Seeing Detroit from a Different Perspective

Detroit has legendary architecture, incredible and historical buildings.  In fact, many of the city’s downtown skyscrapers were built in the 1920s.  While there are great stories regarding these structures, many photographers have come here from across the world to photograph the “ruins” of this iconic city.

Not Brian Day.

Detroit-native Day is a technologist by profession and has worked for a major health care organization since 2008.  In 2013, however, a new interest was ignited, photography.

And Day’s love for taking photographs led him to start a business focused on his favorite subject, Detroit.

And unlike other photographers, Day’s work strikes a balance between Detroit’s beauty and its challenges, but presents the city’s photographic story in an unique and balanced fashion and judging by recent showings at a local gallery, many attendees appreciate his work.

I recently talked to Day about balancing full-time work and entrepreneurial aspirations, his photography and of course, the subject of his work, Detroit.
Lee:  You’re a CTO for a major health organization by day and an photographer by night.  How do you balance the two and why photography?

Day:  My job can be quite demanding, though I truly enjoy the mission of our organization and the opportunity to positively contribute – even if indirectly by way of technology – to the health and wellness of people in and around the city. I enjoy creative problem solving in my technical day job, and photography is in many ways exactly that – creative problem solving. So it felt like a very logical fit for me, personally.

I don’t spend much time watching TV, my knees don’t allow me to play much basketball, and I gave up video games ages ago, so diving deep into photography fits neatly into my personal time outside of work. That said, I also rarely leave the house without a camera, just in case an opportunity presents itself.

Lee:  Please share thoughts to those wanting to wanting to work full-time and pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.
Day:  I think it’s important to go into any entrepreneurial endeavor with high energy and a beginners’ mind; being willing to wrestle with even the most ridiculous of bad days and unknowns – and simultaneously be genuinely eager to tackle new adventures. On the other hand, it’s also prudent to count the costs so as to understand how to leverage your assets wisely. Those costs may be tangible, in the form of cash or equipment (in my case, photography gear, computers, etc.), but there can also be intangible costs, in the form of time and energy spent getting an idea off the ground.

That’s why the adage of quickly vetting ideas and “failing fast” (deciding quickly whether or not to invest more resources in a given pursuit or move on to the next one) remains a powerful principle: time – in many cases, quite literally – is money.

Lee:  Your photos focus almost exclusively on Detroit and recently on Detroit’s historical architecture.   Why and what have you noticed in some of these legendary buildings?

Many of the world’s most revered architects designed buildings right here in Detroit. Albert Kahn, Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, Minoru Yamasaki, just to name a few. These architects were renowned for creating emotionally resonant designs, and it’s no surprise to see those iconic structures endure today. As a part of my Detroit focus, I have worked on various projects involving people in and around the city, but the architecture work also allows me to explore the evocative nature of constructed environment.

When you look at the stunning architectural beauty of the Fisher Building and Penobscot, for example, one can sense both nostalgia of the past and confidence in the future. In no small way, to me at least, these feelings are directly linked to some sense of Detroit’s character, as shaped by resilience and strength. So the buildings are an essential part of the visual story of Detroit.
Lee:  How do you find subjects to photograph?

Day:  Often times, I carefully research potential subjects, but quite frequently I allow myself to explore and discover the ever changing landscape around town. Once I’ve identified a subject, I try to plan for the best time and environmental conditions to make the photograph.
Lee:  You also have a unique approach by using drones to take aerial photos of the city or, Detroit by Air.  How has technology changed photography?
Day:  I believe that technology has further liberated creativity by providing more perspectives for photographs. For me, the drone was a departure from the typical, tripod mounted camera pointing out toward the horizon. With that limited perspective, making architectural/cityscape photographs that offered a fresh viewpoint was increasingly challenging. The drone has unlocked views of the city that I’ve been around for over 40 years, but in a fresh way. I’m excited by all the possibilities.

Lee:  And you mentioned to me a couple of things you’ve noticed from the air, including the Joe Louis fist, for example.  Please share.
Day:  So the aerial project has revealed some specific things about the architecture and landscape of Detroit that I’ve found surprising. In the example of the Joe Louis fist, I never knew that the fist had veins on the top of it. Also, the traditional, street level view of the fist suggests a punch being thrown, but from above, the perspective of the fist changes to one raised in victory.

Other interesting discoveries include the ring-like shape of Hart Plaza’s Dodge Fountain from above, and the labrynthine shape of the city’s highways.
Lee:  You recently had an opening where many attendees had “Aha” moments after viewing your photos.  Please share a couple of them and why did they capture observers?
Day:  I recently had a solo exhibition at M Contemporary Art gallery in Ferndale, where I am represented. It was really fun to watch people’s reactions to the photographs in the exhibit. There were many Detroiters at the show, some of them long time residents, and yet many were delighted to play the game of trying to identify what they were looking at. The parking ramp of Joe Louis Arena, for example, is shaped like a lower case “d”, and folks were playing a fun guessing game of where the ramp is located. Historic Fort Wayne seen from the air has an interesting, angular perimeter that most had not seen.

And then there were little details, like the shape of the Michigan mitten imprinted on the putting green on the mezzanine of the 150 West Jefferson building visible from the air, or the circuit board like shape of the Michigan Science Center. There were many visual surprises, and I was happy to share that in this show.

To view his work, please click here.