Detroit has a particular place in the popular imagination: the legendary Motor City, now suffering from the decline of the auto industry; the home of hit-maker Motown records; the site of the 1967 riots; and more recently, a revival story, a destination for young artists priced out of New York. But none of these narratives reflect the lives of the majority of Detroit’s residents, who are struggling to survive and thrive day to day, to keep their homes, neighborhoods, and small businesses intact. Those people are the subjects of Dave Jordano’s thoughtful, clear-eyed series Detroit – Unbroken Down, on view at Pictura Gallery through December 1.
Jordano grew up just outside Detroit and went to art school in the city; he moved to Chicago in 1977 and returned some 30 years later to take photographs. “I just fell in love with the city again,” he says. “And I thought, there has got to be more here than what photographers have been showing.” “Ruin porn” was how he characterized the photographs he’d been seeing, and Jordano wanted to put a human face on his hometown.
These faces include Kat, who turned an overgrown lot into a playground and welcomed people who had nowhere else to go into her home, including the toddler sleeping on her bed in Eastside, Detroit, 2012, and longtime friends David and Juwan, heading out to hunt for snakes in Palmer Park. While some of Jordano’s photographs point to governmental neglect and economic decline, they focus more on friendship, small businesses, thriving community gardens, and grassroots public art projects: Lynn Guyton, for example, sitting on the brightly painted porch of a house that is part of the Heidelberg Project, a riotous outdoor art project founded by his brother, the artist Tyree Guyton. Like Jordano’s series as a whole, it’s a nuanced, hopeful image.