A Working Life: Detroit Photographs by Russ Marshall, 1958-2008

Sun, Jul 12, 2020 — Sun, Jan 10, 2021

The Detroit Institute of Arts presents a survey of over 70 photographs by Detroit native Russ Marshall whose black-and-white imagery was inspired by the Motor City’s streets, architecture, music and factory workers for over 50 years.

Born in 1940, Marshall grew up in Detroit and began shooting around the city’s capturing its local haunts, passersby and its legendary Michigan Central Station (MCS) in the 1950s throughout the 1960s.  In the decades that followed, Marshall worked freelance for local labor magazines and created some of his most compelling work - labor portraits and candid imagery shot alongside the assembly line workers in factories, shops and plants throughout Detroit as well as in Dearborn’s Ford Rouge plant, GM plants in Flint, Michigan, and throughout other areas of the Midwest.

His work from the post-1980s captured working life on and off the assembly lines taking time to photograph local sites and citizens as well as the daily and nightly diversions of everyday Detroiters. We see the city’s solitary streets, industrial skylines and architectural studies – he returns to the MCS photographing its interior and train lines in 1987 shortly before its closure 1989. Stopping in Eastern Market, he caught the city’s butchers, farmers and other vendors. Marshall also paid homage to nightlife with photographs capturing musicians and performances known to classical to jazz circles and found at numerous venues throughout the city, including Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the Vanity Ballroom and Orchestra Hall.

Marshall’s photographs interpret over five decades of blue-collar life, Detroit and its environs, sometimes reading like a melancholy poem but most often as an empathetic narrative of resilient people, places and times now past.


Image: Ambassador Bridge and Zug Island, 1968, Russ Marshall, American; Gelatin silver print. Detroit Institute of Arts.