Revisiting 1970s Detroit With Portraits From Today

The Photo Blog
Jan. 6 2014 10:19 AM

Revisiting 1970s Detroit With Portraits From Today

Dave Jordano
Four Carny Workers, Detroit, Sept. 4, 1973

Dave Jordano

Last year, Dave Jordano decided to unearth some work he created as a student in the early 1970s in his hometown of Detroit. Both Jordano and Detroit had changed a lot over the years: Jordano had moved away from the city and from his dream of being a documentary photographer to pursue a career as a commercial photographer in Chicago. And once-prosperous Detroit had fallen on much tougher—and well-documented—times.

Jordano’s earlier work, which he hadn't looked at in 40 years, was created when his focus was simple: He wanted to document his surroundings. “I would make portraits of people on the waterfront one day and the next I would be documenting historical buildings that were [in danger] of being torn down,” he wrote via email.

Jordano documented people at the summertime ethnic festivals as one of several self-assigned projects. He mostly photographed anonymous passers-by but also captured some local characters, including “Dirty Dinky,” who sold buttons with sexual references and whose flirtatious, somewhat crude demeanor was forgiven—and adored—due to his advanced age and diminutive size.

Dave Jordano
Left: Dirty Dinky, Detroit, July 15, 1973. Right: Man Handing Out Papers, Detroit, July 1, 1973.

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Backyard Antics, Detroit, 1972

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Two Gay Libbers, Detroit, May 28, 1973

Dave Jordano

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In 2010, after an almost four-decade hiatus, Jordano once again tapped into his documentary roots and began to photograph Detroit, partly in response to the seemingly endless amount of negative coverage about its demise.  “Today my emphasis on Detroit is focused more on the struggles of those who have been living within the harsh environment of a city that has economically collapsed,” he said. “I concentrate mostly on people who have survived this crisis but are by no means living comfortably. Their existence is played out on a day-to-day basis.”

Dave Jordano
Cornell in the Front Room of the Abandoned House He Was Squatting In, Eastside, Detroit, 2013. The house had previously been a nursing home that had likely been home to war veterans, as evidenced by the patriotic murals found throughout the house. The house became uninhabitable after scalpers broke out all the windows in order to steal and sell the counterweights inside the walls.

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Left: Henry, "J.B." (James Brown) Johnson, Greektown, Detroit, 2012. Johnson performs as a street robot entertainer and also moonlights as a James Brown impersonator. Right: Lynn Guyton on His Front Porch, Heidelberg Street, Eastside, Detroit, 2010. Lynn's brother, Tyree Guyton, is founder of the famed Heidelberg Project, Detroit's most well-known and visited social arts project that addresses urban blight issues plaguing the city.

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Left: Michael Sitting on His Front Steps, Poletown, Eastside, Detroit, 2011. Michael Alston lost his feet after he jumped out of the second-floor window of a burning building. Alston was one of two beloved Detroit street icons who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in May 2013. Right: Little J, Mexicantown, Detroit, 2012.

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Tissheama, Jediah, Nirel, Anya, and Dah'Wu, Goldengate Street Residents, Detroit, 2013. Tissheama and her children work together to make a small flower garden in their yard. One of the only families on Goldengate Street that own their house, Tissheama is married to Dr. Bob, a local chiropractor who runs the Golden Gate Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant, as well as the Innate Healing Arts and Ecological Center.

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Charlie with His Custom Bike, Goldengate Street Resident, Detroit, 2012. Every car Charlie has ever owned has been stolen, so he bought himself a bike and then personalized it to celebrate his theft-free life.

Dave Jordano

On his website, Jordano wrote about the similarities to the work he did in the ’70s to what he is currently documenting.  “It’s as if I stepped out the door after a long hiatus and literally picked up where I left off in 1973. After all these years, if anything else, the work provides a nostalgic glimpse back into a world far more innocent and naïve than the one we find ourselves immersed in today,” he said.

A show of Jordano’s work opens this month at A. Smith Gallery in Johnson City, Texas, and another opens in February at United Photo Industries in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dave Jordano
First Haircut, Pacheco’s Barbershop, 2619 Bagley, Detroit, 1972

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Woman at Hot Rod Show, Detroit, 1972

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Left: Woman With Big Hair, Detroit, Sept. 16, 1973. Right: Man With Big Glasses, Detroit, July 22, 1973.

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Man Dancing in Kennedy Square, Detroit, 1972

Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano
Fess Clark, Fess Barber Shop, 4418 John R Street, Detroit, 1972

Dave Jordano

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