Documenting Detroit’s bad weather and decay

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Documenting Detroit’s bad weather and decay

Photographer Bill Schwab’s collection of ethereal landscape photographs taken in his hometown ― the industrial mass production city of Detroit, Michigan ― depicts beauty cached in imperfection.
Schwab’s natural talent for taking photographs emerged when he was 12 years old with a Kodak “Brownie” camera, and he taught himself to process film.
After majoring in fine arts, photography and graphic design at Central Michigan University in 1983, he started to take surreal photos while assisting fine art photographer Alan MacWeeney and making contacts with the world’s top galleries and museums.
Mr. Schwab’s exhibition, “Gathering Calm,” opened last Tuesday and runs through July 4 at Gallery Lumiere in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.
The exhibition was organized to celebrate his book, “Gathering Calm ― Photographs: 1994 - 2004” and his 10-year career in photography. The exhibition is being simultaneously held with the Halsted Gallery in Michigan running from May 14 to June 18.
Gallery Lumiere chose 54 of Mr. Schwab’s original photographs for its project, “Space and Photographs,” in accordance with the curators and Mr. Schwab.
The photos are 8 inches by 8 inches ― sometimes considered rather burdensome for viewers used to rectangular ones ― and make the spectators feel a degree of poignancy through his subjects.
Each portrays a landscape or an object surrounded by outlandish industrial backgrounds, and is emphasized in black and white with light permeating through the space in between darkness.
The application of evocative lighting techniques and selenium-toned gelatin silver print effects makes each image powerful, and is the photographer’s singular interpretive style for his urban landscapes.
“I started out idolizing the photographer Ansel Adams,” Mr. Schwab said in a press release. “But we can’t all go out and take his photographs because we’re not all Ansel Adams. I had to go through all the steps to find my own vision. I’m still finding it ― constantly.”
In shooting Belle Isle, an island park on the Detroit River border between the United States and Canada, the ruins of the long-abandoned copper mining industry and the decaying factory of Henry Ford in Rouge, Michigan, Schwab sought to take sublime photos, finding beauty in objects from the past and present in an urban landscape.
Moonbeams penetrating a maple tree, a fog-shrouded bridge, feathers floating on a lake and willow branches on the banks of the Rouge River are a few of his photographs delineated as visual music and poetry, which imply a streak of hope in life and create feelings that people can use as meditative springboards for interpretation.
Schwab enjoys taking photos mostly during inclement weather, and in low-light situations with his Hasselblad cameras, rain gear and short baseball bat he uses to keep rogue dogs at bay.
“I started to see this strange beauty in the way that man is screwing up the earth,” he said.
By working alone with the whispering serenity of nature, Schwab found the world as quiet and peaceful.
“Bill Schwab has an ability to turn the ruins from industry into stunning beauty,” said Han Soo-min, the curator.
“By looking at his work, you will be able to feel your heart palpitate and melt with happiness,” he said.
The gallery offers three gallery lectures during weekdays at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. in Korean and during weekends at 4 p.m. in English. The lectures lend an in-depth understanding of the photos, the photographers’ profile and the curators’ personal experiences with Schwab.
The gallery is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is 4,000 won ($4) for the general public and 3,000 won for students. Copies of the original prints are for sale, ranging in price from 100,000 won to 500,000 won. Each print is limited to 25 editions. For further information, please call (02) 517-2134 or visit

by Kim Bo-yung
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