Detroit’s Industrial Districts: They Aren’t Pretty…Or Are They?

Industrial Photographs from Zug Island + Marathon Oil

When you are asked, “What type of photography do you enjoy looking at?”, images of industrial manufacturing areas are probably not at the top of your list. Or even make the list. I’m here to change all that. Detroit industrial areas are cool to look at. I believe the following images will convince you.

There is no logical explanation, no rational reason why I love photographing industrial buildings. I grew up in suburbia, no manufacturing anywhere to be had. I’ve never been exposed to industry in any way in my life, yet, it seems when it comes to photography, I love to capture it. And, it doesn’t have to be abandoned to be interesting, either. These steel mills and refineries are lit up at night, capturing your eye as any city at night would. Lots of abstract shapes and colors, too.

This past weekend, myself and a few photographer friends Mike Colter, Scott Shields and Tudor ApMadoc traveled to both Zug Island and the Marathon Oil Refinery to capture them during dusk and nighttime.

Zug Island

Zug Island, originally an Indian burial ground for thousands of years, is now home to steel mills that are still in use today (and, interestingly enough, was not always an island). The island is named after Samuel Zug. Click the link to get all the dirt on its history (pun intended!).

You cannot actually enter Zug Island, but instead, you find vantage points in Delray to view it. The images we captured below is from a view off of Jefferson we found while driving by. Plumes of steam are constantly ebbing and flowing, starting and stopping. It’s fun to wait until you see some shapes you like and then press the shutter. This image was a long exposure, 8 seconds at f/8, ISO 400, 58mm on my Canon 24-105mm lens.

This is one of two bridges onto the island, found off of Jefferson. It makes for a great photo subject in itself. Looking down the bridge you can see the mills chugging away in the distance. The lighting reminds me of 1950s gumshoe movies.

As we drove further along Jefferson, we found these quaint tugboats moored along the Rouge River. The drawbridge over the river allows for pedestrian traffic, so we parked and walked to capture a few shots.

Interested in purchasing these images? You can order prints in my gallery.

Marathon Oil Refinery

On Sunday evening, I finally made the trip to find a good vantage point to capture the Marathon Oil Refinery in Detroit, along I-75 just kitty-corner from Zug Island. The first location we tried was the pedestrian walkway over I-75 right across from the refinery. After arriving, we determined the view from the S. Fort Street bridge would afford us a better compositional view.

Luckily, the S. Fort Street bridge did indeed have some great views of the refinery. The downside (and there always seems to be one!) is there is a metal grate on the bridge, blocking the view (and exactly where we wanted to shoot). Thanks to Mike’s suggestion, a 10-second timer and some balancing skills, I was able to capture these images by lifting my tripod and camera up over the grate. And, mother nature was accommodating enough to provide a beautiful sunset backdrop for our shoot. So thoughtful!

Train tracks, the Marathon sign, the sunset, the sliver of moon in the sky: they all came together to create what I think is a beautiful image of a photographic subject most don’t pay attention to.

Here is a closer view…

We found one of the Detroit Salt Mine entrances next to the refinery. I would love to see those mines one day, if only Detroit Salt Co. would reinstate their tours!

Thank you for looking and reading, and as always, trying to make Detroit look beautiful, one image at a time.

Interested in purchasing these images? You can order prints in my gallery.

Questions? Comments? Please leave them below 😀

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4 thoughts on “Detroit’s Industrial Districts: They Aren’t Pretty…Or Are They?

  1. Walt paholak says:

    Amazing. Heard of Zug for years, you have now made it a reality for me with these images. Really excellent.

  2. Mark says:

    It is something interesting to contemplate… if something can be made ‘beautiful’ out of something so detrimental to our planet. Yet it exists because of the comforts we all live with. No doubt there are thousands of stories amidst all of the details here. Wonders of architecture and ingenuity. Thought provoking for sure Alanna!

    • Alanna St. Laurent
      Alanna St. Laurent says:

      I’m glad it at least elicits contemplation lol! Yes it is true these areas are not ones where families would spend time willingly, it seems these areas seem to be the most economically depressed areas, as not many people want to live next to them. But they do make for an interesting photographic subject, nonetheless. Thanks for your comment!

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