Alleys & Ruins no. 147, Dequindre Couch (2014, Detroit, MI, 11pm)
Sam the Man and Chuck the Magnificent
I met Sam the Man and his brother Chuck the Magnificent while searching for a location to shoot on my last trip to Detroit. I had been exploring the 2-mile long Dequindre Cut, a one-time rail route, carved below street level in the 1920’s. The Cut was another epic example of Detroit’s ruins. I had seen it a few times over the year but I was always too afraid to shoot it. It was a valley of abandoned buildings and bridge underpasses that at night was pitch black and desolate to the extreme. Lighting it would be a huge undertaking, drawing attention to me in a remote, obscured location that seemed too dangerous, even by Detroit’s standards. I had hoped that finally, tonight, I could at last muster the courage to shoot it.
But this time, when I dropped by to take a look, it was being demolished! Construction and demolition trucks were parked all around and the Cut had lost its appeal. Over the years, a beautiful urban recreational path – the Dequindre Cut Greenway – had slowly replaced sections of the Cut. The last remaining piece of blight, at the northern tip, was now about to come down.
So I would not be shooting the Dequindre Cut – ever – but this was Detroit, so I decided to take a stroll. Crossing the Cut on the Alfred St bridge, I find Sam and Chuck sitting by the road. Chuck is actually curled up on a couch and half asleep. But Sam is friendly and wants to talk.
Sam sees me looking closely at everything. “Hey what you lookin for?”
I tell him I’m looking for a place to photograph later at night.
“You gonna take pictures?” he says laughing. “Ain’t nothin to take pictures of here.”
I laugh too, and explain briefly what I wanna do. And I ask what the gang situation is like around here.
Sam has a unique way of breaking up words in the middle, and adding emphasis to the second half. “Well, I’m the care-Taker… been here 30 years, this is my neighborhood. Seen it all change – used to play ball on the street. I can give you access – you take all the pictures you want! –just buy me a beer!”
I tell him I’m gonna explore a little and if I see something I wanna shoot tonight, I’ll buy him a beer. I walk through the ruins of an old lamb skin factory and I’m not surprised to find a thousand great locations. But one in particular grabs me: a once elegant couch sits quietly among the rubble, framed beautifully. Behind it, the interior of the building is now a budding forest.
I walk back to Sam and Chuck. “Here’s $5,” I say, giving Sam the bill.
“Hey that’ll get me three beers!! You got full access man! And don’t worry –everyone here knows me. I’m the vi-Per. Ain’t no one gonna mess with you.” He gives me a fist bump and introduces himself: He’s Sam the Man, always has been. His inseparable brother is Chuck the Magnificent.
I tell him Chuck the Magnificent looks comfortable, and he says his brother is sad because his girlfriend died recently.
I say I’m sorry and ask how she died. “She died because of ob-Session.”
He hunches over and looks at the ground. “She was stabbed 37 times by this guy … who was obsessed with her. He loved her, but she had a boyfriend. So he killed her, right here in front, right on the street. Thirty-seven times…” he emphasizes, looking at me. “He don’t like to talk about it. It was his girlfriend. Killed her right on Mother’s Day too.”
That was only 4 months ago. He nods, “Mmm-hmm”
I ask him how he’s the caretaker.
“I sleep right in there,” he says pointing to a doorway of the building I’ll be shooting in later. Sam tells me matter-of-factly – zero disappointment or regret. “That’s where I live. This is my spot – me an my brother – right here. Thirty years … This been my hang out.”
“What about winter?” I ask.
“What about winter??” He begins to shiver. “It gets cooold in the winter, man, it gets cooold! Tell me about it!” he laughs again.
“What do you do?”
“Blan-Kets man! Aaa.lot.aaa.blan-Kets!”
“Looks like you got this whole place all to yourself.”
“Me and my brother…and lots a cats.” He leans back and looks up as if remembering something. “Thirty years…”
I tell Sam I’m gonna look around a little more. He gives me another fist bump and I head off back to the ruins of the old Lamb Skin Co. Then I do something I wish I had done more often in the many years I’ve been shooting the Alleys & Ruins: I shoot a video of the area. It’s still light out and my friend Nate (who’ll be watching my back) hasn’t arrived yet.
Since I normally shoot exteriors, I’m not prepared for the hazards of the enormous amount of rubble, especially the nails, and I very nearly puncture my foot while shooting the video.
After the video, I’m back near the couch thinking about the photograph I’ll be shooting, and how do I light this – the couch, the rubble, the weeds in the background. I wonder if my foot will get impaled during the shoot, while I stumble around countless exposed nails with my lights in the dark, wearing the wrong shoes. As always, I want to create a kind of fairy tale version of this bleak scene…and then I wonder who sleeps on the couch… is it Chuck?
Then I notice behind me, Stan the Man is walking down the alley. “You going to get your beers?” I call out.
“You know it!” he yells, fist in the air, and laughs.
By the time the shoot is over, it’s near midnight. We pack up and walk out to the street. Chuck is fast asleep on the same couch, but Sam is not around. I assume he’s in his bed. I dig into my pocket and pull out another fiver. I roll it up and jam it into a crack in the chair… a little morning surprise for the brothers. It’s the least I can do for the Viper.
The Illinois State Museum, Southern Illinois Gallery.
November 23, 2014 – March 15, 2015
14967 Gun Creek Trail, Whittington, IL
Opening Reception, Nov 23, 2-4pm. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend.
“Fragile Relations” is a touring exhibit that began at the museum’s Chicago gallery in Oct 2012. It has been touring the Museum’s network of galleries since then. The Springfield gallery exhibit closed Aug 31st. It has now moved to the Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center
Fragile Relations highlights the work of fourteen Illinois artists who are inspired by nature and the environment and show diverse ways of perceiving and experiencing the world.
I’m exhibiting two 32X40 Alleys & Ruins, three 32X40 Glam Bug pieces, and an 8×10 foot print of Alley 134, Dub Stop. Unfortunately I can’t attend the opening reception.
Instituto Cervantes of Albuquerque, NM
Nov 21-Feb 20, 2015
Opening reception Nov 21, 5:30-8:30pm
I’ll be giving a talk from 4pm-5pm about the Alleys & Ruins series.
The six photographers in the show are all Spanish born or of Spanish heritage (like myself) and our work reflects influence from both Spain and the US. The exhibit was curated by the Embassy of Spain.
The reception is from 5:30pm-8:30pm – there’ll be lots of yummy tapas, and lots of yummy drinks. If you are in the area, please drop by! It is free and open to the public.
The exhibition runs to Feb 20, 2015. The show began in Washington DC in Nov 2013 and travelled to NYC before stopping in Albuquerque.
It has had a very successful run so far, being featured in over a dozen press stories nationally and internationally, including in the Washington Post.
Workshop: “Lighting the Alleys & Ruins” Dec 6
– Learn how I do my night lighting
– I’ll teach you the tricks that took me years to develop
– Held in my studio
– one hour of pp presentations/explanations/demonstrations
– three hours of students shooting and lighting a set
Saturday, Dec 6, 10am-2pm
This class always sells out so register now!
The class will be limited to 12 students.
– To Reserve Your Spot –
You will need to pay in advance to be confirmed in the class.
Send me an email or call… firstname.lastname@example.org – 510-648-6810
– VISA, MasterCard, Discover, Paypal, Checks:
For security, the credit card number can be either emailed in 2 parts, to email@example.com or you can call me 510-648-6810
– PayPal – let me know and I’ll email you a paypal invoice
– Checks – mail it to 1932 S Halsted St, #402, Chicago IL 60608
– What To Expect –
This is a very fun 4-hour class focusing on my night lighting technique – very useful whether you are a beginner or pro. It is held in my comfortable studio, just 2 miles south of downtown, at 1932 S. Halsted St, #402, Chicago. And there is plenty of free street parking!
I’ll explain and show you in detail how I create my night images. This will be followed by an extensive hands-on workshop where I dim the lights and you create photographs using my equipment and my guidance. Your images will be projected and we’ll discuss them, then we’ll keep on shooting.
My technique is also perfect for creating fabulous portraits, which you will also learn to do!
This class will not disappoint!!
There is no need to bring your camera or lights. I’ll have a digital camera on a tripod and you will all have turns with my lights, taking photos and looking at the results projected on the wall.
Bring a USB Flash Drive and I’ll transfer your images for you to take home.
My class fills up with both pros and novices. My lighting technique is very unusual yet very simple to learn, so it doesn’t matter how much or how little you know, you will be able to create a very different and exciting type of image when we’re done.
– Let my students tell you –
Thank you Xavier for opening up not only your studio but also your bag of tricks for us. I have been a fan for many years and when I heard about your workshop I knew I had to be there. A friend and I drove up from Kansas City, an 8 hour one way drive to attend. After going to the workshop, we both concluded it was the best money we have ever spent. I can’t wait to go out and create my works of art using what I learned. Thanks for sharing, I hope to do you proud.
– Rich Lockhart
“Xavier, your workshop today was great and worth every penny I spent. Excellent insight into how you create your beautiful work. And an inspiration. I’m a portrait photographer but some of your Alley & Ruin techniques are a wonderful addition to my coffer of photographic tools.”
– Detlef Koertge
“By far the best workshop I have ever been to! Teaching, then allowing the students to utilize the information learned immediately really allowed all the students to grasp the concept! (This also gave me a new appreciation for the art that Xavier takes the time to create! This is no joke folks! This art takes true talent to create!) Also, it was wonderful to meet other passionate photographers! Thanks again!”
– Kira Here
– Big Studio Sale Dec 12 –
Fri, Dec 12, 6pm-10pm (during the monthly 2nd Friday artwalk)
My studio address: 1932 S. Halsted St, #402, Chicago
– What is the Studio Sale? –
I’ll be offering many discontinued, or slightly damaged pieces at hugely discounted prices, 50-90% off.
I have to clear space for much of my newer pieces… and there are too many sale pieces to list.
Christmas gifts… hello!!
There will be images from many bodies of work
– Alleys & Ruins
– Glam Bugs
Lots of free street parking is available!
– What is 2nd Friday? –
My studio and gallery, along with 30 other studios in the area will be open to the public. The event is a unique self-guided walking tour of the intimate world of the working artist.
Come by for some art, music, drinks and snacks…
Visit the Chicago Art District for the monthly 2nd Friday artwalk
If you want to purchase larger pieces and you’d like to discuss images and options, a good time to arrive is between 6 and 8pm when it is more peaceful.
More info on 2nd Fridays