This is all Joe Buissink’s fault. I don’t know if you all remember, but way back in February or early March Joe twittered that he wanted to do a free seminar to give back to the photography community he loves so much. I was at my desk early and I saw the tweet go by. I thought - ok - this will be interesting. Within minutes he had requests from people all over the country. I think it was a shock to Joe. (which is why we love him so much). When I called him later that day he had settled on Detroit and he’d called some friends, including me, to see if we’d pitch in. How could we not.
So I arrived in Detroit yesterday afternoon, picked up my rental car and came to my hotel in the New Center area of Detroit. Directly across the street from GM’s old head quarters, “The Cadillac Building,” and down the street from Henry Ford Hospital. Fellow Pictage Employee, and Community Chief, Scott Anderson picked me up at the hotel so we could drive downtown to the Detroit Institute of Arts (built and funded entirely by the Ford family in the 20’s and an architectural wonder to behold) where “GetCandidDetroit” will take place later today.
On the way downtown it started to sink in. There was something strange about the landscape. It’s a big city, but it didn’t feel like it should. It took a while, but then I noticed it and it registered. There is no one here. The buildings are boarded up. Many buildings are quite literally windowless. Not ramshackle streetside huts or single family residences, although I’m sure they are too. 25 or 30 story apartment buildings, empty to the concrete core, loom over deserted streets. On one, hauntingly, a “Move in Free” banner, probably hung ten years ago, sways in the beautiful afternoon breeze. Welcome to Detroit, ground zero for America’s current economic condition.
Even more hauntingly, in the middle of downtown at 5PM there is no traffic. No signs that a city’s lifeblood of commerce runs through its veins. GM’s new headquarters on the river is a towering complex, but those who work inside vacate the city when the days fade in evening light. It’s a lovely city and the architecture, and in particular the deco architecture is quite stunning. It’s a place you have to see, but if you see it now it’s going to haunt you.
The speakers, all deserved luminaries, Bambi Cantrell, Jim Garner, Ken Sklute and of course, Joe’s good friend Denis Reggie, arrived yesterday evening and we drove through downtown together for an epic meal at Detroit’s own Opus One and we all saw these things together and I think it had an impact on all of us. These folks are here on their own nickel. No one is paying them a dime. They aren’t selling anything. They aren’t promoting seminars or hocking products. They’re here to listen and to share and hopefully to provide a breath of much needed inspiration. They’re here because they care. They’re here because they’ve been a big part of building an industry that is different because it’s participants, even in the middle of competition are willing to help each other. They’re here because Joe called, but they’re also here because of who they are.
The price of admission for the attendees was a question. People who registered for the conference had to submit a question, something they wanted these people to answer. The questions themselves are a stark reminder of the challenges faced acutely here, but around the country as well. Over 7 hours today these folks will attempt to answer most of the questions we heard.
There’s one more thing about Detroit. There’s a warmth here and a friendliness that penetrates the veil. Every single person I’ve met, from the folks who run the Institute, to the folks at the restaurant and the hotel and even passersby on the street has said a friendly hello. They may mourn the passing of what was. They know the challenges. But somehow their spirit is there. They’re figuring it out. They’re moving forward. Frankly I’m not sure they even need our help, though they’ve indicated their gratefulness. Here’s the thing folks. There’s a lesson we can learn from them. If they can do it, in the middle of all of this. If they can pick themselves up and move forward and support each other and work toward a better tomorrow... Then we can too. What’s next is what’s important.