Detroit may be known for things like its extreme crime, car theft, Robocop, and the Detroit Auto Show by the outside world, but it also happens to be a very creative town of possibilities and one of my new favorite places to photograph in. In fact, despite being a Washington DC-based photographer (soon to be relocated to NYC full-time), I've done 4 separate paid photoshoots in Detroit this Spring alone. Detroit has some of the most incredible grand locations, which you will learn about in the blog post below. According to the locals and those of us that work around town, the creative industry is alive and well in The D.
"Detroit DOES hustle harder. It's been experiencing a rebirth with talented innovative people including photographers, artists, chefs, and city planners who see opportunity to present new ways of thinking and new ideas for the city." - Matt LaVere
Detroit has a lot of really awesome locations, just make sure to be careful. Use your best judgement. Do not travel to rough parts of town alone, do not leave gear in your car, do not explore rough parts of town at night. Make sure to hit up the really helpful photographers in the Detroit area for location advice. That’s what I did (as you will see later on in this article).
Here are a few photoshoot location that I love in Detroit (I’ve shot in these places or would like to in the future):
- The Packard Plant (dangerous place, use the buddy system, but its an awesome location): https://www.flickr.com/groups/packard/
- The abandoned Michigan Central Station. Recently a 50 Cent rap video was filmed in there. You apparently can permit to get inside, just be weary of the wild dogs that allegedly patrol the property. Yikes: http://www.seedetroit.com/MCS/mcsweb/
- The Michigan Theater in downtown. A former ornate theater turned parking garage. For the $8 parking fee per car and if you’re very polite, you can go shoot up there on the top level with the cool ceiling without a permit (that’s what I did) : http://weburbanist.com/2011/01/01/detroits-michigan-theater-the-worlds-most-beautiful-parking-lot/
- Detroit Ship Building / The Globe Building: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.389540781106691.90920.144703648923740&type=1
- Saint Agnes Church (I literally could have walked in the front door in the middle of the day to the abandoned church, but I suggest filing a permit and keeping security with you) : http://detroitfunk.com/?p=4926
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I hit up two of my photographer friends/assistants from Detroit to give their input on the state of photography in Detroit:
Tony Barchock is an urban explorer and photographer (www.francisfotos.com & www.facebook.com/francisfotos) with a lot of love for his city. He spends much of his time volunteering around town to bring back some luster to the art community. Tony is an awesome encyclopedia of epic Detroit shoot locations and safe to say he's my location scout pf chioce. This guy fearlessly walked me into places that I would normally avoid (for my own safety) and showed me some of the most incredible structures from a bygone era):
"Detroit is becoming a hotbed of photography as of late. People are starting to realize it isn’t all about abandoned buildings, homelessness, fires and crime. A lot of people would come, take photos of blight or an abandoned structure, set up booths at art fairs and other markets to sell ‘Ruin Porn’. Unfortunately a majority of these photographers were neither able nor willing to capture the spirit and efforts of individuals, volunteers and entrepreneurs working to make the city better. Word is out and people are noticing all the beauty that is here. Downtown there is a mix of activity, and beautiful architecture, including a sky scraper that has been pulled from the jaws of death and completely restored. It is now retail space and apartments. You will see buildings designed by Albert Kahn, Daniel Burnham, Wirt Rowland and even Minoru Yamasaki a mix of styles not seen in many cities.
Since there is such a huge diversity in this city from graffiti mural alleys to the largest island park in the United States there is a lot of opportunity for great back drops or onsite shoots. A new trend is weddings in Detroit proper or on Belle Isle and wedding photos on the island or around the city. Belle isle not only boasts beautiful flora and large conservatory but it has a lot of its own historic buildings such as the aquarium. There is also a lot of repurposing and resurrecting going on, like the new BMX park in Brush Park and the restored Thunderdrome. Positive photography is starting to take over the blight but there is always the side of Detroit you cannot over look.
Just outside downtown is the possibility of the taboo, Urban Exploration. Nowhere else in American, in one day, can you explore where; Henry Ford cut his teeth as an machinist, Joe Louis learned to box, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Smokey Robinson grew up, Alice Cooper got his start on stage and in another building the stage that the Who performed on. Not to mention all the automotive historic buildings. There are those that want to explore a history that is slowly melting away and even take photos to preserve and document what still remains, but the ruin pornographers are still out there."
Matt LaVere is one of the hardest working photos assistants in the business. He busts his butt every time we work together, volunteering to pick up gear or location scout before I even arrive in town. Any time I need a resource, part, rental house, studio space, makeup artist, he is my guy. Matt is also a talented photographer as well and works at a rad new photo studio in Detroit:
"When I started my freelance career in 2011, I wasn't sure if Detroit was great place to start a freelance career in photography. I moved back in with my parents from Grand Rapids to Livonia, MI and any money I made from photography went towards a plane ticket out to New York City. My intention was to move out there as soon as possible. I crashed on my friend's couch while I pursued meetings with photographers, photo editors, and rental houses to build my network. I met some amazing people in the industry through ASMP, PDN magazine, and workshops.When I mentioned my intentions to move, most colleagues in New York City recommended me to stay in Detroit and be a bigger fish in a small pond.Now in 2013, I decided to plant myself here in Detroit where I assist photographers from around the world and continue to make my portfolio. I've assisted some amazing photographers In Detroit including Douglas Sonders, Frank Ockenfels 3, Walter Iooss Jr, Trevor Pearson, Eric Ogden, Bob Carey, and local photographers Chris Arace and Jeremy Deputat. Some major assignments include the Ad campaign for the 2014 Corvette StingRay, 2012 ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated Covers of the Detroit Lions, Kid Rock's album cover "Rebel Soul", 50 Cent's Music Video "My Life" and Alex Cross movie promo photos.
Currently I work alongside with Chris Arace (www.thereason.us) on his productions and out of a new studio space, We Are Vacancy (www.wearevacancy.com), in Eastern Market. It's the only photo studio space in Detroit proper and are looking to serve the photo and video community for any productions!
Detroit DOES hustle harder. It's been experiencing a rebirth with talented innovative people including photographers, artists, chefs, and city planners who see opportunity to present new ways of thinking and new ideas for the city. Come visit me at the studio with Chris Arace or join us for a drink at the Sugar House (http://www.sugarhousedetroit.com/) in Corktown. We'll be sure to share more stories and give you a tour of this amazing city we call home."
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Detroit is a great place to create in as far as I am concerned. It’s just a city filled with a lot of spirit that faced some hard times, but is fighting its way back up. Downtown is full of life and culture. When you’re in town, make sure to hit up one of my favorite BBQ joints: Slow’s BBQ