The Detroit Institute of Arts presents a survey of over 70 photographs by Russ Marshall whose black-and-white imagery was inspired by the Motor City’s streets, architecture, music and factory workers for over 50 years.
Russ Marshall was born in 1940 in the thriving coal mining town of South Fork, Pennsylvania, to a family of coal miners, farmers and industrial factory workers. His family relocated to Detroit in the 1950s and Marshall began photographing the city’s streets, passersby and its legendary Michigan Central Station (MCS) in the 1950s throughout the 1960s. From 1975 to 2005, Marshall worked freelance for local and national labor and trade magazines and created some of his most compelling work - labor portraits and candid imagery shot alongside the assembly line workers in factories, shops and plants throughout Detroit as well as in Dearborn’s Ford Rouge plant, GM plants in Flint, Michigan, and in other areas of the Midwest.
His work from the post-1980s captured working life on and off the assembly lines taking time to photograph local sites and citizens as well as the daily and nightly diversions of everyday Detroiters. We see the city’s solitary streets, industrial skylines and architectural studies – he returns to the MCS photographing its interior and train lines in 1987 shortly before its closure 1989. Stopping in Eastern Market, he caught up with the city’s butchers, farmers and other vendors. Marshall also paid homage to nightlife with photographs capturing musicians and performances known to classical and jazz circles in the city’s legendary music venues, including Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the Vanity Ballroom and Orchestra Hall. The exhibition will also include a special supplement including Marshall’s photographs taken in Europe from 1989-1991.
Marshall’s photographs interpret over five decades of blue-collar life, Detroit and its environs, sometimes reading like a melancholy poem but most often as an empathetic narrative of resilient people, places and times now past.