“But cities aren’t like people; they live on and on, even though their reason for being where they are has gone downriver and out to sea.”
— John Updike,”Trust Me”
The pages of Dave Jordano’s new book, “A Detroit Nocturne” (PowerHouse, 2018) start off with the above quote, and it couldn’t be more apt. It is no secret that Detroit’s halcyon days are long gone, despite many efforts over recent years to revitalize it. There certainly has been some success, but it isn’t what it was at its height, when it was the center of the U.S. automotive industry’s universe.
But of course, Detroit lives on, and in recent years has been the subject of dozens, if not more, of photo reports, most of which have focused on its dilapidated and crumbling art deco buildings. Jordano’s view of Detroit acknowledges that part of the city’s existence but offers up something more as well. The photos are all shot at night, and although there are no people physically in them, little details emerge in each one that make us feel the presence of people.
Take the photo “Brent’s Place, Michigan Ave., Westside, Detroit 2016,” for example. We see no people at first glance. But on closer inspection, we notice an open window, and through the window is what appears to be part of someone’s wardrobe. Such traces of existence can be seen in most of the photographs.
Jordano was born in Detroit in 1948 and graduated from its College of Creative Studies in 1974. A few years later, he moved to Chicago and established a successful career as a commercial photographer, shooting big ad campaigns for national agencies. Twenty-something years later, in 2000, he decided to work more seriously on personal projects, and the project that would become “A Detroit Nocturne” began. Writing in the foreword to the book, Karen Irvine, deputy director and chief curator of Columbia College Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, provides us with the following succinct assessment of Jordano’s work:
“In all of his work about Detroit, Jordano defies confining, negative narratives. Endeavoring to break through labels and shift perceptions, he exposes lives of perseverance and fortitude that have long existed in Detroit despite its problems. The images in Detroit Nocturne thus form an ode to Detroit’s residents — to collective determination, a love of place, and, ultimately, optimism.”
Here is a glimpse of Jordano’s photographic homage to his birthplace.
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