Detroit photographer Alanna St. Laurent breathes new life and recalled beauty into her photographs of beloved abandoned and historical buildings in Detroit and all across the eastern U.S. She is a master of architectural detail and light (particularly at nighttime). We asked her about her work.
1. Tell us about your work and what inspires you. Have you always aspired to be a photographer?
Photography didn’t become a part of my life until I was in my late thirties, so I was a late bloomer of sorts. It was through a Digital Photography class at the College for Creative Studies in 2007 that photography entered into my life, and has not diminished since. I wish I could have discovered photography earlier in life, but I am a big believer in timing, so it happened when it was meant to.
2. With Detroit being your main theme and muse, how has the City shaped your work, and how has your work evolved along with the City in recent years?
Detroit itself would be considered a muse, as it was when I first started exploring the city and discovering its architectural marvels, and I knew that I was hooked. There is something wonderful and soulful about the older historical buildings, a beauty in its style that is no longer being used in current building creation. There’s a saying I use a lot when explaining why I am compelled to shoot abandoned buildings: they just don’t build them like they used to anymore. It’s an era that deserves to be protected and celebrated, which is why I love to capture them, even if in a state of decay. A ghost of the former self still exists.
Why historical buildings? Anything built in the 1800s – 1960 (especially the 1920s when so many imminent buildings were built in Detroit) is interesting to me, and my eye alights to and can recognize a building from this time period instantly. I had a memory years ago from childhood when I had wanted to be an archeologist (but my dad thought it was a “useless” degree so I never pursued it as a career), but photographing historical buildings seems to fulfill that need to experience and document the past that I never got to.
3. What are the main challenges you face in creating your visions? Have these challenges created some “happy accidents” in your work?
The main challenge currently is the loss of abandoned locations to photograph in Detroit. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to see Detroit on its comeback trail, but I also recognize the “wild west” I experienced photographing abandonment in Detroit has come to a close. And that’s okay, as I have started to travel throughout the Eastern USA to capture other historical abandoned locations.
However, I don’t only focus on capturing abandoned buildings, but any cityscape scene that is compelling or interesting to me. I also recently purchased a drone, which will give me a whole new way and viewpoint in which to photograph the city.
4. What is it like to be a part of the creative community of photographers and other artists in the metro Detroit area?
There is a huge photography community here in Detroit. With my workshops and events I offer through Creative Vision Photography Workshops, I meet new photographers all the time. And, I still shoot with ones I met back when I first started photography. I am also constantly learning from others, even from those whom I teach.
5. What are some of your favorite images that you’ve created? What images are “fan favorites” and what sort of reaction do you get from those that purchase your work?
I get that question a lot – which images are my favorites. I tell them, it’s like choosing which of your children you love the most. There are those that I like because they either have a memory associated with them when I captured it, or something more obscure that would not appeal to the masses. But, I can honestly say hands down my train station images are the most popular. If there was one building I wish I had more images of, it would be that one. But, I would say others that are popular are my Detroit skyline images, the Packard Plant, the Fisher Body Plant, and abandoned churches. And, of course, images from Comerica Park or Joe Louis (people love their Detroit sports teams!).
Extra Credit: Is there any place in Detroit that you wish you could photograph, but for whatever reason, don’t have access to?
Of course! The first on my list would be the United Artists Theatre, followed by the National Theatre and the McGregor Library in Highland Park (all of these are currently vacant but not accessible). I really enjoy shooting theatres, and luckily there are many here in Detroit I have photographed (that are still in use). I will always miss the buildings that no longer exist, it may sound funny, but you become emotionally tied to locations you have been to many times but have been either torn down or renovated.
This fall, you can see Alanna displaying at Common Grounds Birmingham Street Art Fair (September 15-16), the Funky Ferndale Art Fair (September 21-23), and ArtPrize in Grand Rapids (September 19 – October 7, 2018).