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Detroit Photographer Bruce Harkness shares his historical work at Dearborn exhibit

Posted at 5:56 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 10:46:52-05

DEARBORN, Mich. (WXYZ) — There's an opportunity for you to see Detroit's history in a unique way. The work of a renowned Detroit photo historian is on display in a coffee shop gallery in Dearborn - images of a Detroit community decades ago.

Mr. Witlow was born in 1891. In Tuskegee, Alabama, he moved around and ended up in Detroit.

“I was driving down St. Aubin one day and he was in his garden with his hoe cutting rows where he planted his corn seeds,” said Photo Historian Bruce Harkness.

“I stopped the car, got out, and asked him if I could take some pics, he said that would be fine, and that's how it began,” said Harkness.

What started as a passion project for Bruce Harkness and Wayne State Professor John Bukowczyk, turned into real connections and captured the people and places of Detroit that were the building blocks of city history.

“Most of these people, I met just from me walking around,” said Harkness.

WXYZ’s Glenda Lewis speaking to Harkness at the Black Box Coffee art exhibit, “And I see some of these people. History on the walls there. They're just living life but there is a story there. Always.”

“I was over on Chene St. with my camera and a man came up to me and said, ‘what are you doing? What are you taking pics for?’ I described this project to him, and he got excited, and he said I want you to follow me,” said Harkness.

“Ok, let's go. Over we went, down one street, up another. He took me right to the front door of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), put a key in the door, and it went after I had given up on it. UNIA was founded by Marcus Garvey,” said Harkness.

Each of these images, with its own story and personal connection to Bruce, are now lining the walls of a coffee shop gallery Black Box in Dearborn as part of an exhibit that started in Black History Month but staying through most of March due to popular demand.

A lot of what Bruce was able to get on film is far gone.

“I worked in Hudson’s downtown. A dark room guy, back entrance elevator up to 19th floor and looking. I loved it down there. Just so wonderful and charming,” said Harkness.

“Fortunately, we are able to see some of his memories,” he added.

“What is your message about taking in the past?” asked Lewis.

“I think it's very important essential part of photography that it preserves what exists at a certain time, that's certainly a part of what I do,” said Harkness.

“The personal experience is meeting strangers. People I may not ordinarily encounter in life through photography for whatever reason can be very rewarding. There are many surprises,” said Harkness.

The Bruce Harkness display in Black Box in Dearborn runs through March 20th.

Bruce Harkness does have a book coming out with all these images and more called ‘Photographs of Detroit 1975-2019' due out in July.