Oloman Cafe exhibits Detroit photographer’s 40 years of work

Detroit photographer Bruce Harkness unveiled a photo exhibit on Feb. 18 to be open to the public until March 18, at Oloman Cafe in Hamtramck.

The exhibit includes pictures taken over a 40 year period from Detroit, Hamtramck and Dearborn, showing the transformation the areas have undergone through the lens of his camera, said Harkness.

Harkness began taking pictures as an undergraduate student at the Center for Creative Studies in 1975, where he would walk the streets and photograph the city and its adjacent neighborhoods, he said.

“I would just get out and meet people, and take their pictures,” Harkness said. “I just started walking around the city. I walked down through the Cass Corridor, down Grand River into downtown Detroit, then I would walk back on the near east side—Brush street or John R.—through the old Brush Park neighborhood and I started photographing,” Harkness said.

The gallery is comprised of photos selected from 10 projects that Harkness has completed over the past 40 years. These projects include his documentation of Poletown before and during its clearing to make way for the GM Hamtramck-Detroit assembly plant in 1981 and photos from his project “A Community Between Two Worlds: Arab Americans in Greater Detroit,” which documents the Arab community in Detroit and Dearborn in the mid-1990s.

The exhibit shows the negative and positive changes that Detroit and its surrounding areas have experienced in the years since Harkness started photographing.

“It’s great to see what’s happening to Detroit,” Harkness said.

“The Cass Corridor has become kind of tidy, [but] when I was wandering down Cass Avenue and Third Street, it was not tidy, it was sort of a scary place, but that’s what I really loved, that’s what was so interesting to me—all the people out on the street and the buildings I was able to get into, but it’s good to see that it’s being cleaned up as long as people can still afford to live there—the new restaurants and new buildings and businesses are just part of the development of this boom in Detroit.”

The focus of the exhibit is on how Detroit and its neighborhoods have changed over the years, but Harkness says he believes it also speaks to the power of photography.

“I’ve always sort of believed in the simple magic of photography,” Harkness said. “The camera is like a magic key sometimes. I got out and met a lot of people, but if I didn’t have a camera that probably would not have happened—there’s something about that instrument, that tool of a camera that gives you a connection with people.”

The Oloman Cafe is located at 10215 Joseph Campau in Hamtramck. The exhibition is available for viewing at the cafe during the normal business hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday.

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