Dave Jordano – Detroit: Unbroken Down


Dates: February 6 – March 21, 2014
Location: United Photo Industries HQ | 111 Front Street, Suite 204

Artist Reception: Thursday, February 6 2014, 6–9PM

A kind, personal look at a much-maligned city, Jordano’s visual exploration of Detroit does not waste time rehashing worn-out visual tropes of devastation and urban poverty, turning his gaze instead to the people surviving, thriving, making a decent life for themselves against the odds.

Presenting us with a message of hope from a great city brought low, Jordano’s exhibition Detroit: Unbroken Down is a beautiful, visual celebration of the power of human spirit and perseverance.

Detroit is my hometown, but I’ve been gone for over three decades. As a child growing up, my dad, who worked all his life for General Motors, used to joke and say that we had motor oil in our veins. Even after all these years I still believe there is some small truth to what he said.

These photographs are my reaction to all the negative press that Detroit has had to endure over the years. I wanted to see for myself what everyone was talking about, and like everyone else I was initially drawn to the same subjects that other photographers were interested in; the crumbling factory interiors, the empty lots and burned out houses that consume a third of the city, and the massive abandoned commercial infrastructure. It took me a week of shooting this kind of subject matter to make me realize that I was contributing nothing to a subject that most everyone already knew much about, especially those who had been living there for years.

To counter this, I began looking at the various neighborhoods within the city and the people who live within them. This human condition, while troubled, struggling, and coping with the harsh reality of living in a post-industrial city that has fallen on the hardest of times, does thrive, and demonstrates that Detroit is not the city of death and decay that everyone had been reporting in the media, but one that shows signs of human activity and movement. However, not withstanding the recent press about Detroit’s efforts to rebound from the depths of ruin, which is in all ways promising, my focus continues to rest on the current conditions that affect many of the poor and marginalized people whose fate will be drawn out in the ensuing months and years to come, and not in short capsulated 30 second news sound bites.

Whatever that outcome may be, whether for better or worse, I’ve found that most Detroiter’s wear their pride for the city they live in much like a badge of courage, defying all odds, openly admitting that if you can survive here, you can survive just about anywhere.

My hope is that this work will convey in many ways that Detroit is a city made up resilient, strong individuals who have withstood many harsh realities, while all the while clinging to the vanished ideals of an urban oasis that once prided itself as one of the most beautiful and prosperous cities in America, at one time a model city for all others to follow, but one which has now fallen from grace.

This project bares witness to the fact that Detroit is not a story about what’s been destroyed, but more importantly about what’s been left behind and those who are coping with it.

-Dave Jordano

Dave Jordano was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1948. He received a BFA in photography from the College for Creative Studies in 1974. In 1977 he established a successful commercial photography studio in Chicago, IL, shooting major print campaigns for national advertising agencies.

As an emerging fine art photographer, he was awarded an honorable mention in the Houston Center for Photography’s Long Term Fellowship Project in 2003, and received the Curator’s Choice Award the following year. In 2006, 2008, and 2013 he was a three time top twenty finalist in the “Critical Mass” national photographic book award in Portland, OR. He was also selected for inclusion in “One Hundred Portfolios”, a compliation featuring the work of 100 leading photographers from around the world and sponsored by Wright State University, Dayton, OH. A major exhibition of his work from the “Articles of Faith” project was held at the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, Illinois in 2009.

Jordano’s work is included in several private, corporate, and museum collections. Most notably the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, the Harris Bank Collection, and the Federal Reserve Bank.

His second book, published by the Center for American Places at Columbia College, Chicago titled, “Articles of Faith, Small African-Amercian Community Churches of Chicago”, released in April 2009.

His current ongoing project, “Detroit – Unbroken Down” documents the cultural and societal changes of his home town of Detroit. Dave Jordano currently lives in Chicago, Illinois.