Bruce Weber, icon of fashion photography, captures Detroit in new exhibit

When fashion photographer Bruce Weber came to Detroit in 2006 to shoot a spread for W featuring super model Kate Moss, the story goes that he really didn't know what to expect. Neither did a mostly skeptical Detroit, which was up to its neck with lens-people from all over the world coming here to gorge on the usual ruin porn suspects.

But Weber didn't want that. What he got, with a little help from his Detroit friends, was a glimpse into the beating heart of the city. What Detroit got was enduring respect and love from an artist who has since come back for an ad campaign (last fall) to further boost high-end bicycle and watchmaker Shinola's profile around the world.

To come full circle, an exhibition, "Detroit -- Bruce Weber," opened June 20, 2014, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and features many images from that 2006 visit as well as others.

Photographer and location manager Dave Krieger was one of those Detroiters that helped guide Weber to authentic people and places for the W shoot. He also worked as Weber's local producer for the Shinola campaign.

"What was apparent right away is how much Bruce began to love Detroit," Krieger says. "He dug the energy of the people, he loved the architecture, the buildings, the potential. He got turned on seeing people participating in the growth and redevelopment of their city."

Krieger helped find locations that turned out to be key spots for the W spread - including Belle Isle, Kronk Gym, the Perfecting Church and the Raven Lounge, where his shots of Kate Moss dancing the night away to gritty R&B made it appear as if she was a regular at the legendary Chene Street venue.

Krieger says the natural look of Weber's photographs are a direct result of how well he and his team work together.

"Bruce is an artist whose soul is at peace," Krieger says. "He is a gentle leader, very focused, very patient, doesn't get angry. He has a beautiful relationship with his crew, some of whom have remained loyal to him for 20 years."

Earthy portraits

Weber's career has been on an upward trajectory since the late 1970s, when his work began appearing in Soho Weekly and GQ. In the 1980s, his fashion shoots for Calvin Klein, portraits of actor Richard Gere and direction of the documentary film, "Let's Get Lost," which starred troubled jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, raised his profile even higher. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988. Later, he photographed the winter Ralph Lauren Collection and has done work for Versace and Abercrombie and Fitch. His work has been described as "images that combine classical styling with more visceral underpinnings of desire, mood, and sexuality."

In collaboration with Condé Nast, the DIA exhibition features over 70 Weber photographs. Most are what curator of graphic arts Nancy Barr calls "earthy portraits" of regular Detroiters, others of young poets and musicians and creative people, still others of "famous Detroiters," and images of local places and landmarks.

"What stood out about his visit in 2006 was that it was so much more than a fashion shoot," Barr says. "It was reportage, a high profile photo essay on Detroit."

In a recent preview piece for the upcoming exhibit in Vogue (like W, a Condé Nast publication), Weber says: "Over the years, I'd see pictures by Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, portraits done in Detroit, and I'd say, 'I wonder why all those guys went there.' And as soon as I got there, I knew why. There's a freedom there that doesn't exist anywhere else."

Expect to see portraits of activist Grace Lee Boggs, R&B music legend Aretha Franklin, poet-punk icon Patti Smith, members of the Detroit chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, and much more. The images are in B&W and color, some in massive 40' x 50' prints.
A book of Weber photos -- "more than will appear in the exhibition," says Barr -- will accompany the exhibition. The book, "Detroit Has Been Good to Me," also features poems by 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist Naomi Long Madgett and Gil Scott-Heron, as well as an essay by Barr. The cost is $65 and it is available at the DIA.

100 Women for the Arts

The Weber exhibition began with a sold-out luncheon on June 19 in the Great Hall at the DIA. The luncheon was a fundraiser put on by 100 Women for the Arts, an organization formed to raise money for strategic museum projects. (The exhibition opened to the public June 20.)

In 2012, Barbara Gucfa, a director with Alix Partners, created 100 Women for the Arts, which invites women to gather once a year to assist in raising funds for the DIA’s most pressing strategic priorities. DIA Board Member Nicole Eisenberg is co-chair of the group.

In its most significant action since forming, a 2012 benefit generated $100,000 during a one-hour reception at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham to support the museum’s regional property tax initiative. The millage passed and now generates $23 million annually for the DIA operating budget.

Eisenberg says the Thursday luncheon that preceded the opening of the Bruce Weber exhibition hoped to exceed $230,000 to support the museum’s Promise for the Future operating endowment campaign.
"Our group allows women a voice to offer gifts in their own names," Eisenberg says. "Doing an event for an artist like Bruce Weber and an organization like Condé Nast is a true honor. They are aware of what's going on in Detroit, and it's fantastic to have people in New York totally behind the DIA."

Condé Nast executives, including editor of Vogue and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, joined the 100 Women for the Arts at their luncheon in a show of support for Weber and the DIA.

"Putting on the Bruce Weber exhibition, and having Condé Nast here for the luncheon, puts Detroit squarely on map," Gucfa says. "We are seeing an engagement of the community, an indication of people coming together through art."

The details 

"Detroit -- Bruce Weber" runs June 20-Sept. 7, 2014 at the DIA. The exhibition is free with museum admission and is organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts and presented in collaboration with Condé Nast.     

Walter Wasacz is a Hamtramck-based freelancer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @nospectable.

Photos courtesy of Condé Nast.

This article originally ran on, a SE Michigan arts and culture news and events website from CultureSource.
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Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.