‘Detroit from Above’ at M Contemporary Art in Ferndale

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Detroit has always been a stunningly photogenic town, even at its most underrated and decrepit.

Happily, we’ve finally moved beyond the “ruin porn” years of the late ’90s, when Detroit drew photographers from around the world bent on producing hauntingly dismal images of the train station and other ruins.

But the recent urban uptick has yielded, in addition to new stores and restaurants, a fresh crop of photographers looking to showcase the city’s offbeat beauty.

One of the most promising is Brian Day, whose show “Detroit from Above” opens at Ferndale’s new M Contemporary Art gallery Friday. The exhibition runs through March 9.

Using a camera-equipped drone, Day — in real life the chief technology officer for the Henry Ford Health System — has assembled a dazzling array of pictures staring straight down at Detroit’s skyscraper rooftops and freeway tangles.

It’s all very 21st century. Day steers the drone from his iPhone.

“I see exactly what the camera sees,” he said Tuesday, “and built-in controls keep the drone from crashing into buildings,” or flying above the legal limit of 400 feet.

The results are delightfully disorienting.

A good example is the circular exit ramp at the Greektown Casino parking garage, which from up high looks like a sort of concrete vortex — more mouth-to-the-unknown than ordinary spiral drive.

It was almost shot by accident.

“I was photographing the abandoned jail site (on Gratiot),” Day said. “Out of the corner of my eye, I thought, ‘What the heck is that vortex over there?’ And that ended up being my shot for the day.”

Equally confounding is his overhead view of the huge Noguchi fountain in Hart Plaza, which in his hands resembles silver jewelry embedded in a mosaic background.

“Brian’s work is really cool, and feels abstract and geometric,” said M Contemporary owner and director Melannie Chard, who until recently ran Midtown’s Galerie Camille. “I like it because it reflects the city, but in a very non-pedestrian way.”

Not all of Day’s shots are designed to deceive. He’s got some great aerial images of the Ambassador Bridge, its sharp-edged shadow straddling the Detroit River, as well as the Fisher Building and other landmarks.

Most romantic, perhaps, are his several takes on the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle, including a nighttime shot of a lonely car crossing the dark span.

All in all, “Detroit from Above” offers intriguing new perspectives on the Motor City, reminding us how much was ignored during the dark years of abandonment, and how much of the city’s visual treasures we have yet to rediscover.


(313) 222-6021

‘Brian Day:

Detroit from Above’

Friday-March 9

M Contemporary Art,

205 E. Nine Mile, Ferndale

Noon-8 p.m. Thu.;

noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

(347) 665-7011