Photographer Bill Rauhauser in 2011 in his light room, as he calls it. Its his digital dark room. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
The Kresge Foundation has chosen Detroit photographer and teacher Bill Rauhauser as its 2014 Kresge Eminent Artist.
Rauhauser, 95, taught photography at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies for 34 years, and published a series of books that established him as the dean of Detroit street photography, including the 2011 “Bill Rauhauser: 20th Century Photography in Detroit.”
He learned of the Kresge award two weeks ago and says the news stunned him. “The whole thing is pretty — What do I say? — great, to say the least,” he says.
The award comes with a $50,000 one-year stipend, no strings attached.
Most of Rauhauser’s pictures catch ordinary people in ordinary situations — a threesome on a Detroit River bench, in one classic example, or a shot of a man lightly touching a companion’s knee.
Rauhauser is widely credited with shooting at just the right instant — what photographers call the “decisive moment” — to catch everyday interactions in ways that invest them with tension and meaning.
“I don’t photograph will-nilly,” Rauhauser told The Detroit News in 2011. “I wait for something to happen — something that says something about living.”
The one-time architectural engineer got early notice. His portrait of two girls leaning against a soldier appeared in the 1955 “Family of Man” exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
More recently, Rauhauser was featured in “Motor City Muse” at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a 2013 group show of photographers who shoot Detroit, He’s also got a show right now at Chicago’s Carl Hammer Gallery, “Bill Rauhauser Street Beat: Detroit Photographs c. 1950-1970.”
Rauhauser has also curated exhibitions at the DIA, where he serves as artist advisor for the department of prints, drawings and photographs.
In 2011, CCS awarded Rauhauser an honorary doctorate.
Veteran Detroit photographer Michelle Andonian says she’s proud to call Rauhauser her mentor. “The photographs Bill took, and continues to take will last forever, small moments captured by a humble man who loved the city he grew up in.”
In addition to photography, Rauhauser found his other life’s calling in the late 1960s when he taught his first photography class at CCS. “I was there 10 minutes,” he says, “and realized, ‘This is what I’ve got to do.’”
DIA curator of photography Nancy Barr is one of his former students. “I’m so happy Kresge’s honoring Bill,” Barr says. “He’s influenced generations of Detroit photographers.”
She adds, “Bill’s given us this photographic time machine to step into — a time machine enhanced by his own vision of Detroit that’s often comical, always humanistic, and sometimes close to heartbreaking.”
Previous Eminent Artists have included Michigan Opera Theatre founder David DiChiera and Detroit sculptor and painter Charles McGee.