year-old Tyree Guyton watched his city burn. In the aftermatch of the Detroit riots, thriving communities rapidly became segregated urban ghettos characterized by poverty, neglect and despair.

In 1986, Guyton took a stand against the decay, crime and apathy in the neighborhood where he was raised. Using discarded objects from everyday life, he created a festival of color and meaning that has been described as a “Ghetto Guggenheim”. Using vacant lots and abandoned houses as his canvas, he transformed an entire block into a world-famous outdoor art environment and a thought-provoking statement on the plights of inner city communities.

I was in Detroit for work on May 3, and my co-worker Kathleen and I found ourselves with a welcome, unexpected break in the day. She had never heard of the Heidelberg Project (and she’s a Detroit native), but our customer had been there, and he charted a route to the neighborhood for us.

“Lock the doors, roll-up your windows and glide through stop signs,” he advised.

A nice guy sitting on the porch of a house sporting large, multi-colored numbers greeted us as we walked-up, offered a brochure then left us alone to stroll at our leisure.


Obstruction of Justice House Heidelberg Project Detroit

The Heidelberg Project’s Obstruction of Justice House sent my minimalist-loving, clutter-loathing blood pressure soaring.

The morning following our field trip to The Heidelberg Project, Kathleen texted me that the Obstruction of Justice House had burned-down in the night. It’s quite possible the photo above is the last taken of it. And no, we were not smoking when we visited it.


Heidelberg Project Detroit Spotted House

The casual docent told Kathleen and me that Guyton’s grandmother — who is in her 90’s — still lives in the house and enjoys sitting on the porch, taking pride in the stream of visitors who have come to see her grandson’s creation.


Baby on a Cross Heidelberg Project Detroit

Heidelberg Project Detroit Tree


Heidelberg Project Detroit Album House



Heidelberg Project Detroit Stuffed Animal House

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I have a secret: I like going to Detroit. Which is good, because I go there all the time for work. I pretend as though I’m making great sacrifices for my job, but the truth is…I enjoy it, because staying at The Henry Hotel is like taking a mini-vacation.

The Henry Detroit Mural

GETTING THERE: It’s Detroit (Dearborn, actually). You either take a short cab ride or rent a car (no on-airport rentals). Depending on occupancy, the trip from the parking lot can be a hike, but it’s free and the valet service is speedy.

LOCATION: Fine. A 10-minute drive from the airport and close to I-94 for reaching downtown. Plenty of decent restaurants in the area (but not within walking distance).

SERVICE: Nearly impeccable.The staff are friendly without being obsequious and they’ll recognize you after only a few stays.

The Henry Hotel Detroit LobbyATMOSPHERE: Bright! Ecclectic! Cosmopolitan! Such an improvement from its stuffy, serious old self when The Henry Hotel was a Ritz Carlton. A brilliant Timothy Yanke painting greets you at the front desk, and they don’t scrimp on colorful artwork (Maxx, Tarkay) throughout the property. The decor is ballsy and refreshing: Tiffany Blue walls, chandeliers, glossy white moulding and more glossy white moulding.

ROOMS: Contemporary and luxurious (the two aren’t mutually exclusive but you wouldn’t know that from most properties). Bold prints, plush bedding and marble in the bathroom. Now if they’d only allow me to make it a little warmer in the room

GYM: Only average, but the granola bars are good.

RESTAURANT/BAR: The Henry Hotel dining room succeeds at being upscale without being formal. Choose from private dining, a communal table, hightops or bar seating. The selection varies from swordfish filets to fish tacos. A mixed clientele makes for interesting people watching and conversation flows at the bar, creating a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere for the solo business traveler – men and women alike. Like elsewhere in the hotel, the customer service is excellent (Audra’s a star), and their secret weapon is Mark, the maitre d’ (he of the almost eerie mental Rolodex of hotel guests), who greets you like a long-lost friend. He has some good stories he could tell, that one.

Oh, and…the wine pours are generous. I LIKE that in a place.

THE CONCIERGE LOUNGE: I saved the best part for last. Marriott Gold Members have 24-hour access to the Concierge Lounge where Natti and Marlene have created a home-away-from-home for them. It’s a pretty sweet concierge lounge, with views that extend to Canada, an extensive newspaper selection, multiple computers and printers, a flat screen tv, complimentary breakfast, a happy hour that you can make a meal out of, and premium liqueurs and desserts at night. Try dipping the Rice Krispie bars in the chocolate fondue in between sips of Grand Marnier.


The Henry Hotel. Detroit’s oasis. Don’t tell my boss.

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