Monday, October 28, 2013

Signs of Life- Presidential Style

Dotting Detroit, Michigan, are “signs of life”: signs promoting tire repairs, barbershops, hair salons, wigs, fresh fruit. Detroit business owners have a long tradition of hand painted signs and entire buildings to command attention, announce services and invite the public. There is little regard for signage ordinances. You can paint just about anything you want on your building. The bright images last as long as the paint holds out against the environment, or the property is sold and the building repainted for the new owner’s taste.
Sprinkled throughout Detroit are various images of President and Mrs. Obama. 

The public is very proud of our President. His image has been carefully hand painted on garage walls, brick walls, and cinder block walls by local artists with various degrees of technical skill and availability of paint and materials. No matter, the skills, the carefully crafted images “speak” to the visitors traveling through the communities.
The fame of Detroit’s painted signs and buildings has brought American and International tourist’s to the city, sometimes seeking guides to see even the most obscure sites.  These tours of “continuing life” in Detroit are very different than the city’s  spectacles of abandonment and “ruin” that are also sought after for touring.

At the corner of the 8000 block of East Forest Street at Van Dyke Street is an empty rectangle lot once built with multiple storefronts and homes. Framing the land is a series of 10 plywood 4’x8’ surfaces nailed to four-by-four posts surrounding the landscape. Many signs are simply youthful designs. The best sign is President Obama’s image circled by a waving flag and a quote presumably by him: “Though we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideas: Democracy, Liberty, Opportunity and unyielding Hope.

Lee “Bird” Walker is a third generation sign painter who excels in drawing people. He is proud of our President, “our African-American President”.  In 2010 “Bird” painted the President’s image on a brick wall on a busy street to remind people who our President is. In 2011 he returned to the painting and changed some of the color tones. The image has not been touched or defaced and still speaks to the passing cars.

Gas stations and retail service stores also used the President’s image. To entice more business A & J Tires uses the President’s image on the wall along with Arabic text and high contrast colors.  Obama Gas does a steady business drawing on name power to compete with national gas station brands. Davidson Tire’s yellow building with teal green doors announces their services supported by the President’s image before a silhouette of the Detroit skyline. President and Mrs. Obama have been painted in sweeping colors memorializing the inauguration ball demonstrating both romance and charisma above an entrance to a decaying corner retail store.

At Steve’s Produce on Connor Avenue, is a portrait of the President and his slogan Time For Change, just below signage for a super watermelon sale.

 A local hair salon painted in a orange-yellow that can be seen for blocks, has a floating display of bubbles over the skyline of Detroit .The President’s image, in a bubble,  is found along with a happy hair customer, and Michael Jackson leaping skyward.

Color is important in Detroit architecture and neighborhoods. The choice of creating ones own signage and the love of using bright arrays of colors brightens not only the buildings but also the minds and moods of the business owners, their customers, friends and neighbors. This is the promotion of the American Dream, owning their own business, and a personal statement of hope and pride.

This article originally appeared in The SCA Journal - Society of Commercial Archeology, Spring, 2013.

Monday, August 5, 2013

3-Detroit Bankruptcy

3-Detroit Bankruptcy.

Not only is Detroit North America's first city to declare bankruptcy, the City did it in 3-D.

Graffiti Artist Ayem and Melo,

Friday, February 22, 2013

Detroit Art Environment- Dabl's African Bead Museum


Peppered throughout Detroit are citizens who are adapting vacant buildings and land. Creating oasis of original art by decorating walls, whole buildings and large expanses of open land. No where else in North America is such actions taking place on such a grand scale.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Booth Chapel on Chene St. Detroit

Chene Street in Detroit continues to be lined with empty retail stores. Booth Chapel Church in Christ was founded over 30 years ago and  continues to minister.  On a hot  July day Bishop Willis Booth ll stood on a letter touching up the building signage.

The Bishop's church remains a light of religous hope in a barren landscape. In addition to a dedication to his ministry, Bishop Booth is a full time Detroit Police Chaplain. In this role he ministers to police officers and crime victims on the east side of Detroit.


"Of course it is hard work running a church and working full time, but it is God's calling" the Bishop said on the ladder while handing me his business card. He cares about people and hopes for a better future.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Oasis with fig tree on John R Street in Detroit

Michael Yousif is very proud of his business, Advance Steering Column Repair. I visited on a June Monday morning and  Mondays are often good for business.  Seven customer calls already this morning from victims of attempted auto theft where the ignition is broken.

Immigrating from Iraq nearly 30 years ago, Michael settled in the Chaldean community on Seven Mile east of Woodward, he has built a strong business. The environment features a rich patch of green grass, apple and peach  trees, and a large fig tree in the garden at the rear of the building. This could be only fig tree in Detroit.

The front courtyard is framed in blue with used steering columns stored  under the tent.

Everything in the interior has an organized place.  The walls, floor, and ceiling is spotless. 

Even the office is amazing. Coordinated colors. a real feeling of being a home.

 Michael is very proud of his life in America " I will never go back to Iraq, America is the greatest Country in the World". His built environment is a shinning example of honest values, clean leaving, good service, and a lot of red, white and blue paint.

About Me

My photo

I have been writing, producing and directing television productions for advertising, corporate communications, documentary,and marketing for over 25 years.  Parallel I have been an urban photographer exhibiting regionally, nationally and  most recently on the the Web at
I have two Detroit photography books in publication - Talking Shops: Detroit Commercial Folk Art and Art in Detroit Public Places.
For the past few years I have worked on feature films in Michigan as a location scout and assistant location manager.