Dave Jordano – Detroit, Unbroken Down
First thing that came in my mind when I read the news about Detroit’s bankruptcy was to find some historical photographs. I discovered Arthur Siegel (1913-1978), one of the most important pioneers of colour photography, on Shorpy website with a beautiful town landscape from 1942. Then I searched for photographic projects about today’s Detroit, I remembered the grid of Kevin Bauman’s 100 Abandoned Houses from Detroit and its surroundings and recently I discovered of the most impressive projects about the largest city of Michigan: Detroit – Unbroken Down by Dave Jordano, a photographer born in the Motor City who didn’t search for ruin porn, disasters, poorness and apocalyptic landscapes, he just presents us the community of Detroit as it is in ten episodes on his website. He says that “Detroit is still a living city. Why hasn’t this been part of the equation?”
Detroit is my hometown, but I’ve been gone for three decades. As a child growing up. my father, who worked all his life for General Motors, used to joke and say that we had motor oil in our veins. Even after all these years I still believe there is some small truth to what he said.
These photographs are my reaction to all the negative press that Detroit has had to endure over the past few years. I wanted to see for myself what everyone was talking about, and like everyone else I was initially drawn to the same subjects that other photographers were interested in; the crumbling factory interiors, the empty lots and burned out houses that consume a third of the city, and the massive abandoned commercial infrastructure. It took me a week of stealing this kind of subject matter to make me realize that I was contributing nothing to a subject that most everyone already knew much about, especially those who had been living there for years.
To counter this, I began looking at the various neighborhoods within the city and the people who live within them. This human condition, while troubled, struggling. and coping with the harsh reality of living in a post-industrial city that has fallen on the hardest of times, does thrive, and demonstrates that Detroit is not the city of death and decay that every¬one was reporting in the media, but one that shows signs of human activity and movement. However, not withstanding the recent press about Detroit’s efforts to rebound from the depths of ruin, which is in all ways promising, my focus continues to rest on the current conditions that affect many of the poor and economical challenged people whose fate will be drawn out in the ensuing months and years to come as Detroit continues to redefine and determine a new course for its history.
Whatever that outcome may be, whether for better or worse, I’ve found that most Detroiter’s wear their pride for the city they live in much like an honored badge of courage, defying all odds, openly admitting that if you can survive here, you can survive just about anywhere.
My hope is that this work will convey in many ways that Detroit is a city made up of resilient, strong individuals who have withstood many harsh realities, while all the while clinging to the vanished ideals of an urban oasis that once hailed itself as one of the most beautiful and prosperous cities in America, at one time a model city for all others to follow, but one which has now fallen from grace.
This project bares witness to the fact that it is not about what’s been destroyed in Detroit, but more importantly about what’s been left behind and those who are coping with it.
More images in www.davejordano.com, found on Feature Shoot where there is a very nice interview with the photographer. Dave Jordano was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1948 and he received a BFA in photography from the College for Creative Studies in 1974. In 1977 he established a successful commercial photography studio in Chicago, IL, shooting major print campaigns for national advertising agencies. As an emerging fine art photographer, he was awarded an honorable mention in the Houston Center for Photography’s Long Term Fellowship Project in 2003, and received the Curator’s Choice Award the following year. In 2006 and 2008 he was twice a top 20 finalist in the “Critical Mass” national photographic book award in Portland. OR. He was also selected for inclusion in “One Hundred Portfolios”, a compilation featuring the work of 100 leading photographers from around the world and sponsored by Wright State University, Dayton, OH. A major exhibition of his work from the “Articles of Faith” project was held at the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, Illinois in 2009. Dave Jordano currently lives in Chicago, Illinois.