One Giant Movie Set

It’s been kind of hit-and-miss with the nice days in Michigan this spring.  Now, I’m not really one to mind rain, but my camera seems to have a rather noticeable aversion to it.  Last week summer came out of nowhere and hasn’t shown signs of leaving.  That paired with a bit of free time, I journeyed into downtown Pontiac for a bit of photography.

If you aren’t local to Metro Detroit, I’ll understand if you don’t really know much about Pontiac.  Let me explain it like so:  If they were looking for somewhere to film “I Am Legend,”  Pontiac wouldn’t even need CGI or set design.  I suppose that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.  “Desolate” is a good word  for this situation.

I like to refer to Pontiac as Detroit v2.0.  In addition to the lack of anything redeeming, the city seems to be headed toward 2 extremes of a spectrum.  On one hand, artists and galleries are making their way downtown and creating a kind of depressing version of Ferndale-Corktown.  Also, by my count, there are half a dozen locally well-known nightclubs.  There’s also Erebus, a rather famous haunted house.

On the other hand the city is like a ghetto.  Nearly all the schools have closed, which forced the assimilation of multiple schools under one roof and has resulted in more than a handful of gang brawls, including shootings and the like.  Driving around, I feel like perhaps 1 in 7 buildings is abandoned or in need of demolishing.  A good 80% of the businesses that are still open are all lumped into a 3-block stretch of a single street.  I even drove past the homeless shelter yesterday and noticed there was a special parking area just for female staff members (it’s well-lit and right next to an entrance).

Even the cops left.  Seriously – last year the Pontiac PD was decommissioned.  The city is now paroled by State PD.

I’ve always liked Pontiac and I don’t want to say it’s hopeless, but when I see news articles about the “revitalization of Pontiac,” I usually just ignore them and move on.  Detroit has a fighting chance – enough people care and are actively trying to improve the city.  Pontiac isn’t really getting the same energy.

Well, scattered among the vast seas of parking lots, there are quite a few grand structures that deserve some photographic attention.  So, I suppose I’ve found my new project.  Here are a few of my favorite shots so far.  They will be on my fine art site and available for purchase after I feel I’ve really sunk my teeth into the project.

– Jon

Danger? Where’s My Camera?

It was about 10ish years ago, but I remember it rather clearly.  I was sitting in my room with headphones on (quite loudly) and I could still hear these thumps.  It was probably more “felt.”  With the music off and standing on the back porch, the remote wail of sirens filled the evening.  The thumps continued.

So, my father and I piled in the van and drove through neighborhoods around us trying to see what happened.

Through the trees we saw the sky glowing, but the color was coming from the ground.  As we rounded the K-Mart, we saw what was causing the commotion.  There was a blaze we could feel from a quarter mile away.  Jets of fire were shooting 50 or 60 feet into the air.

Clearly there was too much hullabaloo for us to really understand what happened, but from the crowd that had gathered, we deduced that a shop owned by a hydroplane boat racer had caught fire.  We tried to get closer but were dutifully turned back.  The following day, we found out that the tanks of racing fuel had somehow combusted and compromised the acetylene equipment.  When I walked down to see the building, I saw that an entire wall had been blown outward as though The Hulk was inside.

A decade later and well into a career in photography, I still think about the pictures I would have gotten had I had a camera with me.

This also brings up the “photo journalism argument.”  Is is OK to profit from taking pictures of things or events that destroyed someone’s life or income?  I suppose I still haven’t decided which mindset I have.  So until that point, I’ll continue to take pictures of things that intrigue me.

As you can probably guess, there was a fire.  It was at a tree maintenance company about 3 miles from my house.

– Jon