danny wilcox frazier – detroit

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Danny Wilcox Frazier

A Detroit Requiem

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Detroit…the word alone incites many emotions within America’s conscience.  Detroit was the epicenter for economic equality in the U.S., the home front for the ideal of well paying jobs for the masses and a political force behind a strong middle class. Henry Ford made Detroit a boom town.  Five decades after he started, the boom began to bust. Many reasons are at the heart of Detroit’s decline: postwar industrial policies, urban planning, the 1967 race riots, UAW and auto industry management, Detroit’s political cronyism, Clinton era trade deals, and quit possibly the mobility of the automobile itself. It was the 1950’s when Detroit began the long decay that has brought the city to its present state, a time when Detroit, and America, was at its peak.

Today, Detroit is America’s poorest large city. To avoid being the nation’s perpetual murder capital, the police began cooking stats. In 2008, they claimed 306 homicides – until local reporter Charlie LeDuff discovered there were actually 375.  He also reported that in more than 70 percent of murders, the killer got away with it.  Detroit’s East Side is now the poorest, most violent quarter of America’s poorest, most violent big city. The illiteracy, child poverty, and unemployment rates hover around 50 percent. The shooting death of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones by police on Detroit’s East Side brought national attention to this quarter.  But as the spotlight faded, the killings continued.

Detroit seemed off everyone’s radar until the collapse of the Dow and bankruptcy of GM.  As the nation and world looked for answers, Detroit came back in style.  Instead of Motown, this go around Detroit is exporting its misery. Reality TV, television dramas, the movies – all selling Detroit’s murder and despair.  The night Aiyana was accidentally shot by police, a film crew from A&E’s true-crime series The First 48 was along for the show.

Detroit is a city that still has much greatness to offer. That was not the story Charlie and I were assigned to cover for Mother Jones magazine. With 103 kids and teens murdered in Detroit between January of 2009 and July of 2010, Charlie and I were sent to cover the failure of political and civil leaders in Detroit, the failure of industry in Detroit, the failure of the federal government in Detroit, the failure of America in Detroit.

While I was in Detroit, 17-year-old Chaise Sherrors was shot and killed while giving a haircut on a porch.  We met his mother, Britta McNeal.  Britta was broken, often lost in memory while her eyes filled and sometimes tears flowed.  From her porch, she stared across the street that ran in front of her humble one-story on the East Side. She stared at a half-burnt skeleton of a house, gutted inside and out, and a constant reminder of her misery.  Britta’s grandson played in broken glass and garbage that littered the driveway of the abandoned house next door.  Gang graffiti added the only touch of color to the black and gray left behind by a fire.  Britta showed us the urn containing the remains of her 14-year-old son, De’Erion.  He too was shot on Detroit’s East Side, killed a year before his older brother.  After Chaise’s funeral, Britta will have two urns to decorate her mantel.

“I know society looks at a person like me and wants me to go away,” Britta said. “‘Go ahead, walk in the Detroit River and disappear.’ But I can’t. I’m alive. I need help. But when you call for help, it seems like no one’s there.”

Charlie LeDuff’s accompanying article in Mother Jones



Danny Wilcox Frazier focuses on issues of marginalized communities in the U.S. and abroad. He is a contributing photographer to Mother Jones magazine. His work has also been published by: The New York Times Magazine, TIME, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, Der Spiegel, and Frontline (PBS). In 2006, Frazier was awarded the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. His book, Driftless: Photographs from Iowa, was published by Duke University Press and CDS in 2007.  Frazier then directed a documentary that confronts issues highlighted by these photographs, premiering the film in New York in 2009.  The film was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 and won a Webby for Frazier and MediaStorm that year.  In 2009, Frazier received grants from The Aftermath Project and Humanities Iowa, an affiliate of the NEH.  He was named a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith grant in 2007 and 2008.  At present, Frazier is working on his next book, Lost Nation, a look at economic and geographic isolation across America.


Related links

Frazier’s essay of abandoned Detroit homes

Redux Portfolio



127 Responses to “danny wilcox frazier – detroit”

  • Hey Danny,

    Great to see a fellow Iowan do so well in the photo world, and to see more of your work beyond your wonderful book. This set has the same thoughtfulness and unexpected treasures as Driftless, but in a completely different setting. That had to be a challenge, and I respect that.

    Wonderful images with a complete story. Love it.

    Next time your around Des Moines, let me buy you a beer.

  • Danny! :))

    absolutely thrilled to see your essay here…..no time to write (running to teach)…will write a comment in a few hours…

    for now, simply this:

    a kind of requieum from PHilip Levine

    Detroit, Tomorrow

    Newspaper says the boy killed by someone,
    don’t say who. I know the mother, waking,
    gets up as usual, washes her face
    in cold water, and starts the coffee pot.

    She stands by the window up there on floor
    sixteen wondering why the street’s so calm
    with no cars going or coming, and then
    she looks at the wall clock and sees the time.

    Now she’s too awake to go back to bed,
    she’s too awake not to remember him,
    her one son, or to forget exactly
    how long yesterday was, each moment dragged

    into the next by the force of her will
    until she thought this simply cannot be.
    She sits at the scarred, white kitchen table,
    the two black windows staring back at her,

    wondering how she’ll go back to work today.
    The windows don’t see anything: they’re black,
    eyeless, they give back only what’s given;
    sometimes, like now, even less than what’s given,

    yet she stares into their two black faces
    moving her head from side to side, like this,
    just like I’m doing now. Try it awhile,
    go ahead, it’s not going to kill you.

    Now say something, it doesn’t matter what
    you say because all the words are useless:
    “I’m sorry for your loss.” “This too will pass.”
    “He was who he was.” She won’t hear you out

    because she can only hear the torn words
    she uses to pray to die. This afternoon
    you and I will see her just before four
    alight nimbly from the bus, her lunch box

    of one sandwich, a thermos of coffee,
    a navel orange secured under her arm,
    and we’ll look away. Under your breath make
    her one promise and keep it forever:

    in the little store-front church down the block,
    the one with the front windows newspapered,
    you won’t come on Saturday or Sunday
    to kneel down and pray for life eternal.
    –Philip Levine

  • Beautiful,Excellent,Touchy.

  • Some heavy stuff to chew on and digest.. I did know something about Detroit, but not that it was that bad. Thank you for your work!

    Absolutely love ‘Driftless’..

  • That’s fucked up. How can the richest country in world let shit like this happen?

    The story is a real education. Well done.

  • DANNY,

    A very powerful and disturbing essay…. you have captured the sense of drift, emptiness, absurd violence and despair that you find in many inner city ghettos… Detroit looks like a particularly bad example but there are unfortunately many bad examples in many cities across the US… I have always wondered how we collectively can let this happen…. how many of us can live a normal life sometimes just blocks away from the really “bad” area…. I have never really spent time in Detroit… just happened to meet many boxers coming from the KRONK gym there… followed one in particular who was from Cincinnati and was coming back often…. boxers from Detroit are good…. among the very best…. it often correlates unfortunately with the level of violence in the streets…. Even if the essay is rather depressing, I like that you have one picturesthat offers some “limited” hope in the middle of this gloomy environment…Picture 19 of the college girls hows that some are still trying to live their lives in the middle of all this, get an education… You have to hope that they will find way of living their lives normally….

    Again congratulations on your publication here and I also very much liked your essay on Mediastorm…


  • Great story told in pictures Danny. Some images , to me, don’t add more to this piece, but hey what do I know. Your work screams authorship, the visual voice we all desire.

  • “Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell.”–Marvin Gaye

    The dead are every-

    where, crowding the narrow streets
    that jut out from the wide boulevard
    on which we take our morning walk.
    They stand in the cold shadows
    of men and women come to sell
    themselves to anyone, they stride
    along beside me and stop when I
    stop to admire the bright garlands
    or the little pyramids of fruit,
    they reach a hand out to give
    money or to take change, they say
    “Good morning” or “Thank you,” they
    turn with me and retrace my steps
    back to the bare little room I’ve
    come to call home. Patiently,
    they stand beside me staring out
    over the soiled roofs of the world
    until the light fades and we are
    all one or no one. They ask for
    so little, a prayer now and then,
    a toast to their health which is
    our health, a few lies no one reads
    incised on a dull plaque between
    a pharmacy and a sports store,
    the least little daily miracle.”


    First of all Danny, I want to say how thrilled and happy I am that you have shared your essay with us here at Burn. From the moment I learned that Frank had chosen Driftless for the Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, I have been a fan…..Driftless is one of my favorite books of journalism, both a lyrical and spiritual truth-encountering celebration of not only the living and the dying but more importantly, the spiritual bravery of the people that how and haul the land….a few times, I have shared the brilliant Multimedia piece you did with Media storm with readers here….indeed, it is a thrill to see you here….

    How does one even begin to carve out a story, the story, of the waste and woe and wanton loss that Detroit and its citizens have had to bear….how to begin to speak about the ordeal of a mother who most bury her two boys long before they’ve even had a chance to undestand what it means to wrestle this entangled life…how to begin to tell the story of Detroit, a city torn not only by poverty and flight and horrendous violence, but also cliche and forlorn denial….how to speak, truthfully, and viscerally, of what each of Detroit’s citizens, each family, especially in the East Side, carry, like bags of cinder and rattling bones, with them every day….how to begin to point toward all that has been lost and yet how poweful, how loving, how BELIEVING so many of those neighborhood’s citizens are….for they have no choice but to believe, otherwise they shall loose everything, disappeared by the detroit river and the city rubble aflame…

    It is a brave and honest essay, not the least of which has to do with your refusal to paint a story with easy and obvious imagery. I cherish that you refuse to shy away what the real physical toll is of death aforethought by gun….that you have refused to shy away from the consequence of what steel, lead and gunpowder do the flesh, bone and body of a human being: they eviscerate it to detritus….that gaping wound is but a small cut compared with the spiritual and emotional wound of these parents….and the lives being snuffed out…and yet there is belief….

    I love that your photographs work both as document (the morgue, the xray pictures, the abandoned house (of which I prefer this presentation, one image filled like a series of police mugshots on a single page, like some drunken, sadden american version of the Bechers, as opposed to the Mother Jones linear/singular presentation) and as spiritual dream-song….that you work the edges of both documentary precision and lyrical evocation…because it is impossible to fathom, let alone document, through literal artifact, but must contain that collision…the banding and bowing of hope and loss, of specificity and abstraction….a dreamsong, an elegy, a eulogy: liturgy……

    Moreover, I love that you provide, also, pictures with optimistic bravery (i love the opening portrait, the portrait of the girls, the proud, beautiful father and his baby in Lake) juxtaposed with both death and with dream (the evocative, emotional, abstract photographs)….you carve the shadows and the shadings of this nightmarish place…and yet, Detroit is not a nightmare, it is home, a city, a place where people, defying all odds, continue…because hell is just a cliche…but we owe it to people to see them not as cliche but as vital, conflicted, struggling human beings…

    and ultimately, as with Driftless, that is what I love so much about this work…its lyrical poetry, its visual intelligence, its narrative experiments and its deeply, humble humanity….this is story is not about death (thought that too of course) but about the lives, of these people…the encounter and heroic struggle to live amid all the dying….the children dying….

    As i’ve written before, to me, it takes the full vocabulary of visual/photographic language in order to begin to wrestle with the passing of things, the suffering of things and the celebrating of things…doubleexposures, toycameras, leicas, flash, loss, chemical suture…all that, in order to grapple with the same complexity that appears on the street….

    the final swollen, swaddled mattress….what breaks my heart is not the mattress left like a beached, white whale….but the small white thumb-print beside it, what appears like a child’s white sneaker…a child who’d run away, a child who’d been abanoned. a child who’d been carried up and away from that soiled place….

    all that small details carry….

    the human heart, the weight of a sparrow’s…

    the weight of one person’s life, the weight of the world….

    heartbreaking, honest, caring and committed work….

    a photographed filled with an outsized heart of awareness…

    thank you for sharing


  • DANNY:

    In 2008 I reviewed Driftless for Source magazine in the UK. They only gave the book a short review space, but it deserved more, much more. Driftless sits proudly on my book shelf (right now it is next to Bruce Gilden’s A Beautiful Catasrophe). I’ve just hunted in the documents folder and found the review, which says: “A book such as Driftless is rare these days: it rejects of-the-moment photographic trends, and is both personal and political in equal measures. Frazier is clearly a photographer who ploughs his own furrow.”

    Your work in Detroit reveals that you are ploughing that furrow straight and deep in a tractor that can only move forward.

    Bob Black says it all with regards to how moving this work is.

    All I can add is very well done.

    Justin P

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    If there was EVER a series which, in its form, related its content so brilliantly and seemingly effortlessly and with such devastating effect, this is it. Speechless.

  • Wow! A sad sort of a place to be, seems to me. Powerful, moving work.

    Driftless at MediaStorm is also a photographic and journalistic tour de force.

    I’m quite in awe, frankly.

    Paul Treacy.

  • Danny,
    Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus… have been a fun of your work ever since I came across Driftless… happy to see that you keep on pursuing you personal vision…

  • STRONG photographs..
    love your reflection shots…
    and your access…..
    photographed with respect
    and compassion….
    oh yeah…
    the great US of A….

  • where can one see your film?

  • Brilliant. Haunting, harrowing in places, and beautiful. One of the best I’ve seen here. Koudelka, Salgado… this belongs with the greats.

  • This is one of the best essays I’ve seen on Burn. I was increasingly drawn in from start to finish, even clicking several times on the last photograph ready for more.

    It is haunting and harrowing, and it works in so many ways: access, shock, beauty, technique… This proves that hard work over time win the day.

    I agree with Bob Black’s comment about images with “optimistic bravery.” Honestly, I’d like to see more of them, and I think this already great essay would be even better. As Bob says, people live there. It’s fair to say people are happy there and good things happen for them as well. Maybe one reason there’s a market for photographs of pure misery is because when we see essays like that, we can write off whole communities as lost. Do audiences pay (with their attention) for permission to wash their hands of the problems of others? But we fight for, and with, people we believe in — in their remaining dignity and hope.

  • Justin Partyka:

    How interesting that you would mention your copy of Driftless being next to Gilden’s “Beautiful Catastrophe”. It is one of my favourite photobooks; the way Gilden’s stungun approach to street photography captures individual’s unengeged, introspective moods always makes me think of Proust’s line that “our social personality is written in the mind’s of others” – Gilden photographs the moment before the social engagement is made, before the portrayed puts on their public face, and shows us the aloneness of individuals totally immersed in society. An interesting co-incidence is that Gilden also essayed Detroit’s crumbling neighbourhoods in ‘Foreclosure'; maybe ‘A Detriot Requiem’ will eventually sit on your shelf next to it.

    It also leads to another association, much more pertinent to ‘A Detroit Requiem’, and that is Ariella Azoulay’s ‘The Civic Contract of Photography’. Azoulay explores the political dynamics of photograph, photographed, and viewer within the Israeli/Palestinian conflict:


    She stresses imagery of Palestine as being “on the verge of catastrophe”, and that our viewership extends further than Sontag’s “notion of ethical responsibility regarding the pain of others”. Rather than empathize with the pain and suffering, and giving witness, Azoulay considers the images as giving a civic voice to those unable to do so. Remarkably similar to Larry Towell’s “Train of Thought”, both in context and subject matter.

    In regard to Frazier’s essay, I saw many parallels with Detroit’s East Side and Palestine’s displaced: the lack of protection by the authorities; attacks on innocent civilians; the general breakdown of social rules and structure. Even the air-bombing of refugee camps are equalled in the annual “Devil’s Night”. In many ways the East Side is North America’s Palestine, and Frazier’s essay gives voice to those unable to do so.

    I’ve seen on Burn many comments which seemingly indicate a tiredness and a filled capacity to view yet again imagery of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Perhaps there is a finite capacity for viewing pain and suffering, but if the witness to history approach is replaced with an ear and eye for those whose voices are unable to question authority with regard to inalienable Rights of citizenry, then maybe our energies and capacities will be enlarged.

  • Somber essay Danny, looks like (is) a war zone. The quotation “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good” (Samuel Johnson) springs to mind and one has to wonder what sort of society abandons its citizens in such a way a you depict. It is truly staggering that a city in the USA could be left to disintegrate – although New Orleans suffered a similar fate. Powerful, thought-provoking work, Danny. Congratulations do not seem enough.


  • marvelous work

  • I am overwhelmed – both by the power of your essay and your talent. It also makes me wonder what is happening to America, this place that made the 1956 Chevrolet and the 1959 Corvette.

    I am wrestling a bit with the autopsy image. But it is part of life.

  • Amazing work – and a frightening glimpse at whats likely to come…

    “Buy Local it keeps the money in the community and the jobs at home” the radio repeats. I worked for a ford dealer and nearly every part of a “domestic car” is made in other countries. transmissions from Mexico or Germany, engines from Canada…and many “foreign” models are made in Ohio or Illinois. The economy is gone. using an old metaphor for money – bread – dough can’t expand to infinity, at some point it must stabilize otherwise, it will deflate to a crunchy wafer. and it’s an absolutely awful shame on this country to point out the problems of the world when we at home have all the same problems. Our own communities are as scary and helpless as those countries visited by the brave missionaries who want to bring some comfort to the people in those lands. Obviously the system isn’t working and people here are ill represented in communities like Detroit. and the entertainment industry is making money off of it, because people like to gawk from the safety of their couch.

    Sure Detroit made some of the icons of the auto industry, and at what cost? These industries were no luxury work place… Today, everyone wants the best without paying for it and they also want to make a buck without putting in the work. Sometimes the work is hard, sometimes it isn’t. Education is no longer the answer either. Most everyone wants to point a finger as to why this has happened… I like to point at unions. I have suffered their politics and games enough to know they’ve been powerful for too long, they were once a great thing that improved many work places, but today they’ve gone too far I feel. But what can be done? can anything? is the problem too big? do we have the ability to fix this anymore? or do we need to start anew and wipe clean the slate we’ve been using so far?
    Revolt! but who would? who could.

  • Dear Danny,

    Amazing… especailly i love the beginning.

    Thank you very much.

  • Jason, good post; obviously thoughtful.

    Danny’s photographs are a good example of how a photograph can deliver information and at the same time transcend the message and become an object in its own right. When this happens you catch yourself thinking “wow, great photograph!” and then realise that the great photograph (in terms of lighting, composition etc.) depicts horror or despair. It’s quite unsettling but reinforces the power of the message.

  • 21 grams is what some pseudo-scientists claim is the weight of our soul. I´m not going to prove here if their claims are true or false…All I know is your essay has captured the full weight of every poor soul enduring hell in Detroit.
    Bob Black,
    thanks for Philip Levine´s words, amazing and never read anything so despairing and true in my whole life.


    I realise that my comment made me sound so organised that I must alphabetize my book case, Frank, Frazier, Gilden…. I can tell you that is certainly not the case. It is pure chance Danny’s book was next to Bruce Gilden’s. I would be a pleasure to have a book of Danny’s Detroit work on the shelf too, if one is planned.

    There was a very good three part feature about Detroit on the Places journal website:


    Justin P

  • Jason

    “Amazing work – and a frightening glimpse at whats likely to come…”

    U nailed it.

  • DANNY…

    this is certainly one of the very finest essays i have had the privilege of publishing here on Burn….for sure one to measure against…..when i first saw your work, which was to become Driftless several years ago when i juried POY, i knew you would become someone special….i was not wrong…you have set the bar high for all of us…thank you..

    cheers, david

  • Yeah, fantastic work. Visited Detroit on a shoot in the mid-nineties for a shoot and was driven around most of the city looking for locations. Was blown away by the devastation. This is “America”?

    I will venture a small critique which is that I think the sequencing is awkward in places (for me at least). I would prefer to see a few of the stories which have related images “drawn” out a bit by placing those images in a sequence with each other vs randomly placed throughout the essay, ie the funeral pics, morgue, church, or the baby in squalor pics. Though of course this may not be the affect you are after. Certainly others work by their randomness/contrast in relation to each other. But when you have more than one of a subject placing them apart feels a bit like padding the essay when in actuality if they were next to each other it might build that subject stronger. There are also a couple of images which I feel maybe don’t belong and bring the others down a bit – the fashion shoot, self portrait with car, and Holga pit bull (too cliche). But these are minor points. I esp like the opening image, and the fire next door. Stunning. Best of luck with furthering the project.


  • DANNY – brilliant!
    Thank you so much for nailing the absurdity and aimlessness of violence and decline.
    Is this really where everything is drifting to?
    Leaves me with a lot to think about…
    Congratulations – and take care!

  • Yea, Detroit’s a mess. Those inner city black folk sure are fucked up. Black and white. Black and white flash. Essay hits all the expected notes. Very dramatic. Well done.

    Question is, why don’t you tell us something we don’t already know?

  • may be citizens already knew it.
    I didn’t. in 2006, my son spent 4 weeks nearby Detroit at a friend from school. certainly a different area, the father of the friend was some high-level at Ford, no crisis in view, etc.
    however, if I had seen this essay before, I’m not sure if I had let him go. :)
    it goes deep.

  • I was thinking of this essay by Bruce Gilden, but I know I’ve seen others and have unquestionably read a lot about Detroit’s degeneration. My point is that it’s ground well-trodden and I’d like to see someone with Danny’s unquestionable talent take on something new, shine some light into more dimly illuminated areas. What’s happening in Detroit is happening all over the midwest. I think it’s emotionally convenient on some level for us to compartmentalize it as urban blight and the tribulations of poor black folk, but the same socioeconomic factors are causing the same societal breakdowns across a much larger, mostly invisible, swathe of the population.

  • MW as you obviously don’t believe what you just wrote I wonder why you wrote it?

  • What don’t I believe? Detroit’s been done? And inner city violence? That Danny’s an exceptional talent? That there’s similar societal disintegration elsewhere that’s not being adequately covered? That many people find it emotionally convenient to compartmentalize these problems in ways that provide some safe emotional distance?

    Perhaps the latter two are arguable, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in their general validity.

    I wrote it because I’m interested in the topic and am curious what others may think.

  • MW:

    ok, i’ll bite…

    but first, let me ask you a simple question. How familiar were you with Danny’s work prior to “A Detroit REquiem” being published in BURN?…This is important and though I generally don’t like the rhetorical device of answering a question (your) with a question as rebuttal, I think it is an important one. Danny’s work can be defined, primarily, with a vested, long-term involvement with detailing, describing, investigating the very communities that you now require from this essay. Driftless is a good place to begin, but if you familiarize yourself with his work, you’ll see that Detroit is not only a part of his life’s work’s narrative/practice, but more importantly, is a key piece in the overall work that he has been and continues to do: much the way Richard’s Dorchester work anticipatates and makes way for Cocaine True, the same way Below the Line anticipates Blue Room…there are greater interestes and a defining practice at work here Michael that you seem to either acknowledge or understand. This is NOT an example of a photographer going to the mean streets of E.Detroit (like so many young photograpehrs I know personally do, from Toronto, New York, chicago) as a way of making their photographic/journalistic chops…even a friend (now a young magnum member) did this (and i’ve chatted with him about this over a beer or two) walked that predictable line…that is NOT the case here…

    to begin with, this essay, while clearly defined by the ‘predictable’ emotional exhaustion of work about Detroit (death, destruction, decay, demise, etc), Danny’s imagery and narrative combination works for something not so easily predictable. To begin with, there is positivity here, there is power and bravery here beyond the urban blight….look at the pictures from the church, the magnficient opening portrait and the wonderful portrait of the highschool girls…there is sly humor here to (i need not point that out) and there is an abiding sense here that amid the destruction, there is life…amid the mortuary and the cadavers, there is life, prayer….and i am guessing that there is much more to this Detroit work (and the entirety of the work danny is now engaged with) than simply “Those inner city black folk sure are fucked up..”

    and for christ sake, where where is danny’s work even suggesting that ‘Those inner city black folk sure are fucked up’…that is about as insulting a comment i’ve read here in a while, to both the photographer, the readers and to the people here….

    the economic, the social, the political, the criminal elements and pressures that have shorn that city and the people’s lives are extraordinary and these conditions, the conditions of poverty and unemployement and tax-loss and social/governmental support along with influences wide and far have all contributed to make this city (and others) a condition of impoverished and profoundly difficult living……this is not an essay about ‘Those inner city black folk’….this is a story about the difficulty and the loss of what people endure in that city…

    more importantly, when one criticizes work, i think it is essential that work be seen isolated, definied by it’s own vernacular and it’s own aspiration…this is not THE essay of detroit (there are none_), but one essay that attempts to wrestle with the conditions that a particular group endures and struggles with….on top of that, we must look toward the work…where, Michael, do you see ‘visual cliches’ in these images…where are the narrative cliches?….where is the impersonal image?….when was the last time YOU saw a photograph and read a description of a morgue filled with the dead because they’re family couldn’t bury them…

    SHOW ME…

    that morgue is filled with black folk and hispanic folk and white folk and asian folk, because they’re all dying there in record numbers…and again, i’ve not seen a picture from the inside of a morgue stuffed with body bags because the bodies couldn’t be claimed…

    you tell me that isn’t new, a new image, a new report….

    i tell you this, as a person who has experience urban violence in my life against my family, and having just dealt with urban violence in the last few weeks with a member of my family, i can tell you that no one person can write, or photograph, the consequences or the defining circumstances by which this is weighted….

    and nowhere in this essay to i read danny indicating that is a problem peculiar to detroit, to the predominantly black east side…not every picture in this, btw, is about the east side…homework, please…

    we must engage with the work itself and judge it by it’s own brilliance AND it’s limitations: does the work, within it’s gravitational field of story, attempt as well as it can to reveal, evoke, describe, part with, shed light upon a moment, a life, a circumstance…

    it is OUR responsibility as readers AND as photographers to seek out the entirety of story in order to expose…to understand…to come to terms…maybe even to help…it is not the photographer’s responsibility to give us definitive work of a place, but only that they work as hard as they can to marry their vision to the world in which they have chosen to emmerse….

    danny has done that and continues to do that brilliantly…

    no single book has been written about Juarez…and yet…..

    i’ll ask you….would you criticize Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue because it….um….ok, a question isn’t necessary….

    i am CERTAIN that part of Danny’s work on Detroit and the entire mid-west contains work that you crazy to see…

    look around the web….


  • “that morgue is filled with black folk and hispanic folk and white folk and asian folk, because they’re all dying there in record numbers…and again, i’ve not seen a picture from the inside of a morgue stuffed with body bags because the bodies couldn’t be claimed…

    i mean when was the last time you so the inside of a morgue stuffed with bodybags (and not from natural disaster/war) in a n.american city BECAUSE THE FAMILY COULD NOT AFFORD TO CLAIM THE BODIES…this is NEW…

    pauper graves are not new…but that image and that caption alone is such a significant journalistic report that we shouldn’t be cavlier about this project..

    there, scrape all the other pictures and all the other captions away, and tell me that fact isn’t new to you….

    just as amid all that suffering…when was the last time, in the context of an essay on urban gun violence and economic desolation you got a photograph as beautiful and joyeous as the opening one with the man in the zoot suit….or the picture of the man *(father?) with the child wading in the lake…

    those images, also, are enough to answer you questions…

    are they not…

    when was the last time you saw a photograph of detroit of a man with a baby girl by the lake in a documentary piece about the economic collapse…

    that IS a photographer who is not going for cliche…

    but is going for the humanity of a place, of the people living and suffering through the horror around…

  • mw, you write: “take on something new”.. like what? Everything’s been done, you could write “take on something new” under almost every essay, every story.. are you sure that what Danny Wilcox Frazier has done is not ‘new’?

    What I see in Bruce Gilden’s essay is not the same I see in the essay here, two different apporaches, two different stories, common ground is the city they come out from. What I knew about Detroit (living over here in Europe) was what Bruce Gilden is telling, I had no idea about the more detailed picture of the story until I saw Danny Wilcox Frazier’s essay.

  • Yea, I’ve seen driftless more than once. I don’t really disagree with anything you say about the work Bob, but I don’t disagree with anything I’ve said either. Seems to me both perspectives can be true, or at least arguably valid. I didn’t say anything about clichés. Just well trod ground.

    where is danny’s work even suggesting that ‘Those inner city black folk sure are fucked up’

    Picture of high school graduates, stat that only 1 in 3 graduate, for close to explicit example. The whole thing strikes me as implicit along those lines. It can certainly be taken that way whether that’s the intent or not. I can guarantee you that a lot of people, a lot of inner city black folk in particular, would see it that way. Arguable? sure. Insulting? Perhaps, but that’s not my intention and I don’t think anyone should be insulted.

    Has Juarez reached the saturation point yet? Probably. I don’t get why anyone who hasn’t been working the beat for years would get into it now. There are all too many Jaurezes and Detroits out there, thousands of little laboratories of our future, to borrow a phrase. I want to know about them. Not endlessly revisit the known just to turn up little odds and ends that haven’t been covered before. Both as a producer and a consumer. Is that really so wrong? Why not do something new?

    BTW, I just passed the halfway point of 2666. I hate to comment on such a massive work before finishing it, but I’ll break my little rule somewhat and say I’m very optimistic that it’s a great book in the timeless sense of the term.

  • Good point about the body bags, Bob.

    Still, and this goes to Eva’s point as well, Detroit has been so thoroughly covered that it’s come to the point where quality journalists can only hope to find dark little corners hidden amid the general horror. What does this kind of thing tell us? We already get the shock and horror that stuff like this can happen in an American city. I fear that the constant focus on Detroit minimizes the staggering depth of these problems. Detroit is familiar. It’s comforting in its way. Easy to compartmentalize.

    My desire to see photographers with that kind of talent show me something I don’t know is in no way a knock on the work that’s been produced, much less the photographer. It’s just a suggestion. If not a challenge.

  • MW, yes, Bob has a god point about the body bags, I found that photograph most disturbing – and shocking that it could be taken in a city in the U.S.A. You seem to be blasé for effect: don’t you find the fact that a city in your country has such problems? You should be.

    This essay contains some great photographs. Danny must have worked hard to get such access and what he has photographed for us must have taken a toll. He didn’t just photograph, he met at least some of the families caught up in this insanity. Not easy.

    All the Detroit and Juarez photographs taken are also historical records of this time, our present, soon to be past. They will inform future generations and yes, some will be forgotten but, hopefully, the best will survive.

    If I wanted anything to be added to this essay – and this is in no-way a criticism – it would be to see the “Other Detroit” the part that is not on fire, where people are not living in fear. Does it exist? If it does what is its demographic, its ethnicity? Perhaps Danny is already working on this.


  • MW; “My point is that it’s ground well-trodden” and you are talking about shooting meth amphetamine labs etc? Hasn’t meth, crack, heroin etc been done to death too?

  • This essay is (to me0 one of tyhe strongest I’ve seen on Burn. If it’s intention was to hit you in the gut with sledgehammer force then it has certainly succeded.

  • Sorry; meant to be, “(to me) one of the”

  • I find myself in agreement with both Bob and mw — is this possible? Danny’s photos are wrenching, stunning, even possibly definitive. But, like Michael, I do long for something counterintuitive, something not already in my mind’s eye when I think about urban decay in Detroit. I also wish to see something in color.

  • MW :)

    mike, i agree on the importance of document…for Danny’s kind of work (journalistic documentary) it is important that one approach with a vision to the future, but i think that comes out in a wider body of work, not a singular essay…for a singular essay, the key (for photographer and reader) is to understand the ‘intention’ (if articulated by the author) and it’s relationship/goal as document…i think that any work on detroit (or any city for that matter) and the economic and sociological implosion must cross racial and demographic boundaries….and for sure, i too want to see work about cities (detroit, in this case) that is not merely about the misery of drugs/gun violence/gangs/economic-architectural collapse…people still live, work, honor, thrive there…and we MUST see that…but i think we must not confuse the need for wide/deep coverage on an issue with the issue of a singular essay….i’d love to see a follow up story with the man standing in the lake…or this great guy in the first pic…or one of those folk in the church….but maybe that must also be done by others…

    Preston :)….i too want that…(color)…and i think Danny has worked in some counter-intuitive stuff: the xray (as visual narrative), 15 (the model shoot, in which she looks like a prostitute: says alot of our, i am MY expectations, as i thought she was a prostitute), the humor of 16, the joy of those graduating teens and the absolute brilliance of #1 (the use of flash on the branches)…etc….now, of course, i’d also love to see a stroy of pure joy, in color, for this same city (any city)….and that will come…that’s why i love that shot of the Man with the girl in the lake….urban decay and yet this picture is so beautiful, so strong…a strong black male beside a young girl (how often does the media depict young african americans as thugz or pimps or rappers or dead) as a statement that this city is more than just young black male killing other black males…look at his expression…the child’s expression (his daughter, neice, sister?)….that picture is counter intuitive given the theme…and that is Why i think this is a story/essay that is smarter than most on this topic….

    more hope, more pictures we dont expect…yea…but that is why each of us must be the photograhers we are….

    and that might just add up to something too :)

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