June 19--About a year ago Anna Wintour and Bruce Weber met for lunch in New York. No surprise there. After all, she's the iconic editor of Vogue and the artistic director of Conde Nast publications, and he's one of the world's best-known fashion photographers.
But practically the first words out of Weber's mouth that day were, "I love Detroit!"
That set in motion a series of machinations that has led to "Detroit -- Bruce Weber," an exhibition of roughly 80 large-scale photographs (and one short film) of people and places in Detroit.
Organized by DIA associate curator Nancy Barr and underwritten by Conde Nast, the exhibition opens Friday, but Wintour, Weber and phalanx of impeccably coiffed Conde Nast officials were on hand today for an atypically glitzy media preview and DIA fund-raising activities culminating in a private party tonight for Weber at which his friend and former Detroiter Patti Smith is scheduled to perform.
DIA officials declined to say how much money Conde Nast contributed to the exhibition, but chief operating officer Annmarie Erickson called it "substantial."
The images in the show were drawn mostly from two extended trips that Weber made to Detroit on assignment, the first in 2006 for an expansive W Magazine spread with model Kate Moss and the second last year for an ad campaign for Shinola. Eschewing ruin porn cliches, Weber instead focused his lens on everyday folk and everyday culture -- the boxers at the Kronk Gym, the Raven Lounge, the corner barbershop, churchgoers in their Sunday best, a vulnerable teenager and lots of adorable children such as a flower girl at a Belle Isle wedding and a young dance troupe. Pictures of celebrities with Detroit ties -- Smith, Iggy Pop, Aretha Franklin and others -- fill out the exhibition.
Weber is probably best known for his work for clients like Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch, and for decades his work has been a staple in magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and countless others. His photographs have also been exhibited in museums, and he is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker for "Let's Get Lost," a documentary about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker.
Weber said he fell in love with the people in the city -- their genuine friendliness, spirit and resiliency. "If I was ever in trouble, I would want someone from Detroit to be there with their dukes up along with mine," Weber said during his prepared remarks. Later he told the Free Press that he was honored to be able to invite some of the subjects of his photos to the DIA.
"Most people in the world, no matter how well-known you are, never think that photographs of yourself will be in a museum," he said.
Weber and Wintour make a curious pair. At 67, he's a bearish, gray-bearded man who leads with his heart, and his casual dress included his trademark bandana on his head and a colorful ascot around his neck. Meanwhile, the London-born Wintour, appears as delicate as a Faberge egg but actually moves mountains in her spare time. She was wearing an abstract print dress by German-designer Tomas Maier.
Wintour was purportedly the inspiration for the dragon-lady editor played by Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," and it was hard not to sense an imperial force field around her, but she made a charming first impression during a brief interview, and she clearly adores Weber.
"The joy in Bruce's work is so inspiring," Wintour told the Free Press. "He loves his subjects. He sees people in such a kind way. There are other photographers who tend to want to talk to their subjects, but Bruce has a love affair with his subjects. He photographs the people he admires, and it makes no difference what kind of background they come from or how successful they are. He sees the person."
Wintour -- a major supporter of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which named its costume center for her -- said that when she and Weber met for lunch last year, Conde Nast had already been intrigued by Detroit's rebirth and was looking for a way to get involved in the city. Their conversation led to a call to the DIA, where curator Nancy Barr, already a Weber champion, saw a way to extend the series of photography exhibitions she has been organizing to offer a broader vision of Detroit that the blight-dominated narratives that dominate the national media.
The Weber show follows earlier photo exhibitions like the group show "Detroit Revealed" and a show of portraits of young Detroiters by Dawoud Bey.
"Our work is not done," said Barr. "There a lot of great photographers and there's more to be unearthed. This is an important part of that conversation."
Contact Mark Stryker: 313-222-6459. firstname.lastname@example.org
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