The Rapidian

ArtPrize artist profile - Emily Moiseeff: Capturing the Aging Beauty of a Great American City

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Artist Emily Moiseeff quotes an article in which Mitch Albom says Detroit “is a place where living, breathing giants, die a slow and painful death.” Moiseeff wants people “to see the beauty behind the destruction of the great city of Detroit.”

Moiseeff is displaying a collection of photos from downtown Detroit taken a few weeks before she heard about ArtPrize. After her friend emailed her from Grand Rapids and gave her some details on the contest, Moiseeff took the opportunity she’s been looking for to “stretch herself as an artist.” She signed up on the last possible day, to “bring light to some of the things that are going on in [Detroit].” Moiseeff’s pictures, shown at God’s Kitchen on Division Ave., are only a “small snapshot" of the abandonment and decay in some areas of Detroit. She wishes “more could be brought to light,” like the places and buildings she loves that desperately need attention.

Moiseeff, twenty-six, was introduced to photography in high school. She remembers feeling proud and excited to show her snapshots to her photography class. Later, at Michigan State, Moiseeff never thought of photography as anything other than a hobby. But after college, photography became a passion. “I [found] myself in situations where I wanted to give beautiful places and moments justice; and share those with other people.”

Moiseef says she is inspired by “life in general.” At certain times in her life she wished she could have preserved a moment. “Sometimes it’s a simple family birthday party, with others, it’s me being fascinated about the changes that have occurred in Detroit since my parents grew up there.”

Recently Moiseeff captured a moment for friends who were married last summer. The couple didn’t have outdoor wedding photos, so she met up with them over Labor Day to “patch up that one missing piece from their wedding. Not only was it great to be able to give them [that] gift, but to see their responses, I knew my work was really appreciated.”

Moiseeff says her pride in where she comes from “mostly stems from the fact that my roots are in Detroit. Even today, as a young adult, I love being downtown.” She loved hearing from fans who packed the streets sidewalk to sidewalk for the NCAA Final Four, about how Detroit wasn’t as bad as they thought.

She has faith in restoring Detroit and Michigan. “I need to [have hope]. Things are bad now.” Everyone knows someone who’s been hit hard in these tumultuous times; she “feels [Detroit] and the state are in the same boat. It’s been knocked down, and is struggling to find its way back.” However, she’s “seen” and “tasted” the good things Detroit has to offer.

To Moiseeff, Detroit is fascinating. “I can remember my parents telling stories of differences in the city when they were young.” Stories about Hudson’s department store, a massive store where everyone from downtown Detroit shopped. Nearly six decades later a red CLOSED sign first hung on the building, and multiple sticks of dynamite were placed at the foundation. Following the explosion and the clearing of dust and debris, what remains is no more than a weathered, worn asphalt parking lot.

“Amidst the crumbling over the years, my family always made the twenty-five minute drive downtown to experience the city.” Among the 80,000 abandoned homes and buildings sits a small jewelry store that’s now boarded up. That store was and still is more than a statistic to the Moiseeff family.  That now dark, dank building was where her father bought her mother’s wedding ring. “Some of my favorite family memories are from a city where today, [many people] are afraid to go.”

Moiseff says of her photo selections, “I wanted to choose pictures that represent the beauty in the destruction of the city. I wanted pictures that represent a strong presence left by the wayside.” She remembers a busy train station downtown, the same station that now houses dust, old papers, and unused train tracks, along with who knows what else. “It is surrounded by barbed wire, awaiting its inevitable destruction.” Emily Moiseeff’s pictures are of a city that just over forty years ago topped lists that included “most migration into” and “industrial boom towns.”

Today, Detroit’s tops are highest crime, foreclosure, and unemployment rate lists. “These photos best fit my vision of capturing an elderly city’s fleeing beauty.”

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