Monday, April 14, 2014

A Pocket of Hope in Detroit, the Heidelberg Project

Detroit, Michigan, This once-great industrial city is situated on the Detroit River and was the birthplace of the American automobile industry. It was also the industrial powerhouse that turned out vast amounts of munitions, airplanes, and military vehicles that helped us win World War II. But since the 1960s, it has also become an infamous example of urban decay taken to such an extreme extent, it boggles the mind. This was not a war zone, like Stalingrad in 1942; it was self-imposed decay caused by decades of racial strife, corruption, incompetence, theft, greed, and stupidity. Are there any more terms we can apply? Several former mayors were jailed for corruption. As of 2014, the city is in bankruptcy. But there are pockets of hope. One of these is the Heidelberg Project, a neighborhood of art projects that attracts tourists and shows that something creative can be extracted from the mess. The Project even has a web page.

Walk around, and you see houses covered with teddy bears, signs, balls, puffy things, and bits of plumbing. Even the street has dots. Some of the houses are occupied; some are only used during the day for classes or projects.
If you want, you can also have little lions, ducks, dragons, and monkeys.
Stop to look at the details. There are plenty of non-subtle comments on the American consumer society, the gun mystique, poisonous foods, and legal drugs.
The famous buried Hummer. These people really, really did not like Hummers. Or maybe they liked them because they were such an extreme example of modern American consumer society and its cult of self-gratification via gross material possessions.
The pink bicycle is just in front of the pink Hummer.
Unfortunately, all you need to do is walk a block or two to either side of Heidelberg, and you see stark evidence of what has befallen much of Detroit: abandoned houses, fields, tatty signs, and closed stores.

Not all is well even here. Arson is cheap entertainment in Detroit, and even the Heidelberg Project was not immune. From their web page:
Just before 3:00AM on March 7th, the colorful Party Animal House (a favorite of children) located on Mt. Elliot (between Heidelberg and Elba Streets) was destroyed by arson, the 9th fire over an 11-month period. Though DFD responded within five minutes of the first call, their focus quickly shifted from the already destroyed Art Installation, to protecting the adjacent home of longtime residents. Though the neighboring structure suffered significant water and fire damage, its residents were unharmed and remain in surprisingly good spirits. This is the ninth fire set at the internationally renowned art environment since May, 2013, when The Obstruction of Justice house was first set ablaze.
Another essay on the arson at the Heidelberg is from David Uberti.

We will look at more Detroit photographs in future articles. Click for photographs of the International Waterfront. Heidelberg photographs were taken in 2010 with an Olympus E-330 digital camera and the Olympus 14-54mm lens. I reprocessed the RAW files with PhotoNinja software.

Update June 6, 2017: Some powerful black and white film photographs from south Detroit:
https://www.35mmc.com/04/06/2017/35mm-large-format-detroit/

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