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.