Russ Marshall's gritty Detroit photos at DIA through June 27

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

"Russ Marshall: Detroit Photographs, 1958-2008," the new black-and-white photo exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, offers a strikingly authentic look at the city and its denizens.

Marshall, 80, has covered a wide range in his photography, whether for labor magazines like "Solidarity" or just to please his own discerning eye. The result is a time capsule that offers glimpses into factory life, Detroit streets, the local music scene, "public life" and Marshall's European travels.

Curators at the DIA have been following Marshall's career for years.

"We bought a few of his cityscape pictures in the 1990s," said Nancy Barr, the curator who heads the museum's department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.

"Ms. USA, Ford Motor Co., Batavia, Ohio" by Russ Marshall at the Detroit Institute of Arts through June 27.

"But when Russ started bringing the labor portraits," she said, "I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t have any prints like these,’ apart from Charles Sheeler and some Michelle Andonian work on the Fleetwood Cadillac plant," which the latter shot in the late 1980s.

"Russ's aesthetic is very gritty," Barr added, "this gritty, romanticized view of Detroit, its architecture and its people."

Particularly with Marshall's shots of faces in the crowd -- or in the case of "Mink," one well-dressed, high-heeled leg sticking out a car door -- it's tempting to compare his work with that of Bill Rauhauser, the dean of Detroit street photography who died in 2017.

In fact, it's not a bad comparison, though the latter never shot inside factories like Marshall did, who was often there on assignment. Furthermore, there's a crispness to Rauhauser's work that differs from some of Marshall's prints, which over time, particularly with some of his cityscape shots, take on a softer focus that lends them a certain timelessness.

Russ Marshall's "Press Operators, GM Fisher Body Trim Plant, Fort Street, Detroit Michigan" at the DIA through June 27.

The show's first section, "Inspiration from Everyday Detroit," features a sidewalk shot of parade throngs, and a rainy shot of the old "Detroit & Out of Town Newspapers" kiosk in the center of Campus Martius 61 years ago.

The last section on European travel includes two of the show's standout prints. The first is "Genevieve and Boris, E. Berlin, East Germany," taken in 1990, with its pair of laughing geriatrics, clearly still nuts about one another. Their great good humor is made even brighter by contrast with the bleak East German streetscape all around them. 

The second is "Guarding Lenin, Budapest, Hungary," with its heroic subject carved in stone attended by an officer slouched in a chair, clearly not down with the program and regarding the photographer with bored irritation. It's really quite a hoot.

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Russ Marshall's "Ford Rouge Plant and Woodmere Cemetery" at the DIA through June 27.

"Russ Marshall: Detroit Photographs, 1958-2008"

Through June 27

Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward, Detroit

9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Thurs; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Tickets: Free - Macomb, Wayne & Oakland residents;

All others: $14 - adults, $9 - seniors, $8 college students, $6 kids 6-17

Reservations are required

(313) 833-7900