Detroit photographer offers blight tours

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Is it free enterprise, a labor of love, or taking advantage of Detroit's shortcomings? Jesse Welter is giving the city's visitors an eye-opening, often uncomfortable perspective.

Optimists will say Detroit is spirited for a comeback. They'll say the city's got promise. But of all the promise the Detroit-area photographer could focus on, his lens is fixed on the broken ones.

"I like to come in and kind of investigate it," said Welter."...And visualize what it used to look like and what it used to be."

His backdrops are the blighted eyesores of the city. When he's not clicking the shutter himself, he's playing tour guide. If you're wondering just who would pay Welter more than $50 a person to take them to abandoned structures, some come by the busloads.

"Since I've been doing this in 2011, I would say more than about five-thousand people." said Welter.

Most of Welter's clients are photographers themselves who, like Welter, believe there is a market for these wall crumbling photographs; even at the expense of trespassing at times.

Just how popular are these pictures? Welter says he has sold more than 20,000 images walking into blighted buildings.

"I wouldn't say it's about profiting though," said Welter, "It's really not what it's about. It's about bringing awareness to people."

Ask Detroiters about Jesse's blight tours, and the reviews are mixed.

"Hey everybody's got to make a living some kind of way or another." said Jerry Robinson, a Detroit resident of 66 years, "Why not?"

"I mean you gotta be a psycho or something to take people to an abandoned building." said Iree O'Neal, "People got too much [time and money] to be going around touring Detroit."

"People are going to do this anyways." said Welter, "They want to do this. And if you do go out on your own, it probably is unsafe. I think there are safety in numbers."

Jesse says as long as those numbers are there, the tours will continue. But even he says the images are there to remind the city of what it once was, and what it can become if people turn a blind eye to Detroit's decay.

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