Tag Archives: Detroit

Last few days to see rare photos of Detroit by Robert Frank

Drug store – Detroit, 1955, copyright Robert Frank from The Americans

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 will be on view through Saturday, July 3, 2010. It may be your last chance to see these rare pictures by the legendary artist. The next photo show at the DIA will open on November 24, 2010 when we present An Intuitive Eye: André Kertész Photographs 1914-1969. The exhibition surveys Kertész’s career with nearly 100 photographs taken in Hungary, Paris and New York. 

DIA shines a light on Robert Frank’s “Exile on Main Street” right here in Detroit

DIA installation view - Detroit Movie House, 1955, © Robert Frank

My best guess is that Robert Frank took the photograph at right while wandering around somewhere in downtown Detroit along Michigan Avenue. The DIA was lucky enough to get the original, large-scale photographic masterpiece (about 2 x 3 feet) on loan from the artist for the current exhibition Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955. It is likely he took the photograph, Detroit Movie House, in front of The Loop Theater when he passed through town in July, 1955. Better to see this in person, as this installation view doesn’t do it justice.

The PR overload surrounding the recent re-release of The Rolling Stones’ 1972 Exile on Main Street reminded me as well that Robert was responsible for photographs appearing on original album. On a recent tour of the exhibition, my friend and favorite Detroit rocker Danny Kroha mentioned that Detroit Movie House had actually appeared on the inside cover.

Detail from the inside album cover for Exile on Main Street, 1972, © Rolling Stones Records; Collection of W.M. Watson.

I caught Keith Richards in a rare appearance on late night tv plugging the new Exile super deluxe box edition. But I recently dug up the original from my brother’s vinyl collection, and revisiting it was like discovering a strange old relic. In an age of obsessive multi-tasking, the act of solely listening to records and looking at album covers and liner notes is a distant, lost art for most of us. It’s a shame too because through Exile on Main Street, I saw the photographs of Robert Frank for the first time. And it wouldn’t be until years later that I would find out about his films, including Frank’s documentary about The Stones, as well as his book The Americans.

1961 cover for the New Lost City Ramblers with photo by Robert Frank; courtesy http://www.folkways.si.edu

More music trivia on the Robert Frank front came courtesy of Mr. Kroha, who remembered that Frank took the cover photograph for The New Lost City Ramblers album back in 1961. The band continued to use his photographs for a number of other albums and later compilations. I wasn’t surprised since by the 1950s, Robert had established close ties to musicians as well as writers, painters and other photographers who lived in New York City and elsewhere. In fact, Ramblers’ band member John Cohen shot stills for a number of Frank’s films over the years – there’s one on view in the exhibition from the set of Pull My Daisy, a film Robert made with writer Jack Kerouac in 1959.

Readies guitarist Danny Kroha setting the record straight about Ford's versus Oldsmobiles

Readies guitarist Danny Kroha setting the record straight about Fords versus Oldsmobiles; photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kroha

Robert Frank loaned a few other  photographs to the exhibition including a picture of a broken down car, presumably his 1950 Ford Coupe which failed in downtown Detroit. But the photo actually shows a 1947 Oldsmobile – the grill was a dead give away and confirmation came from a quick web search on iPhone in the gallery. I later double checked with Robert and heard back that the automobile was, indeed, not the artist’s, who mentioned, “my car wasn’t that nice.”

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955, is open and free with museum admission through Saturday, July 3, 2010.

Save the dates for spring photography programs at the DIA and around town

Drive-in movie—Detroit, 1955, © Robert Frank, from The Americans

SAVE THE DATES! – The DIA will present upcoming programs in conjunction with Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955.

Friday, June 4, 2010, 7:30 p.m. in DIA’s Lecture Hall, author Philip Gefter will present a lecture – Robert Frank and the Beat Generation.

Philip Gefter believes that Robert Frank split the century in half in terms of his legendary and groundbreaking photographic work of the 1950s. His influence was felt by all who followed him. Join him as he discusses the work of Frank and his relationship to Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac among others. Gefter will also be on hand after the lecture to sign copies of Photography After Frank, a book of essays recently published by Aperture.

Gefter was on staff at The New York Times for over fifteen years, both as the Page One Picture Editor and Senior Picture Editor for Culture, and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. He produced the forthcoming documentary, Bill Cunningham New York about the New York Times fashion photographer. Currently he writes about photography for The Daily Beast, and he is at work on a biography of Sam Wagstaff for W.W. Norton.

This program is free with museum admission and sponsored by the Forum for Prints, Drawings and Photographs. For more info about the auxiliary, follow us on facebook at  www.facebook.com/DIAFPDP or check in on our activities at the DIA’s new website.

Saturday, June 12, 2010, 4:00 p.m., DIA’s Detroit Film Theater will present An American Journey by French director Phillipe Séclier. I highly recommend this film having seen it last fall at the Film Forum in New York – a documentary with often breathtaking cinematography, it is illuminating, humorous and takes a different look at Robert Frank and the making of his book The Americans. Made in 2009, An American Journey travels back to the cities, towns and rural communities that Frank immortalized in The Americans. He even traveled to Detroit’s most famous public park Belle Isle to find the place where Frank took photographs.

Speaking with many individuals who knew and know Frank, the director included commentary by artist Edward Ruscha, publisher Barney Rosset, photographers John Cohen and Raymond Depardon, and curators/critics Vicki Goldberg, Sarah Greenough and Peter Galassi who discuss the inspiration and complex artistic methodology that fueled the Swiss-born Robert Frank in his American journey. The film is free with museum admission. For more information about this film and the DFT film schedule – it’s all at www.dia.org/detroitfilmtheatre.

Of note as well is photographer Andrew Moore’s lecture this Friday, April 30 at 7 p.m at Oakland Community College. Moore just released a new book of his work entitled Detroit Disassembled and will appear at the OCC for a lecture and book signing sponsored by Book Beat.

Robert Frank finds “Gods Factory” at the Rouge and uncovers American Life in Detroit – photo exhibition opens at the DIA today

Belle Isle - Detroit, 1955, Museum Purchase, Ernest and Rosemarie Kanzler Foundation Fund, Forum for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Purchase Fund, and General Art Purchase Fund © Robert Frank, from The Americans

Robert Frank (born 1924) was the first photographer to make the city of Detroit along with Ford workers and the assembly line a serious subject for the camera and the basis for his groundbreaking work in America in 1955. The photographs are representative of how he, a young European man, found Americans living and working at mid-century. Fascinated by our culture, but also critical of what he saw and experienced, Frank looked under the surface of American life and pushed the aesthetic boundaries of the medium unlike anyone before him.

The automobile, in particular, was something he saw everywhere in the U.S., and one of his foremost priorities when considering subjects for his book The Americans was to come to Detroit to “do the story on the factory” as he told me in a 2001 interview. Select images from his travels to the Motor City and elsewhere were preserved in this legendary book and numerous other Detroit photographs appeared in his other publications as well including The Lines of My Hand (1972) and Flowers Is (1985). These images and other unknown, rare photographs are the subject of Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs 1955 opening today at the DIA.

Entrance to the Ford Motor Company Rouge Factory tour in Dearborn, Michigan

Last fall, I spent the better part of an afternoon over in Dearborn, Michigan, at the site once referred to by photographer Robert Frank as “God’s factory.” It’s known to us locals as the Rouge (the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant). Back in the 1950s when Frank traveled there, Ford was at the height of production, and the Rouge was a major tourist destination for people from all over the world.

Entrance to Dearborn Assembly Plant on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Dearborn, Michigan

On the official Rouge tour today you can spend about two hours soaking up car culture while viewing vintage automobiles and historical film footage of the old factory and its assembly lines. The entire complex can be seen from an observation deck as well as workers and assembly line production from an overhead catwalk in the adjacent Dearborn Assembly Plant. The assembly line was up and running when I was there, and the guide mentioned that two shifts a day were producing about 1,100 Ford F150 trucks daily. It was an encouraging sight.

Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit, 1955, Founders Society Purchase, Coville Photographic Fund © Robert Frank

But the Rouge today is a far cry from what Robert Frank saw when he was here in ’55. Now, modernized manufacturing and environmental incentives have brought state-of-the art technology to the complex and the worker’s daily routines along with honey bees, acres of sunflowers, indigenous plant life, and 454,000 square feet of sedum implanted on the factory’s thriving green roof. So, about the closest we can get in the present to the factory’s glorious and gritty past is what Frank has found there and photographed over 50 years ago.

A few years ago and through the good graces of Ford employee Don Russell (who managed the installation of the largest green roof in the world at the Rouge in 2003), I spent some time touring the buildings where Frank photographed. Visitors can no longer see them on the current public tour (original tours of the plant began right after it opened in 1927 and continued through the early 1980s with access into the original complex). Frank photographed in the B Building where motor assembly took place and in final assembly areas of the plant where the Ford Fairlane and its V-8 engine were made, but these old production sites and their Albert Kahn-designed buildings were demolished in recent years.

Assembly line - Detroit, 1955, Founders Society Purchase, Coville Photographic Fund © Robert Frank from The Americans

This exhibition has been in development for many years, and my research goes back to the early 1990s when I first discovered the material at the DIA while working as an intern in the department of prints, drawings and photographs. I studied Frank’s work in-depth at his archive in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where I found about 50 proof sheets from his trip to the Motor City. Detroit was a boom town, and the Ford factory was at the height of production with around 60,000 employees who could build one car per minute.

A large gift of Frank’s Detroit photographs came into the collection in the 1980s, and in subsequent years additional works were purchased. These acquisitions have contributed to  DIA’s  establishment of a rare and remarkable body of work by this legendary and influential artist. Many prints are unique, and even though select photographs have been on view over the years, this is the first time all of the work can be seen in a single exhibition. Over sixty photographs will be on view in the special exhibition galleries near Rivera court (the de Salle Gallery of Photography will be temporarily closed  but reopen with an exhibition of Andre Kertesz’s work in the late fall).

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955, will be on view through July 3, 2010. Check back here or at the DIA’s website for announcements regarding upcoming special programs related to the exhibition.

Robert Frank installation nearly finished – Detroit Experiences opens tomorrow March 3.


Museum staff at the DIA is finishing installation this afternoon and Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 will open tomorrow. Here’s a few photographs from behind the scenes.

DIA Lighting technician Grant West getting a perfect five foot candles of light on each photograph

Collections Care Specialist Doug Bulka at the reading table.


A peak midway through the gallery

Robert Frank and his Detroit experiences on view in DIA photo exhibition opening March 3

Detroit River Rouge Plant, 1955, © Robert Frank

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 opens at the DIA this Wednesday, March 3. I thought readers might want a quick look at a few of the photographs in the exhibition (there are over 60 works – all from the DIA’s permanent collecction) which will be on view in the special exhibition galleries just off Rivera court where the Detroit Industry murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera have been on view since 1932.

View of the DIA's Rivera court and Diego Rivera's Industry murals from 1932

View of the DIA's Rivera court and Diego Rivera's Industry murals from 1932

Both men found inspiration for their work at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant (known as “the Rouge” to locals) in Dearborn, Michigan.

Frank spent several days photographing at the Rouge in 1955. About a third of the exhibition includes Frank’s rare imagery from inside the huge complex. He also visited Belle Isle, the Gratiot Drive-In (found in Roseville, Michigan, and now demolished), as well as other familiar haunts around the city. Frank came to Detroit to photograph “how Americans live and work” – several of the Detroit images were reproduced in his book The Americans and appeared in later publications he created. The photographs were part of a larger group of nearly 27,000 images he took traveling across the U.S on a Guggenheim fellowship.

Avedon’s Detroit Connection – Donyale Luna

Donyale Luna at the entrance to Avedon Fashion at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Donyale Luna at the entrance to Avedon Fashion at the Detroit Institute of Arts

To some readers out there, the connection between high fashion and the gritty Motor City may seem like an oxymoron. But back in 1965, the idea was not so unlikely when Richard Avedon worked with a beautiful young model from Detroit  named Donyale Luna. As a tribute to this unique Detroiter, her image graces the banner at the entrance to our special exhibition galleries where she stands over 15 feet tall.

Avedon first began using African American models as the subjects for his fashion sessions in the early 1960s.  Donyale Luna had dramatic looks and a six-foot tall slender figure that suited bold and sometimes outrageous designs characteristic of the 1960s. Avedon photographed her for Harper’s Bazaar in 1965 and for Vogue magazine in 1966.  The Vogue sessions featured gladiator-inspired metal mini dresses of designer Paco Rabanne, and although Luna’s image (seen above) is considered to be one of the most iconic photographs of his career, it was actually never published in Vogue.

Fortunately, the Avedon Foundation has allowed one of very few rare vintage exhibition prints to travel with the show. It appears in the exhibition with other photographs of Penelope Tree and Jean Shrimpton – Luna’s model-girl contemporaries well known to the world of 1960s high fashion.

Luna was born Peggy Freeman in Detroit in 1945.  According to Duke University’s Richard Powell she was an aspiring actress active in Detroit theater circles in the early 1960s before moving to New York City to pursue modeling and acting. After working with Avedon, she scored assignments with other high profile photographers including David Bailey who shot her for a cover of British Vogue back in the 1960s. Luna also appeared in a small number of films – perhaps most notably in Italian director Federico Fellini’s Satriycon in 1970.  She passed away in Rome, Italy, well before her time, in 1979.

Avedon Fashion Photographs coming to a Detroit neighborhood near you


The installation and opening events for Avedon Fashion Photographs have kept all my  blogging efforts to a minimum over the last several weeks. And even though I feel like I’ve been underground and just now coming up for air, there seems to be no escape from Richard Avedon outside the DIA’s gallery walls. Driving around town I am greeted daily by the our billboards. They bring a little elegance and charm to our local skylines.

And it’s all good. Not just good- it’s great. This is a stunning exhibition. It was brought to perfection by James Martin, managing director at the Avedon Foundation in New York City. James and I worked tirelessly on site with DIA staff to get this exhibition of around 180 photographs as well as dozens of vintage fashion magazines installed earlier this month.

James Martin of the Avedon Foundation

James Martin of the Avedon Foundation

Working with Avedon during the final years of his career (Avedon passed away in 2004), James has a second sense about the amazing eye and legacy of this brilliant and prolific photographer.

The DIA’s been having fun with the exhibition online too. On our Flickr “Fashion by the Decade” page, post your own fashionable photos of friends, family members, or maybe yourself, if you have the courage. You may even win some free tickets to the exhibition or to our annual November gala called “To the Nines.”

Don’t be shy. Just remember what Richard Avedon said, “Fashion is one of the richest expressions of human desires, ambitions, needs, frailty, insecurity, security. What we wear is an indication of our sense of ourselves. It’s a gift.

The First 100 Years of Photography – Exhibition to Open Sept. 2@the DIA

Julia Margaret Cameron, Enid from Idylls of the King, 1874

Julia Margaret Cameron, Enid from Idylls of the King, 1874

On September 2 the DIA opens a new exhibition, Photography – The First 100 Years: A Survey from the DIA’s Collection. Taking a look at the early years of photography and its development as a new art form, the DIA presents a survey of 90 works from its collection. Included are a number of notable rare works from the 19th century as well as iconic imagery from the 1920s and 1930s. Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange in addition to 50 other pioneers and great innovators of the medium are on view in the exhibition which runs through January 3, 2010.

Unknown Photographer, Soldier and Companion, 1861-65, tintype.

Unknown Photographer, Soldier and Companion, 1861-65, tintype.

One of the highlights from this exhibition is a tintype portrait of an African American couple from the 1860s. The process, a photographic image made on metal, appeared in the 1850s.  The DIA was fortunate enough to acquire it back in 2001, when it went on the auction block with other items from the collection of Jackie Napoleon Wilson, a Detroiter who developed an important and rare collection of 19th-century portraits of African Americans over the years. The exhibition moves onward from the 19th century with sections devoted to the pictorialist, modernist and social documentary eras. Photography – The First 100 Years kicks off a new and exciting season of photography exhibitions this fall 2009 and into spring 2010 at the DIA – here’s the round-up:

Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000– opening October 18, 2009 through January 17, 2010. The DIA will host the first large-scale fashion retrospective since Richard Avedon’s death in 2004. Organized by the International Center for Photography, New York, the exhibition includes 181 images – many are well-known photographs – in addition to magazines and other interesting ephemera that illustrates the long and legendary career of one of America’s most successful and interesting photographers.

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs 1955 opening March 3 through July 4, 2010. This exhibition includes over 60 black-and white photographs taken by Robert Frank in Detroit. Made during his travels through the U.S. photographing for his book The Americans, Frank observed Detroiters as they lived and worked at mid century in the U.S. In this rare body of work, many of which will be on view for the first time at the DIA, Frank documented the day-to-day lives of Americans as he tried to mingle with assembly line workers at the Rouge Factory, took in a movie at the Gratiot Drive-In, and experienced public life on Belle Isle and in the streets of Detroit. All were part of the Detroit experience as Frank perceived it over fifty years ago.

A Few Recent Acquistions – All About Detroit – Then and Now

Untitled (six boys and boy with bicycle in background, neg#22), around 1910, by Wendell Hotter (1889-1955), Gift of Brad and Ellen Iverson

Untitled (six boys and boy with bicycle in background, neg#22), around 1910, by Wendell Hotter (1889-1955), Gift of Brad and Ellen Iverson

As summer comes to a close, I thought to share with readers a number of recent acquisitions that are notable because of their interesting ties to Detroit. The first, comes out of the tradition of vernacular photography. Back in June, Brad and Ellen Iverson gifted a number of prints to the museum that Brad had made from old negatives dating to the early 20th century. Vernacular photography is a growing area for collectors, and several museums including the National Gallery of Art have organized exhibitions around some of the work that falls into this category. You’ve probably seen these pictures in those old remnants from the pre-digital era – the forgotten family photo album. Or maybe you’ve stumbled across boxes of pictures in local flea markets or even garage sales.  If you take the time to forage through them, these photos will stop you for a second or even longer – maybe its a curious composition, an unusual pose, or something else unique or peculiar that you can’t quite put your finger on.

Untitled (Herbert Hotter and Girlfriends, Detroit, Michigan), about 1910. Gift of Brad and Ellen Iverson

Untitled (Herbert Hotter and Girlfriends, Detroit, Michigan), about 1910. Gift of Brad and Ellen Iverson


Over the years, Brad researched the work and discovered Detroiter Wendell Hotter was responsible for taking the photographs seen here. Hotter dabbled in photography over the years making portraits of friends and family, as well as businesses and a few local landmarks around the city. The photographs date from around 1910 to 1930 and are evidence of some faraway personal slice of history and the people and places that existed over a century ago.

Another recent gift that relates to our local cultural history, more so from the underground and certainly eclectic, was created by the collaborative team The Upholsterers (Brian Muldoon and Jack White), who, in addition to their forays into upholstering and fine art editions, have pretty well-known reputations around town and elsewhere as musicians (Brian is a drummer with The Muldoons; Jack plays with The White Stripes and more recently has been on tour with a new muscial project The Dead Weather).

The Upholsterers Makers of High Grade Suites, 2000. Gift of Michelle Andonian

The Upholsterers Makers of High Grade Suites, 2000. Gift of Michelle Andonian

Made around 2000, Brian and Jack put together about 500 official editions that include multiple pieces: business cards, a fabric sample along with a three-panel story board of Brian and Jack refurbishing a vintage chair.  But the whole piece really fronts as an elaborate jacket for an old-school 45rpm vinyl disk with rare recordings by the duo. Incidentally, photographs on the cover and the inside story board were taken by Steve Shaw an old college photo buddy of mine who also happens to be a fellow DIA staffer and guitarist for The Fondas.

Past summers have seen other Detroit-related material finding its way into the collection. Last year, local photo guru Bill Rauhauser presented the museum with a large and coveted gift of his most memorable work. The photographs document the city from 1950 through the 1980s. And in 2006 collector James Duffy, well known for his support of many Detroit artists, bestowed over 400 black-and-white photographs to the DIA. Duffy took the pictures around 1976 to document old storefronts and businesses mostly on Detroit’s eastside. It’s likely you will see these treasures in upcoming exhibitions at the DIA and in future posts.