Sunday, January 22, 2012

Grafitti...or Art? Corktown, Detroit, USA

On a recent trip to Detroit, Michigan, I had an opportunity to visit some areas that most tourists don't get to see.  My insatiable curiosity tends to take me off the beaten path and I have the occasion to see art in it's more primal form.  Some areas of Detroit shall I delicately say this?  I won't mince words, but some areas are blighted.  Ironically, those same areas give rise to an urban art form that at the least expresses frustration and despair, and yet often presents a defiant hope in a colorful palette on an otherwise dreary canvas. 

It is easy for us to dismiss such as mere gangland scribblings or the  rantings of frustrated residents.  Yet in the context of urban decay often brought about by economic downturns or the mismanagement of municipalities, it can also be a ray of hope or an exhortation to do the right thing...or perhaps even to praise the good things of a community.  At the very least, it can provide a measure of brightness and color on an otherwise neglected wall of an abandoned building.

"The Dream is Now"

These are seen in an alleyway in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit.  This area was originally founded in of Detroit's oldest neighborhoods.  Now it is given over to abandoned buildings, empty lots...and possibly among the best urban art I have seen.'s not all pretty.  Despite the color and artistry there are also the ubiquitous gang tags amidst the detritus of urban decay

As the sign says, this area dates back to 1834.  To put it into a historical context, this was a community before Lincoln became president and before the start of the Civil War...and before Oregon became a state.  The skyline of downtown Detroit can be seen in the background.

This is the Michigan Central Station, built in 1913 and designed by the same architectural firm who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, also in 1913.  During its heyday the station had an immense waiting hall, shops and restaurants, and an 18-story office/hotel tower.  The advent of the automobile led to the demise of the bus and interurban service, and rail travel decline eventually led to this grand old building being abandoned in 1988.  It has sat empty ever since.  This shot is taken from the same spot as many of the grafitti images above.

Yet despite such reminders of bygone times and present decay, hope still springs forth.  Colorful expressions remind us that people have not given up.  Such is urban art.

For more on my visits to Detroit, see my other blog entries:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Favorite Images of 2011

This is a new tradition, where I present my favorite images of each year.  As I noted last year when I started this, the criteria for this category are simply: it has to be a nice image from a technical perspective.  It also needs to be reflective of this past year and perhaps associated with an event or one of my needs to tell a story.  In some cases I've added a link to the blog article if you want to read more about the story behind a particular image.

This is a Great Blue Heron, with a minnow in it's beak.  I took this while driving through the Ridgefield National Wildlife Reserve just north of Portland, in Washington.  It was taken from the car window (because one must stay in one's vehicle while driving through the Reserve) and took almost a half-hour of patiently waiting for just the right moment.  My mother was with me and she was so thrilled to see something as beautiful so close. 

In March I went to Northeastern Washington for a construction project.  After my meetings I had some time to kill before my plane left so I poked around Spokane.  I happened upon an Episcopal Cathedral that overlooked the city and I went inside.  This was taken from the lectern, into the Nave.

The Dalles, Oregon, approximately 90 minutes east of Portland and reminiscent of a bygone era when rail was the primary means of travel over long distances.  Now the freeway is barely 50 yards away and this waystation is no longer used.   Taken in April, during a Sunday getaway.

Late summer, in the garden.  We let a couple of artichokes "bloom" (which we had never seen before) into this beautiful shade of blue.  Apparently the bees really liked it as well, and it wasn't unusual to see three or four buried among the petals...or whatever they're called.

During the summer I made several trips to Elko, Nevada for some work at the Goldstrike mine, the largest operating open pit gold mine in North America.  Prior to coming onto the site I had to take several days of classes about mine safety.  When one sees the size of the equipment at the mine, one quickly understands why.  This is me in front of one of the ore trucks...and it isn't even the largest they have at this mine!

In September I was in Chicago, Illinois for a conference and classes.  I took some extra time to explore and came across this fountain and the little girl playing in the water.  I was captivated by the pure joy in her face, and the image of the water cascading over her arms gave me the impression of an angel.  It reminded me how important it is to never lose touch with the child within us. 

I encountered this abandoned farmhouse near Highway 395, south of The Dalles in central Oregon, on one of my many little junkets off the beaten path.  This was taken in October, and reminded me of a haunted house one would find on Halloween.

The Oregon Coast and Cannon Beach, taken from Ecola State Park in November...testimony that often our best weather is in the late Fall.  

Meet Lilith, the daughter of our neighbors.  This was taken during a Halloween event at our local Farmers Market.   

The delicate dance of a butterfly on a flower.  This was taken at a butterfly exhibit at the Detroit Zoo, in Michigan.  I'd heard much about this and made it one of my stopping points during a business trip there.  It was difficult selecting a representative photo, after chasing any of a dozen species in the exhibit.  It was also a glimpse of beauty that I needed after seeing urban blight.  Here's more: and

I love New York!  We visited it twice in 2011, and this last time in December David and Miranda were living in the Lower East Side.  This is nearby their place, looking down a typical street.  In the background is the new World Trade Center tower under construction.  Seeing it so close gives one a feeling of what it must've been like on September 11, 2001. 

I have an affinity for birds and I thought it fitting to begin and end this entry with a bird photo.  This was in Central Park, NYC, also in December.  We were so engrossed with the gray and the black squirrels that this little fellow almost went unnoticed had it not been for the bright red color against the gray starkness of the bare trees.  This is a Northern Cardinal, and yes there is a crest on his (her?) head.

By the way, all of these images are untouched except for some minor cropping. 

I also wish for each of you a happy and prosperous 2012, filled with love, laughter, and good health.