Alleys & Ruins no. 79, Tunnel (2005, Detroit, MI, 2:15am)

Alleys & Ruins no. 79, Tunnel (2005, Detroit, MI, 2:15am)

Phil and I have been exploring some of Detroit’s ruins. We find a tunnel where years of unchecked grime has settled into a thick cake on all the steel beams; where garbage runs the length of the tunnel floor; and where an ethereal light is beckoning me.

We’ve been exploring in and around the tunnel for an hour and no car has come by (side note: there's an irony to detroit, the Motor City. With millions of cars having been manufactured there over the years, the poverty level is so low, that there seem to be very few cars on the roads), so I decide to set up my tripod in the middle of the street, where the light and composition is best, and I click the shutter for the 20 minute exposure. I also decide to add some blue light with my flash, walking the tunnel’s length and firing my flash almost 20 times. I return to the camera and wait out the few remaining minutes. Suddenly a car’s headlights appear at the opposite end of the tunnel (visible in the photograph). I quickly close the camera’s shutter, pick up the tripod and camera and run to the side of the tunnel to get it out of the way of the on-coming car. Then I hear the car’s engine roar as the driver floors it, followed by blue and red flashing lights. It’s a cop. The car comes to a skidding halt and the two doors swing open. Two flashlights are now on us, and they have their other hands on their guns.

“DON’T MOVE!” We freeze. “What are you two doing in here?”

“I’m an artist,” I say. “I’m taking a picture.”

“A PICTURE!!” one of the cops growls, not believing me. “OF WHAT??”

“I take pictures at night. I know it sounds strange, but this is what I do.”

“You stay right there!,” he says.

Nervously, he steps away from the safety of his car door and approaches. The other cop still has his hand on his gun and is glaring at us.

“Whado we have here?” he says flipping open my various camera and lighting bags with his heavy maglite. He looks through my equipment and sees I’m telling the truth. Both cops start to relax. One cop looks at me shaking his head, “Hey I love art,” he says. “Just be careful out here. It ain’t safe.” They give us a long look, like they wanna say something but they don’t know what, and then they get back inside their cruiser and  leave.

I set up the tripod again. I’m not sure I got the shot, and I don’t want to walk away with nothing. Ten minutes later another car appears and I have to race my camera to safety, ruining the shot. It’s a cop car again. The car drives by slowly, with the two officers staring curiously at us, but they don’t stop.  I try again, putting the tripod on the same mark, reframing and releasing the shutter. Again, minutes later another cop car, two different officers drive by. I set up again, and one more time, two different cops, this time an unmarked car. Apparently word has gotten out that two lunatics are taking pictures in a dark and dirty tunnel in a not-so-good part of town, and the cops just wanna see this bizarre scene for themselves. This last drive by is the end of my patience and I decide to have faith in my first exposure. Phil and I leave; me, with fingers crossed that I have the shot!

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