Retired Dearborn city photographer publishes photo book – Press and Guide

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Many know Bruce Harkness for his having been the City of Dearborn’s photographer for 20 years.

With the publication of Photographs from Detroit, 1975-2019, they will know him as a photojournalist, an artist with his finger on the pulse of Detroit, recording the buildings and lives of many living in the underbelly of a difficult time in that city’s history.  The cover of the publication gives a sense of many hidden faces, but the inside pages of this book bring into focus the images and stories of many of the forgotten people of Detroit.

This 192-page book, published by Swallow Press (of Ohio University Press), is now available through various local bookstores and online. The list price is $29.95.  Bruce and John J. Bukowczyk, Professor of History at Wayne State University, and the book’s editor, hatched the idea for this book years ago, but the impetus for its realization came after Bruce followed the publication process of Before Fair Lane: Historic Homes from Henry Ford’s Home Town (1832-1916), for which Bruce took the photographs. For that publication, Bruce would return to photograph a home several times, until he literally could show it in its best light.  That fine eye for perfection is reflected in Bruce’s new book.

Bruce began accumulating these pictures over four decades ago as a student at the Center for Creative Studies.  His book reflects his interaction with his subjects.  It reflects part of Bruce’s sense of a need to recognize not only those of different ethnic cultures but also those from different economic strata.

The pictures in themselves are masterful, but his written details of the pictures offer a good description of how he met the individuals and collected elements of their life stories.  Some pictures reflect a culture that is long gone.  Others show a culture that is simply different from most in Dearborn.

In the 1970s and 80s Bruce wandered and photographed in the Cass Corridor, a notorious, poverty-stricken area of Detroit  located close to where Bruce lived at the time. Early on Bruce photographed a man on Third Street who had just been severely beaten by another man. Bruce remembered a responding police officer say “just another day in the Corridor.” Bruce gained access to and subsequently photographed inside the Niagara Apartment building from 1976 to 1978. He did not always feel safe walking to the Niagara, so he sometimes carried his camera equipment in a paper bag to conceal it from the unknown. Inside the Niagara building, built in 1916, the majority of the 30 renters were destitute or alcoholics.  Said one, “Every night I get cockroaches crawling on me. You can feel them. I got no blankets. I even went to bed with my winter coat on.  Before my dog died, he used to keep me warm.” In the corridor Bruce also photographed inside the Gold Dollar Show Bar on Cass Avenue, and Verdi Bar, once located on land later cleared for Little Caesars Arena.


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