Bill Rauhauser, dean of Detroit photography, dies at 98

One of Detroit’s preeminent artistic photographers and the 2014 Kresge Eminent Artist died of a stroke Saturday

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
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Bill Rauhauser, one of Detroit’s preeminent artistic photographers, died Saturday at 98.

He reportedly had a stroke after finishing up a day shooting on Belle Isle.

Rauhauser, the 2014 Kresge Eminent Artist, was a much-beloved professor at the College for Creative Studies for 34 years and a hugely influential photographer.

Bill Rauhauser was known as the dean of black-and-white Detroit street photography, capturing the little moments of daily life.

While his work spanned many styles, Rauhauser is perhaps best known as the dean of black-and-white Detroit street photography, with a gift for catching ordinary people in illuminating situations — what his profession calls the “decisive moment.”

“I don’t photograph willy-nilly,” Rauhauser said in 2011. “I wait for something to happen — something that says something about living.”

The Oak Park resident started his career as an architectural engineer, a job he would finally quit to teach photography full-time in the late 1960s.

It was a case of an individual discovering his passion.

A double line of cars in a parking lot illustrates Rauhauser’s eye for geometry and abstraction.

“I started with one night class at CCS,” Rauhauser told The Detroit News in 2011. “I’ll remember this till the day I die. I was there 10 minutes and realized, ‘This is what I’ve got to do.’ I just loved it.’ ”

His dealer, Tim Hill of Birmingham’s Hill Gallery, called Rauhauser’s death a huge loss.

“Bill instructed people on how to look through the lens and actually see something,” Hill said, “and not just take a picture.”

In 2011, CCS granted the photographer an honorary doctorate, but the quality of Rauhauser’s photography won early recognition.

Rauhauser was always fascinated by the interactions of everyday life. "I don't just shoot willy-nilly," Rauhauser said. "I wait for something to happen." Here, two Detroit men set things to right over a metal bin.

His portrait of two girls leaning against a soldier on a Detroit bench caught the attention of photo legend Edward Steichen.

He included the image in the 1955 “Family of Man” group show at the Museum of Modern Art — an exhibition that helped establish photography as a bonafide artistic discipline.

Rauhauser published a number of books of his photographs, including the 2010 career retrospective, “Bill Rauhauser: 20th Century Photography in Detroit.”

More recently, he was featured in the Detroit Institute of Arts group show “Motor City Muse” in 2013 and had a show the next year at Chicago’s Carl Hammer Gallery, “Bill Rauhauser Street Beat: Detroit Photographs, c. 1950-1970.”

Two shows were already in preparation at the time of his death that will celebrate different periods of his work this fall. One at the Hill Gallery will open Sept. 14, while another at other the CCS Center Galleries will open the following night.

Rauhauser documented Detroit life from the 1940s to the present day, though most of his images with people date from the 1950s or 60s. Here, a veteran's pride swells almost as much as the Hudson's flag in the wind.

“The photographs Bill took will last forever,” said his friend and former student Michelle Andonian, “small moments captured by a humble man who loved the city he grew up in.”

Plans for a memorial, Hill said, are still under discussion.

Rauhauser is survived by a son, Russ, of Boulder, Colorado, and a daughter Nancy who lives in Seattle.

His wife, Doris, the love of Rauhauser’s life, died in 2007.

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

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