Pedestrian Detroit

An Offline Photobook Encounter

4 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

I bought my copy of Pedestrian Detroit at my favourite coffee shop down the street from home. They serve what I think is the best-tasting brew in town and often feature creative works from the community artists for sale.

Pedestrian Detroit was laid in a small stack in front of the counter with a note that they’re sold on a donation basis. All the proceeds are going to benefit Ukraine and the victims of the war that’s still raging.

The barista helped me make a direct transfer to Mykhaylo’s account, and then I had the book.

This is not a review.

It feels a little unfitting to write a review of a book not available for sale anywhere I know of without even a single mention online other than in this article. I think it’s a good book; I want it to be known.

I don’t have any good photos of the contents — I’ll make a few and post them here if you ask me in the comments. For now, I’ll do my best to describe what it’s like reading it and tell you why I like it.

🚨 Update: Someone on Bluesky quickly pointed out to me that the book is available for purchase online on Bigcartel.

The print.

The book feels hefty, though it’s not a big one. Its pages are the width of and half the height of Letter paper. It’s perfect-bound, with a soft cover (about 80lb) and coated inner pages (about 40lb). The pages are unnumbered; I counted 108.

There isn’t much text other than the introductory paragraph on page two:

If you are to search for images of Detroit, you are likely to see one of two things: decay or tourism promotion. Few set out to capture the entire spectrum of life in the city. This is a love letter to Detroit.

Followed by “Images captured on film while walking around Detroit between 2016 and 2020.”

The last page (inside cover) says:

Support Detroit by donating to local charities.

Hidelberg Project

Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum

Greening of Detroit

Michigan Urban Farming Initiative

Detroit People’s Food co-op

Freedom House Detroit

The photography.

The images are laid out as two squares or a single landscape image per page. The first dozen are photos of urban decay — in line with Mykhaylo’s introduction.

If you haven’t seen photos of decay in Detroit, they are worth a look (you can find plenty online). The decay in that city is different from most as it appears to be an integral part of the ‘scape. Dilapidating buildings stand next to well-maintained ones, and the ones that are just a few decades away from becoming the earth are a defining part of the metropolis, an inseparable part of its culture and history. Without the ruins, this living city can not be Detroit.

As promised, Mykhaylo shows a lot more of Detroit than the ruins. As I flipped the pages, the broken buildings gradually transitioned into photos of graffiti with increasing visual mastery in every consequent one, followed by the prints of clean, posh architectural details on well-maintained homes and offices. I’d describe the unbroken buildings’ style as an early 19th-century New World; they stood amongst modern glass giants.

And then there are people. They’re riding the train, smiling on the street, holding protest signs, skateboarding, and playing drums on the street; they’re selling and buying produce.

The last few images mirror the first set, but they aren’t photos of decay. Instead, they are images of street art made of broken chairs, thousands of liquor bottles, paint, and car parts. One image shows a person squatting on top of a vehicle that looks like a prop from the Mad Max movie, only more realistic, maybe more creative. It’s hectic, joyful, and insanely impractical.

Inside the book, the final photograph is of a dark street corner with giant neon letters spelling across a single-story building: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. The back cover shows AMEN!!!, printed by hand with thick paint brushes in black on a concrete wall next to a sidewalk. The letter “A” appears as tall as I am.

Extremely offline.

I encounter most photography online. Even if it was shot on film, it almost has to be posted somewhere for me to learn about it.

Indeed, being able to reach virtually anyone is, in no small part, the reason we still get to use analogue cameras today. The Internet did not let us forget how beautiful film photos can be and how fun they are to capture.

This book reminded me that my digital experiences are no match for the vastness and diversity of the real world.