Photography and text by Billy Schon (@freshpaintnyc) of FreshPaintNYC
On January 31, 2014, I went on an overdue trip to get out of New York and visit Detroit for the first time. Since the city’s been getting a lot of attention in recent years, it only made sense to set out and see everything myself. I had no idea what to expect. The weather was a major concern as it was in the negative temperatures the previous week, and it had been snowing a lot.
Once the plane landed and I picked up the rental car, reality set in. I worked from random tips and research since I had no previous knowledge of the city’s layout, except for the directions to where I was staying. After 10 minutes of driving, I saw a huge NEKST roller off to the side of the highway, and I quickly pulled off at the nearest exit to get a shot of it. This was also my first time seeing one of Detroit’s many run-down neighborhoods with burnt-out houses.
Driving an economy rental car with Florida plates on icy tire tracks through un-plowed back streets was a wake-up call; things could get interesting. Aside from the goal of trying to shoot as many abandoned spots and as much graffiti as possible, the first priority was to stay safe. I had heard many stories about robberies and carjacking, so I wasn't going to take any chances. I was given some advice from locals about what to be alert for while traveling in this city with its reputation for lawlessness.
The snow drifts were built up on the sides of the streets, and pedestrians walking around had to share the roads with the cars. Pulling over, getting out of the car, and walking through the snow to get quick photos was a never-ending challenge. You also didn't want to be away from or out of your car for too long in most neighborhoods, especially on the East Side of Detroit.
Graffiti in Detroit has attracted major attention over the past several years due to the number of writers visiting from other parts of the country and the world. It was cool to see a strong presence of New York writers mixed with many writers from other states and longtime Detroit locals. Overall, it was interesting to experience and witness what I've been hearing about for years, and I look forward to going back in the warmer months.
Click through my collection of 50 Graffiti Photographs From Winter in Detroit to see the explorations that I shot over a three-day stay in the city. Enjoy.
Thanks to Jessica Lundgren for her hospitality. Rest in Peace to JAUNT, AFRIKA, and NEKST.
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