Here are a few more galleries of photographs I took on long bike rides around Detroit last year. Putting this post together, I recognized a funny little distortion in my memory. I had remembered spending all of last summer somewhat regularly taking these long photo bike rides, but I didn’t actually pick back up with them in this way until the middle of August.
It’s a hassle (and feels dangerous, because of cars) trying to bike through any of the area immediately south of Hamtramck until you get on the other side of the freeway. Which is where this picks up, in Detroit right by the Packard Plant (not pictured) and then following Grand Boulevard as it turns south. From there it’s a straight shot down the Boulevard to Belle Isle. This ride was really an excuse to get a lot of photos of Belle Isle in the middle of summer on a very sunny day, but I’ve always though Detroit looks especially interesting from the Boulevard. I’ve included a few photographs of Belle Isle at night from the next night, when my bike got a flat at sundown out in the middle of the tree graveyard, an event that finally convinced me to start carrying a flat kit on me.
This is actually two bike rides I’ve smooshed together. They’re different routes and I’ve sort of snaked them together into a fantasy route that kind of makes sense in my head. It’s not actually a long bike ride to downtown, and I’ve skipped most of the obvious way downtown, which would take you through Wayne State and the recently rebranded Midtown area. This was around the time that I had badly sprained my ankle when I tripped on a crumbled sidewalk while jogging in Hamtramck so I was taking a lot of these shorter downtown-length rides to try to keep exercising through that. I took these a couple of days when I was happy about the light, and I think the pair of rides to downtown hold together pretty well.
Historic Fort Wayne feels like a very long ways from Hamtramck, satisfyingly so for the sake of this project. It’s really not much further on the map than the ride from Hamtramck to Hubbard Farms in Southwest, but the city around Fort Wayne has been bulldozed for what seems like miles, and you have to cross an area where it seems like the only infrastructure is freeways and freeway construction, so you just feel like you’re really somewhere else entirely when you get to the fort. For now, it’s all for the purpose of building the new bridge to Canada, but the destruction of that part of the city started long before there was any movement on the bridge. It’s great inside Fort Wayne, if it just weren’t so hard to get to. A really underrated place for hanging out by the river.
Another ride out to Belle Isle, this time with a little bit more of the area just east of Hamtramck and north of the freeway, before connecting up with Grand Boulevard. I’d been trying to make a photo ride along Boulevard when the evening light was hitting the street just right, but I kept leaving the house later than it turned out I needed to. I’ve never been more aware of how much more quickly the daylight starts disappearing by this point in September.
Here are a couple more galleries of photographs I took on long bike rides through Detroit. When I started these photo bike rides I wanted to present the photos as an entire set for each bike ride. At first I tried posting them on social media as threads. I like the sets much better as galleries here. I wrote a little more about how I’m thinking about these photos in the first Detroit Bike Rides post (along with four other galleries).
June 25 2022. A ride to southwest Detroit, to Hubbard Farms, and back up to Hamtramck. About a sixteen-mile bike ride. I had an errand to run (that is, this was also a practical trip through the city) but I intentionally biked because I wanted a really long ride back home after sundown on the lookout for trees lit up by streetlights. Once you get to New Center you can pretty much stay on painted bike lanes the whole way to Southwest. The area between Hamtramck and New Center, though, you’re mostly just battling car infrastructure.
June 30 2022. North and west, up along State Fair and up to 8 Mile and then we end up in Ferndale. I was really leaning into wide framings when I took these because I was having fun with how unexpectedly well my camera handled them, and I do like how the emphasis on wide shots holds this set together. I was picking up my car in Ferndale, so there’s no night bike ride home. It is hard to bike across 8 Mile into Ferndale (and probably significantly harder to walk). You can just feel the infrastructure discouraging you from using that space if you’re not in a car.
Last summer (2022) I decided to start taking photographs on some of the long bike rides I like to take around Detroit. I was trying to stretch out what I was doing with my photography a little bit, and I’d been looking for new reasons to send myself on long bike rides around the city, so my practice of photo bike rides came together.
Most of the photos here I originally posted to my social media accounts as little sets of three or four, but I wanted to have them together somewhere, to present each set as the single arc of a bike ride (and with higher quality images). I’m kind of working my way through how I want to present my photography on this website, so here’s one way I’m trying. There are four galleries below.
May 28, 2022. A short bike ride south of Hamtramck, by GM’s Factory Zero, through part of what used to be Poletown. The day was one of those late May days when everything finally feels like it’s fully exploding into green, when I have a hard time passing a tree without wanting to take a photograph of it.
Click thumbnails below to view whole images
May 30, 2022. A nighttime bike ride from Hamtramck northeast a little ways into Detroit, mostly through Banglatown. This is one of the areas where it’s really difficult to tell when you’ve crossed between Detroit and Hamtramck. Some of Hamtramck’s other borders are much starker.
June 13, 2022. A sunny bike ride south of Hamtramck past Detroit Receiving Hospital and down to Brush Park, just across the freeway from where the Tigers play. When I first moved to Detroit in the early 2010s, I used to jog and bike through Brush Park all the time. At that time, there were a few apartment buildings around that were partially occupied, and otherwise the area seemed like a lot of empty, beautiful old houses. The last few years, there’s so much development in Brush Park, it’s practically unrecognizable. That’s a rare story for Detroit, even for most other areas immediately around downtown.
Gallery IV: June 25 2022
And a bike ride on up through the area north of Hamtramck, a few miles up to Eight Mile and back, by the old Highland Park water reservoir and through Conant Gardens. It was right around solstice so there was plenty of evening.
The way I photograph grows out of the pleasure of physically moving through the city, of paying attention to the changes in the landscape and the built environment as I bike through it—what I’ve loved about biking in cities everywhere I’ve lived. If you cover enough ground in Detroit, you’ll go through areas that have lost most of their population, streets with almost no occupancy and with maybe just a house or two still standing per block. And you’ll go through some of the most densely populated parts of Michigan. And everywhere in between, too, but Detroit’s inequalities have been pushed toward extremes.
I like to photograph the plant life that’s trying to live in this environment, the trees and open spaces, the landscape of the city and what it looks like from its public streets under different kinds of light. I try not to photograph people, mostly because I don’t like to bother people and I wouldn’t want to photograph identifiable people without their permission or knowledge. And because I like the stillness of an image without people in it. I prefer taking photos this way, but public discourse about Detroit is dominated by a particularly ugly kind of reveling in its mythic emptiness, and any kind of public representation of Detroit is always going to have to contend with that. So, for what it’s worth, I want to emphasize that Detroit is not an empty city, and emptiness as a quality particular to Detroit is not at all what I’m interested in looking at or what I’m trying to convey. Part of why I prefer to present these photos as sets is because I’m interested in how all the spaces pictured exist relative to each other, which I hope runs counter to common framings of Detroit that mystify its ruined parts away from history and out of relation with the supposedly non-ruined rest of the world. Such a mystification misunderstands Detroit as an unexplainable exception to the smooth functioning of capitalist development, and I hope not to contribute to furthering that mystification.
But Detroit has born the brunt of what capitalism does to the people it exploits and the places it forces them to live in. Everywhere you go in Detroit you do see how state-sponsored racism has ruined the city. And you see how that same state-sponsored racism continues its assault on the city in the forms of disinvestment, demolition, illegal dumping, neglect of property by land speculators, pollution, police harassment, etc. That’s not all Detroit is, and it’s not by any means all I want my photography to show, but I’m even less interested in any kinds of sanitized boosterism about Detroit’s recovery. I think the world should see what Detroit looks like now, at this moment. Even if often what I’m most excited to photograph is the way trees look at night under streetlights.
Harsens Island is a large island about an hour northeast of Detroit. It’s part of one of the planet’s biggest freshwater deltas, where the St. Clair River feeds into Lake St. Clair. The island is accessible only by boat or by a car ferry from Algonac—admittedly, the novelty of the car ferry ride played a role in our decision to go check it out. Since it’s part of the delta, it’s almost more like the island is a string of very small islands strung together by a highway than it is a large single land mass. Nearly every structure there is accessible by water, either because it’s right on the river or by way of all the waterways that snake around through the island everywhere.
There weren’t many people on the island in the middle of March. I imagine late winter is not when most people who spend time there spend time there. But it was by no means desolate or empty. According to Wikipedia there’s something like 400-500 people on the island during the winter, and that seems right. The one person who talked to me while I was taking pictures introduced herself by asking, “Are you looking to buy some property?” She seemed to get a little suspicious of me when I laughed and said I wasn’t, that I was just out taking pictures to enjoy the morning. I saw a few guys on other parts of the island with some serious nature photography set-ups going on, so I suppose that’s more what people expect you to be taking photos of out there.
Harsens Island, Michigan, March 2023
[click on thumbnails below to open full gallery]
These are just impressions gleaned from driving around the island for a little less than a day, so take with a grain of salt, but unlike a lot of the Michigan boat culture areas I’ve encountered along Lake St Clair, Harsens Island did not seem exclusively wealthy and white, which was a nice surprise. There are certainly plenty of ostentatious displays of wealth in the form of gigantic boat houses or whatever, but there are a lot of pretty modest cabins and houses around the island as well. Still, a prominent theme on signs and posters around the island was the kind of virulently anti-Whitmer, COVID-is-a-hoax stuff that makes me wary of spending much time in places around here outside Detroit.
But we left intending to come back again and check it out in nicer weather. I’d like to see what the island looks like when everything isn’t a different shade of beige.