Photographer captures Detroit at night

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
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Michigan-born photographer Dave Jordano may have moved to Chicago 41 years ago, but like the moon and the tides, Detroit's always tugged at his soul.

Jordano's latest book of images, "A Detroit Nocturne" (powerHouse, 2018), presents nighttime portraits of neighborhoods far from downtown's new fizz and sparkle. 

Dave Jordano's "We Buy Cars, Westside, Detroit," in his new book "A Detroit Nocturne."

"Nocturne," explains Jordano, 70, was a sort of addendum to his 2015 “Detroit: Unbroken Down,” which documented residents of the city's overlooked neighborhoods.

"When I was doing that project," he said, "people kept asking, 'Why don’t you take pictures at night? Afraid to come down into the city?'"

No, as it happens.

In fact, Jordano didn't want to stop shooting the city, and the nocturnal suggestion presented a completely new opportunity -- shooting structures at night.

"I went into these tiny little neighborhoods that have been struggling for decades but are still there," the photographer said, areas whose dogged optimism and persistence strike him as nothing less than beautiful. 

What with all the hoopla over redevelopment in Midtown and downtown, Jordano said, "I wanted to highlight that these little places were still surviving." 

"Brent's Place" in Dave Jordano's photo book, "A Detroit Nocturne."

The results are evocative portraits of ordinary little houses, corner stores and motels, all dressed in the glow, sometimes warm, sometimes lurid, of streetlamps and neon signs. 

The images have no people, but Jordano, a College for Creative Studies grad who was a commercial photographer in the Windy City before he retired, says that was less by design and more a result of when he shot. 

"I’m out around midnight," he said, "and the streets roll up around 8 p.m. There’s nobody out. But I get passers-by," he added, "and sometimes people stopped at a stoplight will ask, 'What are you doing? A movie?’"

Jordano's work is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and photography curator Nancy Barr included him in the "Detroit After Dark" photo exhibition in 2016. 

"Dave has been relentless in his photographic interpretations of Detroit after dark -- I’d almost say he became a bit addicted to it," Barr wrote in an email.

"He and his wife Jeanette have the greatest stories about people they met," she added, "how safe they felt and how amazed they were at how the pictures came out. They just couldn’t stop shooting."

Some of these images may remind you of Edward Hopper paintings of vernacular buildings.

Jordano relies entirely on ambient light, though he engages in limited post-production work to correct colors and so on. 

"A Detroit Nocturne" has attracted notice.

The Washington Post ran a photo essay online in late April headlined, "These surreal nightscapes are a photographer’s ode to Detroit."

And in their review, F-Stop magazine called the book a "wonderful portrait," praising the care Jordano took "to evoke a personality from buildings and structures." 

 (313) 222-6021

'A Detroit Nocturne'

by Dave Jordano with essay by Karen Irvine 

Booksigning 3 p.m., Sunday

The Book Beat

26010 Greenfield

Oak Park  

(248) 968-1190 

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