There was a time when it was fashionable for out-of-state photographers to jet into Detroit, grab a few pictures of harrowing collapse, and then escape on the next flight out of Metro.
Times have changed.
Now a French photographer living in New York has produced a handsome picture book of Detroit’s surprising revival, “Detroit: The Dream Is Now — The Design, Art, and Resurgence of an American City,” with a focus on individual efforts to rebuild and renovate.
The just-released book, published by Abrams and selling for $40, began on a whim.
Michel Arnaud, his wife and a couple friends, flew to Detroit in October, 2013, and — as often happens with visitors — were utterly and unexpectedly seduced.
“We took lots of pictures of beautiful buildings,” Arnaud said, “but none of us was interested in ruins. We’ve seen them in books and documentaries — all very sad and beautiful and whatever. But I wanted to see whether this city, one of the most iconic of the 20th century, could come back.”
His judgment? It’s already well down that road, and doing it with considerable style and verve.
Arnaud’s a sort of connoisseur of urban turnarounds. His 2013 picture book, “Design Brooklyn,” looked at its transition from half abandoned and Detroit-like to today’s hipster heaven, and incubator of cutting-edge design.
And while he’s the first to say the two cities are very different, Arnaud, 72, nonetheless thinks much the same creativity and enthusiasm have taken root in Detroit.
On their first night, Arnaud and his friends ate at a long communal table at Hamtramck’s Revolver, where they fell into conversation with two local women.
The pair offered to give the New Yorkers a ride back to their hotel, but suggested a nightcap first at the Sugar House cocktail bar.
“So we were sort of introduced to Corktown,” Arnaud said, “and the next day we went back and discovered Slows and the beginning of the story.”
Arnaud’s divided that story into four chapters — one on the intrinsic nature of the city, and the other three on the art, design and restaurant scenes.
The result is a good-looking coffee table book with 272 pages and some 300 spectacular images. Those range from city views to restaurant interiors to the living rooms of some of the coolest, newly renovated homes and apartments in town.
Along with interviews Arnaud conducted with entrepreneurs and artists, four Detroit insiders — writers Lynn Crawford, Matthew Clayson, Sarah Cox and Jennifer Conlin — give the story of the city’s unexpected revival depth and context.
The official book launch will take place April 27 from 5:30-8 p.m. in the arcade of the Fisher Building.
The book strikes a nice balance between long-established Detroiters and the young newcomers who’ve garnered so much recent attention.
In the chapter on the art scene, for example, he shoots and interviews art-world vets like Tyree Guyton and Allie McGhee, as well youngsters Steve Coy, Dorota Bilica, Desírée Kelly, and the proprietor of Salt & Cedar letter press in Eastern Market, Megan O’Connell.
Arnaud and his wife made 10 trips over three years to the city, each time staying for four or five days.
“We didn’t just come and shoot,” he said. “We made friends.”
He’s aware of the keen local anxieties about gentrification, but thinks the threat is much lower than in New York.
“Brooklyn has gentrified in a bad way,” he said, noting it’s gotten so expensive that young creative types are being forced out.
“People say gentrification is bad,” Arnaud added, “but you need some to get things started. The challenge is reaching that balance. In Brooklyn, everything went to the extreme very quickly.”
At Salt & Cedar, one of two old-fashioned letter presses in Eastern Market (the other is Signal-Return), O’Connell says working with Arnaud was unexpectedly fun and collaborative.
“It was very conversational,” she said of the photo shoot, “and a lovely way to begin a friendship with him.” She added that “the book makes the city very attractive and palatable, but not corporate. He shot passion projects.”
Still, everyone knows that real-estate prices rise in tandem with a city’s reputation, which books like Arnaud’s can boost. On that very score, O’Connell notes she just learned Wednesday her lease won’t be renewed.
All the same, she thinks the New Yorker’s done a great service to the city, and hopes lots of people pick up his book.
“Michel’s made an important document,” she said. “He’s drilled into something at this pivotal point in the history of the city.”
‘Detroit: The Dream Is Now — The Design, Art, and Resurgence of an American City’
Author Michel Arnaud will speak and sign books starting Wednesday at the following venues:
6 -8 p.m. Wednesday
Panel discussion: N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 52 E. Forest, Detroit (313) 831-8700
5:30-8 p.m. April 27
Book launch and photo exhibition: The Fisher Building, Detroit
11 a.m.-2 p.m. April 28, and noon-4 p.m. April 29
Book signing and Leon Dickey art opening: Linda Dresner, 299 W. Maple, Birmingham (248) 642-4999
3-6 p.m. April 29
Book signing: Artifactry, 2135 Michigan, Detroit (313) 974-7734
Noon-3 p.m. May 6
Book signing: Shinola, 441 W. Canfield, Detroit (313) 285-2390
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