Baby Borat

Posted by jdg | 10:09 AM |


This swimsuit was sent to us by the lovely and talented Carissa Carman, our friend in New York who is responsible for this hat and this hat. The latter she found at a sidewalk sale somewhere in Brooklyn from a guy who bought a warehouse full of 1950s deadstock and only sells a few things each day. This swimsuit, I assume, came from some similar place.

This is her website. She's one of the girls who visited us in the vegetable-oil car last year. That project's website is here.

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Storefront Psychic, Detroit

Posted by jdg | 11:50 AM

Apparently that little eyeball in the palm of this psychic's hand didn't see far enough ahead to warn her about the foreclosure crisis.

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Gram in the swing

Posted by jdg | 9:22 AM | , ,

I hate to admit it, but this molded fiberglass swing is the first thing I really noticed about our neighborhood and the first thing that made me really fall in love with it. The playgrounds within the neighborhood are well-maintained and original to the early 1960s. Yeah yeah, I liked the houses too, but I really liked the swing.

Sometimes I see people with big yards and I feel bad because I can't install all that backyard play equipment for my kids. But yesterday Juney looked out the window and saw two of her friends playing on this playground and ran right out there to them. I realized there are nice things about sharing the equipment with the neighborhood, too.

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U-pick blueberries, summer 2008

Posted by jdg | 11:00 AM

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Posted by jdg | 1:04 PM | , ,

Just a few meters away from where I took yesterday's photo, I found this bird's nest built on the connector of an old railroad car that obviously had not moved in some time. As I approached it I was hoping to find eggshells or something inside it to help me identify what bird this had been, but it was empty.

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Cormorants, Detroit River

Posted by jdg | 10:27 AM | , ,

I had a confrontation with homeland security for the second time in a week after I took this photo (no photographs of the bridge allowed), but when I finally got home and saw it I felt like it was totally worth it. This is actually an untouched color photograph. A cargo ship had just entered the frame on the left.

The agents I dealt with after taking this photo were pretty cool and only detained me while they performed a background check. I told them about why I was down there and they told me about a place along the river to find a family of wild foxes and even coyotes and deer. The guys last week were total dicks though.

I walked for what seemed like a mile along an abandoned stretch of the Detroit river, full of wildlife and thriving flora. I'm leaving comments open in the hope that some friendly ornithologist will recognize these birds from their silhouettes. I know they were not ducks, but a much more elegant order of bird.*

*title edited now; thanks ornithologically-inclined readers!

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The Experiment

Posted by jdg | 10:34 AM

Even with considerable running and jumping, the experiment did not work as planned.

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The Southfield and Jeffries Interchange

Posted by jdg | 1:37 PM

I spent all morning wrangling the kids around this hideous and massive two-month-old medical office building right off the highway out in Novi. My son was literally older than this building. The wife had some kind of woman appointment there (her midwife/OB moved out into the hinterlands, so we're in the market for a new one).

God, I hate what the highways have done to this region.

Previous Photo
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Watching for bunnies in the backyard

Posted by jdg | 9:32 AM | ,

A few night ago we had some friends over and they brought their houseguests with them, a German art professor (from Sweden) who photographs, collects, and lumbers ghetto palms, his wife, and their 11-month-old baby boy. It was amazing for me to watch the little guy play with Juniper---and to think that in only five months or so she and her brother are going to be able to interact like that. She is dying for it, I think, to have him as a playmate. She smothers Gram with kisses and hugs to the point where he always cries and I need to interject. "Stop smothering him," I say. But how can I explain to her that she's showing her brother too much love?

I caught the tables turned the other day, with him on top of her, grabbing her hair and trying to gobble up her face. She was shrieking with delight.

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Found this tree growing on the roof of an abandoned cement factory. It was one of those cheap asphalt roofs that had become deeply cracked over the years and there were trees growing all over it---a small forest's worth. Getting up there I stepped on a rusty nail that went right through my shoe and sock but apparently didn't pierce my skin. I remembered that it happened a couple days later and asked my wife to look at the bottom of my foot but she said, "Why bother, if you'd gotten lockjaw you'd be dead by now."

Time to buy some of those skinhead boots.

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Gram at seven months

Posted by jdg | 10:00 AM | ,

Please stop crawling, Mr. Two Teeth. Chewing on everything seems much more ominous now that you have mobility and those razor-sharp incisors. You gutted and field dressed a stuffed moose the other day. The dog is already scared of you (as well he should be).

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Delray at night

Posted by jdg | 9:29 AM | , ,

I wasn't expecting to be in Delray after dark the other evening, but there was a little incident with the Department of Homeland Security I hadn't been planning that delayed me an hour or so. Apparently they interrogate and try to confiscate the cameras of anyone they find taking pictures of industrial sites. But that's a story for another day.

Delray is a little neighborhood of Detroit isolated by highways and railroads and water. It's extremely blighted and residents have been displaced by increasing industrial activity and the city's wastewater treatment facilities. It also has a very distinct smell. The community of people who still live there seems like a tight-knit resilient group of hardcore folks, such as this guy who lives across the street from the hangout of a biker gang called the "Iron Coffins." My friend in high school used to live by a hangout of the local chapter of the Iron Coffins and we used to dare each other to drive by and yell, "Iron Coffins suck!" 'cause they would throw beer bottles and yell "Fuuuuuck you!" in unison.

I took this photo from the parking lot next door to their Detroit hangout. I did not yell "Iron Coffins suck!"

The fire is from the steel plants on Zug Island, a wholly-industrial island in the Detroit River accessible only by two private bridges in Delray. Peter Jackson could have saved a few million dollars and just filmed all the scenes from Mordor in Lord of the Rings on Zug Island. I swear a minute or so after I packed up my camera a giant blue flame shot fifty feet up in the air from somewhere on Zug Island. Then the Lord of the Nazg├╗l flew overhead on his way to Dearborn.

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Graffiti Robot

Posted by jdg | 11:04 AM | , ,

Came across this robot in an abandoned flea market the other day. The artist used two holes that were already in the wall for his eyes, creating a cool glow from the sunlight outside. I love it when graffiti artists incorporate existing elements like that into their work. Also, the whole thing made me smile because it reminded me of this.

Seeing the robot made me want to take another stab at an "official" graffiti alphabet book that I could publish in actual book form. I'll just put that on the list with the ten thousand other things I want to do in the four or five minutes of free time I have every day.

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I took this several weeks after a suspicious fire ravaged this home, with the sun shining right through the collapsed second-story. The once-brightly colored stuffed animals surrounding the memorial had become faded and droopy from rain. I was surprised to find any news at all about what happened, but both local papers reported the fire, stating that a man in his fifties died here, possibly a squatter. The girls across the street just told me a man died there.

Who ties teddy bears around a burnt pillar for a squatter? Who leaves flowers and devotional candles for someone the papers didn't even bother to name? Who was the man in the photo next to a framed painting of Jesus?

You see so many of these "makeshift memorials" around this city, it's clear this is considered an appropriate and even standard outpouring of grief and love, like this. Or this. There are almost always huge stuffed animals---the kind you "win" in rigged fairway games and carry away as a badge of a father's (or a lover's) skill. I often wonder why people began using so many stuffed toys in these memorials, especially when the deceased was not a child, but as in this case a man in his fifties. Is it because they bring color and even cheer to a scene that experienced a shooting or a fire? Do they serve as a reminder of better and more innocent times? Or do they simply say, Take Note: someone died here. He is not forgotten.

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Every week we go to the art museum. We start at the cafe, which is one of the few places in Detroit with a decent salad bar. She eats chicken and tuna fish and broccoli and black beans and hard-boiled eggs and I tell her it's all healthy and at the end of the meal she asks me how much she's grown and I hold my forefinger and thumb a few millimeters apart, smiling. After lunch she runs at a breakneck pace past the suits of armor and through the Diego Rivera court all the way to the Picasso room, where she stops in front of her favorite painting (which I wrote about here).

I come into the room to find her like this.

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Every Saturday for many years my dad and a bunch of his buddies have gotten together to drive a small fleet of these restored steam-powered cars from the early years of the twentieth century. The Stanley "steamer" was built by a New England company started by identical twin brothers named Francis E. and Freelan O. Stanley (both of whom graduated from the same small Midwestern public undergraduate institution my wife and I would attend a century later). One of them went on to build the Stanley Hotel outside Estes Park, Colorado, which was Stephen King's inspiration for the Overlook in The Shining. They were transcendent oddballs. Instead of advertising their cars by traditional methods, they preferred to just dress up in the exact same clothes from their shoes to their derby hats with long, identical beards and drive identical Stanley Steamer automobiles side by side into a town, around a town, and then on to the next town. This was said to draw crowds of curious---and perplexed---onlookers.

Their cars were incredible, though. They could go really, really fast: well over 150 MPH (which was unheard of in those days) and they were surprisingly safe. The water boiler that released the steam had several ingenious components that prevented it from exploding. No Stanley Steamer ever exploded (though occasionally one might catch on fire). Still, the engine had only fifteen moving parts and didn't need transmissions, spark plugs, or gearshifts. The pilot light and burner were fueled by anything from gasoline to kerosene to coal. The cars emitted very little pollution. It was like a car that runs on the same basic principle as the hot water heater in your basement.

The crotchety old Stanley twins seemed to lose interest in their burgeoning enterprise after they broke all the speed records. They produced fewer than 1,000 cars per year just as great strides were being taken in the development of the internal combustion engine. Francis E. died in 1918 while speeding in his steamer down a Massachusetts road and he drove his car into a woodpile to avoid farm wagons travelling side by side on the road. Freelan O. sold the company not long after that and began manufacturing violins.

When I take the kids to the Henry Ford museum, one of my favorite places is the far northeast corner of the museum where they've banished all the early cars that ran on alternative sources of fuel, near-forgotten like promising poets who died before their immortal verses could be penned: the Argos and the Babcocks and the Hupmobiles and Detroit Electrics; the steam-powered Dobles and Locomobiles. One wonders if only Henry Ford had applied his eye for innovation and business acumen to the electric or steam-driven engine whether this corner of his museum wouldn't be devoted to the silly idea of cars propelled by an internal combustion engine, and whether the world wouldn't be a very different place today.

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Outside Henry Ford's birthplace

Posted by jdg | 12:16 AM

While I was taking this photo my mother was telling me a story about how one of my grandfather's cousins lived in Macon, Michigan and one day Henry Ford stopped over at their house, noticed a broken clock on the mantle and asked if he could fix it (Ford owned a few thousand acres of soybeans near Macon). A couple weeks later, Henry Ford returned with the repaired clock. This was well after he was already a billionaire or whatever. He told them he just liked to fix things.

With apologies to Paul Strand, Joel Meyerowitz, and Helen Levitt

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All summer these two have been my patient little buds, sitting in this massive jogging stroller while I push it as far as seven miles around the city. The older one usually brings a book to look at, the baby seems content with the scenery. A month or so we started running up and down the 1.3 miles of the Dequindre Cut (I wrote about it here) which isn't yet officially open to the public but no one has ever hassled us about it. The graffiti artists have been working overtime down there lately, some in broad daylight. I know it's like the ultimate hipster dad BS you've ever heard, but I swear the kid (without provocation) wants to talk about the letters written on the wall, as in, "What are those letters and what do they say?"

You try explaining graffiti tags to a three-year old. Not easy. I asked her why she thinks they write on the walls and she said, "Maybe they ran out of paper."

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We're not used to this child growing out of clothes. Say what you want about growth charts and percentiles, we've been lucky to parent this petite little thing who still wears some of her 18-24 month clothes. Yesterday she wanted to wear the same dress she wore on the first day of school last year. Remember how hard that was? This year things went a lot easier. She still hugs and kisses me goodbye, though. And it still hurts me a little to go.

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This is the building where today the governor of the state of Michigan will open proceedings to potentially remove the mayor of Detroit. The ridicule this city has faced and the unnecessary broadening of the racial divide between city and suburb caused by this arrogant individual may soon come to an end. The only regret I feel about this situation is that the citizens of this great city were unable to rid ourselves of this perpetual thief and pathological liar.

My wife had a job interview in this building a few weeks ago and the kids and I spent over and hour wandering around around the beautiful interior. We didn't even make it to the Fisher Building across the street. Just the tunnels underneath.

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3050 E. Outer Drive

Posted by jdg | 6:22 PM | , , ,

I have spent part of past few weekends driving around to see the abandoned buildings rotting in the heart of some of Detroit's struggling neighborhoods to see whether Kwame Kilpatrick (our deeply-embattled mayor) had delivered on his promise to destroy 50 of them by year's end. Some of the buildings slated for demolition are architectural masterpieces, others insignificant factories and warehouses whose jobs will be missed far more than their bricks. Sometimes when I look at the photos of Detroit ten or fifteen years ago I kick myself for not having been around to do this then. There was so much more here ten or fifteen years ago. Still, the city is always changing and what's here today may be gone tomorrow. I feel compelled to document what I can.

This was a mid-century factory/warehouse space up near 7 Mile and Van Dyke that appears to have been partly demolished by scrappers if not by city contractors. A few seconds after I took this photo, a homeless-looking guy wielding a big metal pipe walked from left to right behind the rubble that's beyond that doorway. I thought I was alone in there. It was absolutely terrifying.

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I took the kids with me to Ann Arbor for a magazine story I'm writing about Eero Saarinen in Michigan and after we got done shooting the music school (and seeing mermaid tails slip into the pond) we went on an "adventure" through the buildings and forests on north campus. Part of this involved walking up and down this fibonaccian staircase in the computer science building. I took the elevator up and down while she took the stairs, mainly so I could watch her. She talked to herself the entire time.

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