Detroit's comeback hopefuls featured in new exhibit
From factory workers to artists to business executives, a collection of portraits and stories from Detroit’s workforce has arrived at the Michigan State University Museum to provide a powerful counter narrative to the crumbling of the Motor City.
“Detroit Resurgent” is a display of 62 black-and-white portraits taken by French photographer Gilles Perrin, coupled with written interviews conducted by his wife, Nicole Ewenczyk, about the subjects’ passions for Detroit and possible comeback solutions.
“Nobody can deny there are lots of decayed buildings in Detroit but that’s not the story of what’s eventually going to turn Detroit around,” said Howard Bossen, professor of photography and visual communication in the School of Journalism, who curated the exhibit. “It’s the people. This whole project is about the people of Detroit and the resiliency of people.”
The exhibit includes the words and faces of the old and the young, of long-time residents and recent arrivals – all in their working environments.
“It was important that we captured the faces, rather than buildings, because seeing faces allows us to stop objectifying people, and to humanize the situation in such a way that you see that their future should be important to you,” said John Beck, associate professor of labor relations, and director of the “Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives” program, which is co-sponsoring the exhibit.
Only 36 of the 62 photos appear on the museum’s walls, but all interviews can be found on two touch screen displays located by the photographs. For now, the public can view the collection only by visiting the museum, but it will soon be online.
“We’re really happy we discovered what people are doing and it’s an example for people elsewhere because they aren’t waiting for money,” Perrin said. “Everyone was helping each other and that’s very different from what we know, even in France.”
Perrin uses a large format camera, which is key to creating an exchange of emotion between him and his subjects, he said. Working with a slow shutter speed, they can see the lens – which Perrin says is his eye – open and close. The slow process often creates a sense of quiet comfort, he said, which is why he generally takes a photo only once.
“On 9/11, people were running out of the World Trade Center, and the firemen and the policemen ran into the buildings to save others,” said Yul Allen, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics teacher at Detroit’s Bates Academy, in his interview. “So many people are running out of the city of Detroit, and I want to be one of those individuals that runs into the city of Detroit …”
“Detroit Resurgent” will be on display at the museum until Jan. 12 and MSU Press will publish a book by the same name in April. Also in April, the exhibit will premiere in Detroit, stopping first at the Detroit Athletic Club and then at MSU’s Detroit Center.
Alongside “Detroit Resurgent,” Perrin’s 25-year project, “An Extraordinary Document of Our World,” is on display at the MSU Museum. It comprises images of workers in Europe, South America, North America, Africa and Asia.
There will be an opening reception for both exhibits from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the MSU Museum, at which MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon will speak. It’s free and open to the public.
For more information about MSU's partnerships with Detroit, click here.