Under the direction of Nancy Barr, Associate Curator for Photography at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the museum opened an exhibition, Motor City Muse: Detroit Photographs, Then and Now, featuring images from Detroit going as far back as the 1940’s. With support from the Chrysler Corporation and Rock Ventures, this survey of seven photographers, including Henri-Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Bill Rauhauser, Dave Jordano, offers the audience nostalgic portraits, Woodward cityscapes, and factory life Verit’e. “Detroit’s culture has long held a deep fascination for photographers,” said DIA director, Graham W. J. Beal, in a news release.
The exhibition combines black & white photography with color images in a variety of film formats that in some instances depict a before and after view of the same scene. The French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson visited Detroit in 1947 while on a fascination driven cross-country voyage to uncover everyday life in the United States. The exhibition has some of his classic 35mm black & white images including photos from the Ford River Rouge plant and the blast furnaces at Zug Island. On a similar trip in 1955, Robert Frank traveled throughout the United States to see how normal Americans lived and worked. His images of workers in the auto industry capture the raw conditions of the assembly line, as in one photo that shows the grille of Ford Fairlane suspended over the heads of workers. Several images from his book, The Americans, appear in the exhibition depicting an automotive culture that he considered unique to Detroit.
A local photographer, Nichola Kuperus, worked in commercial photography before applying her talent and experience to create dramatic scenes using the figure along with vintage cars. In a DIA news release, Kuperus says that her work isn’t a direct reaction to advertising photography but “… is influenced mostly by the absurdity I feel in life on a day to day basis. It’s based on my reactions to experiences, what I’m feeling at that moment and how I translate that tension into my work.” She records the set ups with color large format negatives that resemble stills from a 1950’s crime scene. Color and design elements in her work play alongside the content. For this exhibition, her work provides a theatrical relief to the majority of images that capture a moment in time.
Motor City Muse: Detroit Photographs, Then and Now at the DIA, Dec. 14, 2012–June 16, 2013.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is located at 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48202 Museum hours are Tuesdays–Thursdays, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.; Fridays, 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Saturdays–Sundays, 10 a.m. –5 p.m.
Ron Scott is a pseudonym for a writer based in the Detroit area. View more articles by Ron Scott.