Wednesday, September 13, 2017

For and Against the Anthropocene

Global temperature anomalies for 2015 compared to the 1951–1980 baseline. 2015 was the warmest year in the NASA/NOAA temperature record, which starts in 1880. It has since been superseded by 2016 (NASA/NOAA; 20 January 2016). Source: NASA Visualization Studio (Public Domain).
Since the turn of the 21st century, many scientists have been arguing for the designation of a new epoch in Earth's geological history, which they term the Anthropocene in acknowledgment of the impact of humans on the planet's evolution. While not yet officially approved by the International Union of Geological Sciences, the concept has been gaining acceptance not only among scientists but in the culture generally as the effects of human activity on climate, biodiversity, and other aspects of the ecosystem seem to be increasingly apparent.

That humans are adversely affecting the Earth, or that there is even anything at all out of sorts with the planet's ecosystem, is a serious bone of contention to the point of denial in many quarters on the right. While the left readily accepts that humans are responsible for the apparent ecological crisis, how to characterize that impact is subject to debate and the central concern of Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today by T.J. Demos, cultural critic and professor at University of California, Santa Cruz and director of The Center for Creative Ecologies.


As noted on the popular website Welcome to the Anthropocene, the term was introduced into current usage in 2000 by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer. But as Demos notes, various iterations of the concept date back to at least the mid-19th century when Welsh geologist Thomas Jenkyn introduced the term 'Anthropozoic' to describe the current epoch. The specific term 'Anthropocene' seems to date to 1922 when Russian geologist Aleksei Pavlov appears to have proposed it.

The actual onset of the Anthropocene is also a point of discussion. Some scientists contend the new epoch dates to the Industrial Revolution in the early 18th century with the invention of the steam engine. Others place its origins back several millennia with the beginnings of agricultural cultivation and the domestication of crops in the Neolithic Age. Still others posit the dawn of the nuclear age at the end of the Second World War, while some specifically date 1492 as the year when the planet first came to be dominated by humanity with the connection of the two hemispheres under European colonialism. Although not mentioned in the book, devotees of Frankfurt School critical theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (of which I confess I am one) might identify the mind/body split articulated in the mid-17th century by Rene Descartes as the Anthropocene's fountainhead.

Trained as an art historian, Demos first takes up the ways in which the Anthropocene is visualized by various imaging systems and the ideologies that inform them. Following Australian philosopher Clive Hamilton, Demos divides these perspectives into two camps: the 'techno-utopians' who believe the problem can be fixed via geoengineering and the 'eco-Soterians' (named after Soteria, the Greek daimon of safety and preservation) who seek to work in concert with Gaia's natural processes.

The geoengineering solutions offered by the techno-utopians propose to leverage the advances of science to rectify humanity's domination of nature with even more technological intervention, which some might argue is the root of the problem in the first place. The visual culture of the techno-utopians reinforces humanity's mastery of nature through digital satellite photography and data visualizations in the form of maps, graphs, and virtual simulations. Geoengineering projects tend to be proposed by major corporations and wealthy nations of the global North with support from the likes of the multibillion-dollar Gates Foundation.

Where techno-utopianism operates from the top down, eco-Soterianism works from the bottom up, offering a more critical, grassroots perspective, endeavoring not to 'fix' the Earth so much as to rehabilitate humankind's relationship to it. Most of what Demos surveys in this regard is the action of eco-activists to resist techno-utopianism through direct confrontation—for example, the 2015 blockade of Shell Corporation's Polar Pioneer drilling rig in the waters near Seattle—and consciousness-raising by artists to draw attention to the crisis through documentary filmmaking, exhibitions, and performance. Briefly surveyed here, this work is explored in greater depth in Demos's previous book Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology. Other manifestations of eco-Soterianism not explored by Demos are ecofriendly practices such as voluntary simplicity, organic farming, locavore consumption, and the like.

A bigger concern of Against the Anthropocene is to contest the very concept itself. According to Demos, a major problem with the Anthropocene concept is the way in which it universalizes the roots of the eco-crisis by situating it among the anthropos, i.e., humanity in general, when it is in fact the result of a specific set of actions taken by a specific set of individuals, which is to say unbridled global capitalism and its agents and beneficiaries, especially as connected to the exploitation of the environment in all its forms in search of ever-increasing profit.

A number of people have grappled with the question as Demos shows. The most direct connection is drawn by those who embrace the concept of the 'Capitalocene',  the geological age of capitalism and its deleterious effects on the environment, which tend to be distributed unequally geographically, socially, and economically to those who lack the wherewithal to resist. Though she doesn't specifically use the term Capitalocene, Naomi Klein identifies its eponymous economic system as one of the combatants in the battle for the future of the environment in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
 

While Capitalocene identifies the culprit and has the benefit of being world-historical truth, it lacks a conception of the possibility of an alternative. A candidate in that regard is Donna Haraway's term 'Chthulucene', from the Greek khthon, 'earth', drawing attention away from human-centered activity—whether universal or particular—to encompass a broader understanding of the planet's ability to persist regardless of whether it is homo sapiens or Blattodea (cockroaches) at the top of the food chain. Thus it is ultimately humankind's mandate to work within Gaia's existential conditions in all their complexity to ensure that another world is not only possible, but certain.

Other concepts have been proposed, positive and negative. To name two: the Gynecene, in recognition of ecofeminist reverence toward Mother Earth, and the Plasticene, the age of plastic, for the artificial materials derived mainly from petrochemicals, which portend to outlast all manner of other fossils.

Whatever their merits from a philosophical perspective, none of the above-mentioned alternative designations appear to have the resonance and likely staying power of the term Anthropocene. Perhaps a compromise might be to propose an alt-Anthropocene movement in which the ecological dead-ender machinations of capitalism are actively resisted and replaced with more holistic ways of thinking and doing. The former is the province of thought-leaders, including artists; the latter is the province of social entrepreneurs, including 'citizen-designers'.

Regardless of the banner under which one chooses to act, act one must. Humanity's collective future depends upon it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Practice Makes Practicable: From Participation to Interaction in Contemporary Art

Clocking in at nearly 900 pages of dense text plus index, Practicable: From Participation to Interaction in Contemporary Art, edited by artist and researcher Samuel Bianchini and curator and critic Erik Verhagen, is a door-stopper of a book. Its ambition is equal to its mass—it proposes to rewrite postwar Western art history in order to trace the emergence of a heretofore unrecognized organizing principle of art that serves as the book's title. Works that merit the designation "practicable" subvert the "do not touch" mentality of art as a sacred object of veneration; instead they are those in which, as contemporary parlance would have it, the user experience is central. And as that term suggests, many of the more recent works of the practicable use digital technology and feature mediated interactivity, but that is not a necessary condition of their being. Indeed, a number of the works discussed in the book are decidedly low-tech even as they embody conceptual foundations that are forward-looking.

The book is both an historical survey and a theoretical treatise. It starts with a genealogy of the practicable dating back into the 1950s and in particular the influence that the development of cybernetics has had on its emergence. It highlights key artists and movements and then brings broader humanities and social science perspectives to bear. Other sections focus on performativity and methods of exhibiting the practicable. The book ends with several case studies and interviews with artists, curators, and critics, the most memorable for me being the last one, with the incisive critic of relational aesthetics, Claire Bishop. The entries are mostly short, allowing for a plethora of voices to enter the conversation and explore the practicable in all its multiplicity.

The first-mover of part I, "From Cybernetics Onward," is not Norbert Wiener, who coined the term cybernetics in 1948, but English author, inventor, and educational theorist Gordon Pask, whose side interest in musical theater provided the venue, in works such as the 1968 Colloquy of Mobiles, to test the way various information systems and human beings could interact in conversations and adapt to one another. The sections on art movements and artists contain a welcome internationalist cast, including the Brazilian Concretists and Neo-Concretists, the French Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visual (GRAV), and Polish artist and architect Piotr Kowalski. The usual suspects are there as well, including Robert Rauschenberg, whose collaboration with artists and engineers in the Experiments with Art and Technology (EAT) organization in the late 1960s and early 1970s opened the door to emergent practices of intermedia of various sorts, and Yoko Ono, whose 1964 Cut Piece—in which the artist sat motionless while members of the audience cut away pieces of her clothing—became a feminist symbol of gender-encoded passivity and vulnerability and its potential for violation, made manifest a decade later by Marina Abramovic in a performance that took place in a Naples gallery where a mostly male audience, using various implements, subjected her to intimate groping and physical injuries that drew blood on her denuded body.

Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1964 (Excerpt of a1965 recreation).

A key concept running through the book is "dispositif," a French word that the editors note has no easy English translation. It is often rendered as "apparatus" or "device," giving it a somewhat mechanical connotation, leaving open the possibility for missing the more active, constructive notions of its alternate definitions as a plan of action, a legislative pronouncement, or a legal provision in a contract. The term entered the contemporary critical lexicon via Michel Foucault, who began ruminating on it later in his career, before his untimely death from AIDS at age 50 in 1984. Foucault was interested in three things that thinking through the concept of the dispositif might reveal: to identify systems of various elements such as bodies of knowledge, social, cultural, and political institutions, physical structures, scientific theorems, philosophical and moral precepts, etc., and their interrelationships; the specific connections within and disjunctures between various elements that might constitute ways of understanding, both explicitly and implicitly, or what in Foucauldian terms would be understood as regimes of truth; and the power, both positive and negative (which for Foucault is always the ultimate question), that these operative nexuses might have at key historical moments.

Leaving it untranslated, the editors propose a usage of dispositif, as it relates to contemporary art, as "arrangements...that organize...operating capacities or...the way the conditions of a real or potential process are arranged." Works of art surveyed in this book—those which the various contributors understand as practicable—manifest, engage, and sometimes contest dispositifs in that they establish conditions, the effects of which are not always predetermined, that create situations that are not only aesthetic, but oftentimes social and political as well, and which typically work in collaboration with a public. Practicable art works are conditional; they are not only experimental but can be experimented with.

As the editors note in the introduction, practicable approaches to art start to appear in Western culture at roughly the same time as theories of participatory democracy. What is not noted (although Bishop does hint at it) is that both coincide with the ascendance of neoliberalism in which self-reliance becomes not an aspiration but a mandate. (That connection is the subject of another book, The Work of Art in the Age of Deindustrialization by Jasper Bernes.) From that perspective, participation, and the practicable art that embraces it, may not constitute a model for a new form of revolutionary liberte, egalite, fraternite (liberty, equality, fraternity), but augurs a new dispositif, what can be termed, following Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, a new spirit of capitalism, in which we are set loose to rely on one another not because we desire it but because there is no alternative.

The Work of Art in the Age of Deindustrialization: Poetry, Art, and the New Spirit of Capitalism

Updating Walter Benjamin—on whose famous essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' the title of his book riffs—poet and critic Jasper Bernes seeks nothing less than a complete reconsideration of poetry and art over the past 50 years, coinciding with the emergence of neoliberal capitalism. More than simply reflect the changes wrought in American society and culture by the processes of deindustrialization and the rise of the service economy, Bernes claims that the vanguard art and literature of the 1960s and 1970s at least foreshadowed if not directly facilitated their coming to fruition.

The Work of Art in the Age of Deindustrialization is Bernes's first book of criticism (his two previous are poetry) and it heralds the appearance of an important new voice in the discipline. A student of 20th-century literary scholar Charles Altieri, who has also worked with art historian T. J. Clark, Language poet Lyn Hejinian, and other top academics, Bernes charts a trajectory of the evolution of political economy and aesthetic practice that reveals more than an elective affinity but instead a co-dependence (or in more academic patois a dialectical relationship), which weaves together material history and the means by which it is expressed, thereby enabling far-reaching real-life changes.

The discontent with 1950s consensus-driven managerial culture that erupted into the counterculture of the later decade was not caused by poetry and art per se, Bernes acknowledges, but was given what he identifies as its 'key terms and coordinates'. The result was to provide capitalism with what Raymond Williams calls the 'structures of feelings' (i.e., patterns of thinking and organization of emotional response to lived experience) that permitted new modes of workplace interaction and economic exchange to become available at a time when the previous regime of accumulation, known in some quarters as Fordism, was in a death spiral. This proceeded ironically against the conscious intentions of those writers and artists who believed they were charting a path out of capitalist social relations and who instead were circling back around into them, only in a new and more intractable form of their own creation. It is an argument that is erudite, elegant, and chillingly compelling.

A major source for Bernes is The New Spirit of Capitalism, by French sociologists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello. That book—itself a riff on another earlier classic, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber—traces the changes in the ideology of corporate capitalism of the same period back to resistance movements of more than a century earlier, which they divide into two broad currents, the social critique of the labor and other social-justice movements and the artistic critique of the bohemian avant-garde. The former called for increasing equity, typically in the form of widely distributed improved material conditions, and the latter demanded liberation, typically in the form of personal autonomy and expressive individualism.

Since the 1960s, Boltanski and Chiapello argue, the social critique progressively weakened (along with the net profit rate of the industrialized economies) while the artistic critique became hegemonic. Corporate capitalism embraced the artistic critique's demand for creative expression, self-determination, and flexibility against the staid discipline of bureaucratic policies and procedures and bourgeois conformity. (This ethos is the essence of Silicon Valley libertarianism as recounted in From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner. Another study of the same phenomenon as it relates to consumer culture is Sam Binkley's Getting Loose: Lifestyle Consumption in the 1970s.) Bernes demonstrates that the artistic critique as undertaken by the poets and artists of the postwar American avant-garde proffered a toolkit of liberatory feeling structures right at the moment that work began to transition from the manufacturing of things to work primarily involved in administration, information harvesting, and the providing of services.

The first example Bernes provides is poet and curator Frank O'Hara, especially his 1964 volume Lunch Poems, written as the title suggests, during lunch breaks from his day job at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In addition to being composed during lunchtime, the poems often describe how O'Hara spent those periods of respite. Bernes reads the poems, which often include references to brand names and consumer commodities, through the lens of the Creative Revolution in advertising then in full swing, described in Thomas Frank's book, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism.

Rejecting the 1950s technocratic pitches of the Unique Sales Point (USP) theory of scientific ad man Rosser Reeves, which sought to identify a commodity's singular point of differentiation from its competition and pound it into the consumer's head through relentless media saturation, the Mad Men of the Creative Revolution focused on lifestyle desire. So too, O'Hara in one of his more famous poems notes of a lover: 'Having a Coke with you is more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irun, Biarritz, Bayonne or being sick to my stomach on the Traversera de Gracia in Barcelona', a half decade before the Real Thing aspired to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

As Bernes notes, the Creative Revolution in advertising was only one manifestation of the broader transformation of advanced capitalism from object to experience. During this period of expansion particularly in the service economy, the ability to develop 'rapport' through interpersonal relationships became increasingly important to business success, both for the enterprise and for the individuals who inhabited its structures, feeling and otherwise.

A number of analyses of O'Hara's poetry focus on its representations of the connections between the poet's observations of characters and personal interactions described within the work and its ability to engage readers on an intimate level. Modelling the intersubjective as shared experience, of the universal within the particular, embedded in O'Hara's poetry also served him in his curatorial work—the ability to negotiate with individuals and institutions across international borders being crucial to his assembling of exhibitions as part of MoMA's International Program, much as it has become for other denizens of the new world order of global capital.

The example Bernes draws upon in visual art is Conceptualism and its influence on performance, 'Happenings', installation, and other vanguard work that began to appear in the 1950s and 1960s. A major theoretical inspiration during the period was cybernetics, especially its core concepts of information, feedback, and systems, which continue to inform the participatory and interactive art of the present as surveyed in the recent book Practicable: From Participation to Interaction in Contemporary Art, edited by Samuel Bianchini and Erik Verhagen. Where Practicable embraces cybernetics as a wellspring of contemporary art and a model for social interaction, Bernes reads its impact in a less optimistic light.

While cybernetics was being discussed by the mostly French theorists, such as Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, and Roland Barthes, and later on Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Delueze and Felix Guattari, who were influencing the artistic avant-garde of the time, it was also being taken up by business management gurus and government technocrats, the latter of whom saw it as a mechanism for constructing an apparatus of increased behavioral control through a net of human-machine interaction. A key insight in this regard is Berne's observation that 'the cybernetic imaginary in its countercultural setting was particularly appealing to corporate managers looking to allay the dissatisfaction and rebellions of their workers through the incorporation of worker-management feedback loops'. On the shop floor, this took the form of so-called quality circles and the devolution of responsibility to lower levels of the workforce (without any increase in compensation, of course). In the white-collar world, the flexibility of networked computer communications opened the door to the 24/7 work cycle. (As they used to, perhaps apocryphally, say at Microsoft—'Sure we have flextime—you can work any 18 hours a day you want!' Oh, for the good-old days.)

The visual artist Bernes focuses on is Dan Graham, a pioneering Conceptualist whose work traverses video, photography, performance, sculpture, and installation, as well as the written word. Especially in his later work, those incorporating video feedback loops, closed-circuit TV monitors, and architectural constructions featuring translucent and reflective surfaces that invite viewers to observe themselves and others interacting with their environments, Graham models what McKenzie Wark terms the 'disintegrating spectacle' of contemporary social media, the virtual Panopticon of self-consciousness, self-surveillance, and ultimately self-control, under the guise of a decentralized (and therefore theoretically more democratic) mechanism in which the consumers are in fact the product, the commodity being sold to advertisers by the click.

Others surveyed include John Ashbery and specifically the poem 'The Instruction Manual' and the collection The Tennis Court Oath as examples of 'free indirect labor', a gloss on the literary device of free indirect discourse in which third-person narration modulates between objective and subjective modes, giving readers access to the internal thoughts and feelings of various characters as a text unfolds. Free indirect labor is Bernes's construction for understanding the indeterminate points of view and grammatical slippages in Ashbery's work as indicative of the changing relations of capital and labor emerging in the 1960s. The polymodal perspectives and fragmented syntax of Ashberry's work is representative of the deterritorializing, schizoid effects of late-modern capital as described Deleuze and Guattari, particularly in A Thousand Plateaus.

The postmodern concept of de-differentiation (the reversal of the highly specialized division of labor of modern industrialization and its administrative bureaucracy, whereby the distinction between work and private life is being progressively erased, a transformation made possible in part by digital technology) is exemplified by multi-media artist Berndatte Mayer, whose work employs stream-of-consciousness narrative and diaristic record-keeping, and which Bernes reads as an avatar of the postindustrial feminization of labor as part of the growing (low-wage) service economy. The epic project Memory, begun in 1971, first exhibited in 1972, and released in book form in 1975, mixes photography, performance, and text in which clerical and domestic tasks intertwine the public and private spheres and converge in gendered labor. The need to multi-task, an essential aspect of the freneticism of contemporary work, has long been experienced by women in the form of the 'second shift' described by Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1989 book of the same title. The extension of the work day, paid and unpaid, has become increasingly embedded into daily life as technology has enabled (or perhaps one should say doomed) us to be completely and inescapably connected.

Bernes does offer a window of opportunity for the resistance once posited by the artistic critique to continue. It operates in the interstitial zones of capital, filling the downtime of office drudgery, navigating the semiotic detritus of online search engines and social media, and practicing a digital type of Situationist detournement in the absurdist poetics of Flarf and other forms of trolling discourse 'on the Man's dime'. (Bernes doesn't appear to offer much hope by way of critique for the visual arts, which at this point may be irredeemably corrupted by capital—as he writes: 'art has manifestly lived on after its failed self-abolition [in Conceptualism], aerosolized, freed from the constraints of  medium and institution, but nonetheless still domesticated by the commodity form and the world of labor it once opposed'—a thesis I unhappily can't really contest.) It's a rather shabby iteration of negative dialectics, but all that seems to be left to us as we careen under capital's end game toward the last days of the Anthropocene.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Detroit After Dark: Photographs from the Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts

I received a copy of the catalog to the DIA exhibition "Detroit After Dark: Photographs from the Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts" to review for PopMatters. (To read it, click here.) I am posting the text of the review below for archival purposes. The exhibition runs until April 23.

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As has often been noted, photography is the original and quintessential medium of modernist visual expression. The insertion of a mechanical apparatus between the observer and the observed removes any the trace of the hand, which cannot be completely eradicated in drawing or painting, and it provides an immediacy, and thus some would say an authenticity, to the captured image as a representation of reality. (Of course, there is a conundrum in that notion as a "representation" is always already at once removed from the "real.") Having been born in the early 1800s as a product of the Industrial Revolution, photography co-evolved with modernity, becoming increasingly technologically advanced and mobile, much like modern society itself.

The introduction of pervasive artificial illumination in modern cities in the West, along with advances in photosensitive emulsions and substrates, camera mechanics, and flash lighting, enabled the photographic documentation of nighttime urban scenes to emerge as a specific genre within the medium in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Detroit Institute of Arts co-chief curator Nancy Watson Barr draws on the museum's vast collection of photographs to survey nighttime photography as it has been practiced in Detroit in recent decades. The book, Detroit After Dark: Photographs from the Collection of the Detroit Institute of Art, is the fourth in a series of publications on different aspects of Detroit photography and like the others it accompanies an exhibition of the same title on now view at the museum until April 23.

Because Barr has original source material of pretty much the entire history of photography at her disposal, she does more than just present a collection of images of the nocturnal Motor City, she puts them into context of the broader practice of the genre as it was pioneered in the two major sites of nighttime urban photography, Paris and New York City. Both are represented by icons of photographic history—Brassai, Alfred Steiglitz, Andre Kertesz, Bernice Abbott, and Weegee to name a few—and accompanied by essays from University of Michigan Professor of English Sara Blair and Parisian-born Detroit-based poet and critic Chris Tysh.

Paris, as both Walter Benjamin and David Harvey would have it, was the capital of modernity in the nineteenth century. Chris Tysh, in her essay on nocturnal images of the City of Light, associates the practice of nighttime photography (literally "light writing") to the early illumination of Paris's boulevards with gaslights and the city's broader significance as the seat of Enlightenment, the philosophical fountainhead of modernity and ultimately the avant-garde. The photography of Paris at night, Tysh observes, is significant by virtue of "the very objects it chooses to render visible, but also
through the viewing subject who captures the act of seeing." The Paris of the night is the purview of the demimonde and the flaneur, the aristocratic idler and detached observer of modern life first sketched out in the mid-nineteenth century by doomed French poet Charles Baudelaire. Opening new ways of seeing beyond what is readily apparent, photography, particularly as revealed in nighttime images of Paris, illuminates, as it were, what Benjamin famously terms the "optical unconscious."

If Paris is the Athens of modernity, then New York City is its Rome. Sara Blair in her essay portrays nighttime photography in New York as a means of understanding the modern metropolis as "by turns exhilarating, threatening, and overwhelming." On the one hand was the highbrow meditations on the formal qualities of light undertaken by Alfred Stieglitz and his associates of the New York Camera Club and the Photo-Succession. On the other hand was the representation of the teeming masses undertaken by muckrakers such as Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, who used newly available portable flashes and cameras to literally shed light on how other half lives. Representations of the city in all of its nakedness became the foundation for urban photographers like Weegee and Lisette Model, who scratched beneath the glossy surface of the city to uncover the grit of urban life as it was lived and often died at street level. (To return again to Benjamin, it was these images of modernity, stripped of their sacred aura through the process of mechanical reproduction and their broad distribution through modern media, that would enable the masses to apprehend themselves as a class in, of, and for itself, giving art the power to galvanize political consciousness, a promise that, alas, has gone unfilled, replaced by distraction under the society of the spectacle.)

The transition from the historical context to the experience in Detroit is provided by Robert Frank, who spent time photographing the city in 1955 for his groundbreaking 1958 book, The Americans. (More than 60 of his Detroit photographs, the majority of which never made into the book, were exhibited at the DIA in the 2010 exhibition "Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs 1955," the first of the aforementioned shows Barr has curated on photographic representations of the city.) One image shows what was at the time Detroit City Hall; dedicated on the Fourth of July 1871, it was demolished in 1961 and its rubble used to create a pier for recreational boaters in nearby Lake St. Clair. The other was actually taken 40 miles outside the city at a farmer's strawberry stand.

The photographers of nocturnal Detroit build upon the legacy of their forebears, in some cases quoting famous photographs in their representations of the city. Joe DeBoer's 2015 photo of Campus Martius in downtown Detroit is shot from a high angle, referring directly to Bernice Abbott's famous 1932 image of New York at night. Brassai's 1934 panorama of the Paris skyline shot from the top of Notre Dame cathedral, with a gargoyle in the foreground, is a direct antecedent to DeBoer's 2014 image of the central business district titled Gothic Detroit.

Scott Hocking's images of the city, shot with low horizon lines and wide angles, register the desolation of the city's postindustrial landscape while avoiding the nostalgic romanticism that permeates the disreputable photographic genre known as "ruin porn," which has attracted so many, mostly outsiders, in recent years who have visited the city to sample the sublime pleasures of late-modern capitalism's remnants of creative destruction. Especially compelling is Hocking's 2012 Jefferson at Dearborn, an image of a lone storefront illuminated by a single street light and surrounded by emptiness, made more palpable with the recognition of Jefferson Avenue as one of the five main arteries that originate in the city center and radiate out into the suburbs and beyond.

Photographs of an older vintage document the city's music scene, which before and after Motown has been a mainstay of Detroit nightlife. Perhaps the most famous image is Leni Sinclair's 1968 shot of the MC5 performing at the Grande Ballroom, from the session that became the inside jacket of the band's legendary Kick Out the Jams album, originally issued in gatefold format. Other images by Sue Rinski capture equally iconic personages, such as former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith and his wife Patti performing in 1980 at the New Miami Bar (now known as the Old Miami and a hangout for Vietnam War vets), Iggy Pop, again in 1980, at Bookie's Club 870 (the same year I saw Gang of Four there, an event I credit with my subsequent partial loss of hearing as I have aged), and Destroy All Monsters in 1978 at the Red Carpet Lounge, featuring an upskirt shot of chanteuse Niagara, after co-founder bandmates Mike Kelly and Jim Shaw decamped to LA to become world-famous art stars and guitarist Ron Asheton of the Stooges and drummer Michael Davis of the MC5 joined up after the breakups of their respective groups.

The photos of Russ Marshall document Detroit's jazz scene, many of whose local luminaries remain woefully under recognized. One of Marshall's images is of a 1981 performance at Baker's Keyboard Lounge, the world's oldest continuously operating jazz club, featuring local pianist Claude Black backing up ex-Detroiter baritone sax man Pepper Adams.  (I saw that gig, though on another night, on a date with the woman who is now my wife.)

A more upbeat note is sounded by photographers Dave Jordano and Jenny Risher (both alumni of the College for Creative Studies where—full disclosure—I currently serve as Undergraduate Dean, as are Scott Hocking and Robert Kangas, also in the show, as well as Barr herself for that matter). After some three decades as a highly successful commercial photographer based in Chicago, Jordano returned to his undergraduate thesis project of photodocumentation, a number of examples of which have been published in the award-winning book, Detroit Unbroken Down (powerHouse Books, 2015). Neighborhood Fireworks on the Fourth of July, Goldengate Street, Detroit from 2014 shows a group of friends on a somewhat dilapidated front porch watching the streaming rockets of a fireworks barrage in full force in the foreground. Risher, who relocated back to the city after many years in New York as a fashion and advertising photographer, is represented by a series of portraits of Detroit hip-hop artists, including Awesome Dre and the Hardcore Committee, Guilty Simpson, Hex Murda, and J Dilla collaborator Phat Kat. In the work of both Jordano and Risher, the gritty determination of the denizens of the D to abide against all odds shines through.

Detroit After Dark adds another chapter to the nuanced portrait of the city Nancy Barr has been constructing via the photographic record. She has done the city and the genre of night photography a serious solid.