Excerpts From A Life Bio

I first met Joe in 1970 at the Fountain Lounge Bar on Joy Rd in Detroit. Joe Goleski or as Jean the bar owner pegged him-Cigar Joe-for the cheap, crooked, little, extremely rank smelling cigar stuck in his mouth as he hunched over the green felt pool table surveying the field of colored balls - calculating his next shot.

I started hangin’ out there occasionally around 1965,‘66 a year or two after getting hired in at the Michigan Consolidated Gas Co as a staff photographer in 1965. The Go-Go-Girl craze started to become more popular in Detroit and neighboring areas and Jean also had a few girls dancing there. And there was also a pool table. Not a “regulation” size table of 9 ft long but a “bar” size table of about 5 – 6 ft long. They were small because the bar owners just didn’t have the room for the bigger tables. Even though these tables were popular with customers (which for some were the best reason to go to any particular bar) they still took up valuable space for sit-down drinkin’ tables and chairs. But the owners still made money from the pool games which cost $.50 – $1 .00 per via the coin slot on the side of the table.

So by the time I started to hang out at bars in 1965 at the tender age of 25 with a steady paycheck as hot shot gas co photog, a pretty slick 1961 Chevy Impala and a “rocket in my pocket”, most every joint in town had Go-Go Girls and a pool table. It wouldn’t be for a couple or 3 three years before the California topless thing migrated East to Detroit. Jean never did go topless at her place. Just pool and Go-Go. “This is Ames Mister.” And no gambling on games. We played for $1 drinks and she kept a log of who was owed drinks. She collected the money. Her two sons worked the bar for her after her husband got sick and died and she wanted more time off. Rich and Gregg were their names. She had ulcers by that time which was why she drank her Scotch with milk.

The red neon sign a-top a tall pole outside the door blazed with a depiction of a fountain that splayed blue neon sprays of water in a blinking fashion and scripted letters spelling out the name THE FOUNTAIN LOUNGE•COOL INSIDE•TV. The fountain inside was actually a large bird bath type that dribbled water up and out the top center pipe a couple inches before splashing down into the basin full of decorative rocks and sea shells – all lit from the ceiling with colored lights of red, yellow, green and blue. The water re-circulation pumps electrical cord ran out the bottom and was duck taped to the carpet on its way to the wall plug.

By the way – Ive seen that carpet at closing  time with the lights turned up. Not a pretty sight of unbelievable scum and scuz and crud and all matter of body droppings and shit dragged in from the street of grease and gum and cigarette remains and mustard and food droppings from plates enjoyed at the bar with beer, potato bits from bags of chips, French fries and hamburger grease and tobacco ashes and sinus spittle and female makeup bits of lipstick and powder and nail polish and all kinds of shit aforementioned dragged in on the soles of boots from the parking lot of animal turds out there and hair of all species and more grease and oil and dead grass and weeds and fresh and fossilized remains of worms, birds , cats and snakes and more spit and nasal oysters and puke all picked up on the sole treads of shoes and boots and deposited on the carpet and ground in to the rest of all of it already there. Not a pretty sight at all.

The fountain itself was at the front of the bar-room to the left of the front door and up two steps in the center of a circular area ringed with a semi -circle of black vinyl covered bench with a few tables placed intermittently along it. The bar counter ran from there and along the left wall for 40-45 ft with stools for 15 customers. The pool table area at end took up about 12 sq ft in the corner.

Opposite was a piano bar with stools half-circled around it. Shorty Long, a short stocky black guy used to sing and play on the weekends before the girls came along – then the top of the bar became a stage for them.  0l Shorty played a dangerous game in that neighborhood – he always seemed to have a couple of very flashy blond white chicks hangin around him there – he flaunted it and then one day I heard something about him and a gun shot and the Belle Ilse bridge - all in the same sentence?? Never saw him again.  His job there was gone anyway – the Go-Go took over for most of the week.

When we weren’t shooting pool Joe and I used to sit at a table in front of the stage and make lewd and lascivious comments to each other about whoever was dancing up on stage in lewd and lascivious ways. A couple of giggly boys we were half juiced up on Budweiser and me sometimes on shots of peppermint schnapps also. They couldn’t hear us but they could tell we were talking about them – staring bullets at us promising, telepathically, to stab us at the end of the dance.




Printing Pages For New Book

Have started printing the pages for a new book entitled Detroit Buildings∙Structures∙Scapes.

Been thinking about doing a new book for a while now. I have the time since my involvement and the 7 month run of my DIA exhibit is over. Even though I have several or a few books in mind that I'd like to do, I've chosen this one. Mainly because of the discovery of the pages already formatted and titled in a photo folder that I had forgotten I had. There are about 40+ of these pages. 

The main task has been changing the titles font. I had done a preliminary design of the cover with the title in BankGothic MD ST Medium. But at the time I did the titles, which was after I did the cover prelim, BankGothic MD ST Medium was not to be had in my recent version of Photoshop. It was dropped for some reason. But now I have it back after a free download in Photoshop and Word. So I'm changing the font in the 40+ pages. 

In the past I've used Blurb for my self-published books. Usually in editions of more than 10+ copies. Expensive but convenient. I've printed a few books on my desktop and stapled and glued them together but those were very small runs of 6 copies each. 

For this book I'm printing again on my desktop and making only, for now, 2 sets of prints. My original idea was to staple all the pages of one set together -  about 40+ on 8.5x11 inch  inkjet photo paper. The 2nd set I planned to store loose in a box. Not necessarily looking for sales. Just a way to get these photographs all together. 

Now, that has all changed since I saw another photographer's blog about putting together themed sets of photographs in a portfolio presentation binder. So it's not really a book anymore but a collection of prints in a ringed binder which will hold 40+ pages of archival plastic pages to take 80 photographs using both sides of the pages. A portfolio I guess.

The binder pages are 8.5x11 inches with (supposedly) the clearest plastic known to mankind. The hard covers are a little larger. So I ordered this binder and extra pages online and deliverable on Monday, 2 days from today. Will cost me $30 to find out if I want to go this route. I may still reprint all of the pages on double sided paper sometime in the future for a stapled and glued book(s). Again, a limited print run. 

10/06/2021 - Received the binder and extra pages. The plastic sleeves are indeed the clearest I have seen. I think it will work out for my purposes. The end game? A local museum or collection entity. The Reuther, the Burton, the DIA, the Bentley? 




Recent Discovered Gem......

Detroit Street Corner, 5-1965
......Maybe, maybe not. As happens a lot lately, looking for something else I stumbled onto this one. Some would say "What's so special about a group of people on this Detroit corner?" And I do step back on occasion and ask myself what's so special about this picture or that picture? Maybe I see something that others do not. Maybe I read into many of my photographs armed with the memory of the circumstance of my being there. The memory of the before and after the shot. The memory of the elements on their way to falling in place, the anticipation just knowing that they will fall in place and the memory of the patience waiting for it. The memory of the impulse that pressed that shutter button. Of course, none of that is known to viewers of the work. To the photographer who does remember all of it, his judgement of a particular photograph may be distorted. The value of the photograph has nothing to do with the process. That's why the attempt by photographers to analyze, interpret, explain their work can sometimes lead to exercises in pseudo intellectual acrobatics. More commonly known as bullshit.

Now having said that......let me point out a few things about what I see now and a few assumptions if I may. I see 8 people clearly who contribute to the composition. Two gentlemen on the left are about to step off the curb to cross the street. An assumption can be made about why they are in this neighborhood seeing as how the Salvation Army Harbor Light Mission is near by. Since the shot was made late afternoon in the warm month of May and most everyone else is in light clothing, these two men have heavy coats on. My assumption here is that they are itinerants or locals down on their luck and may have all their possessions with them although I see only one man with a shoulder bag.

Next I see a guy hunkered down taking a smoke break possibly from his job nearby. Clean shaven, hair trimmed, a shine to his shoes and a crease on his pants. I think he knows the gentleman next to him. Maybe takes his break there often. The gentleman sitting on what looks to be a Bavarian Beer case turned on it's side seems to be selling something. A sidewalk vendor. I see an American flag on a stick and a tray of plants or flowers in front of him. His hat looks similar to those Salvation Army caps worn by the folks outside department stores with their red donation kettles. Is it coincidental that he is right there on that corner? Maybe.

The man crossing the street has left his suit jacket draped on the back of his office chair somewhere. In the mission possibly? Is he headed for the mail box to deposit a business related letter? Or is he on a dinner break because it is about that time of day and he will return to the office where his suit jacket awaits. The men loitering behind him may be just in time for their dinner break inside the mission only after, of course, attending a sermon. I know about this requirement from personal experience.

The two kids look to be just hanging out maybe waiting for someone to come out of the building that the man is entering. The late day shadows mirror the presence of seven of the main actors in this scenario.

I have no recollection of taking this specific shot. I do know what I was doing in this neighborhood not far from the downtown area of Detroit. But I have no memory of the immediate before and after. I do know I was "riding shotgun" that day shooting streetwalkers out the side window - those shots are on the same roll. And so we are stopped as commanded by the sign as are our actors. Since it's obvious the sun is setting in the West, the street is a North and South one. And I'm fairly certain it is Cass Ave. at Sproat St.

I, of course, did not see any of this at the time. And the assumptions I just leveled are just that. I could say I "saw" something and instinct and impulse took over. I like this shot for it's unwillingness to explain -- it's openness to conjecture - mine and yours. These people share this split second in time but couldn't be more different from each other. They have that in common and will never know it ...... wait a minute!! I must stop now least I dig deeper into the bullshit I warned against above - if I haven't already.    



Last Minute Printing Sessions

Mayor Coleman Young at Checker's Bar and Grill, Detroit   1980

This print of Mayor Young is included in a hand full or two of new prints. Mostly 13x19 with a few 11x14. Next meeting is May 1st. -  about 10 more days. Most are done but still have to dig around for a couple of elusive negatives. Will this one make it in? Or maybe sometime in the future. 

Update: Initial Thoughts and Plans for Exhibit

Agreed on title - "A Working Life: Detroit Photographs by Russ Marshall, 1958 - 2008". Looks like the main focus will be my labor, factory, industrial stuff. Nancy is thinking about a big grid with 20-30 photographs of the worker portraits. Maybe a few of the 16x20 portraits along side. There are a handful of 16x20s of the Rouge Plant that will probably fill out the wall.

The European/UK shots will find a home in the smaller gallery room adjacent to the main room. The music and night shots will be grouped. I suggested, sort of, a set of women musicians, singers and workers could work seeing as how the year 2020 will be the 100th year anniversary of the vote to admit the women's vote in elections. May not make any sense at all.

In the meantime I'm printing shots Nancy selected from Detroit Doc that she thought might be considered for either the exhibit or the exhibit book/catalog. Also have to dig up some tear sheets and get a few of my books together to take down at the end of the month.

I haven't told anyone about the exhibit next year in July except Nancy O., Pat R. and Penny M. I don't think anyone reads this blog so I'm fairly certain the secret is safe until I let it out close to the opening. 

                                                       May Day at the Reichstag, W. Berlin   5-1-1990