The Spirit Of Detroit Captured By American Photographer Bruce Weber

BY Taylor Rebhan

In 2013 we introduced you to the craftspeople behind our products, this year our goal is to continue to explore the beauty of manufacturing, while capturing the spirit of Detroit that drove us here in the first place. This led us to Bruce Weber. 

Responsible for some of the most memorable fashion campaigns of our age, Weber returned to rediscover a city he photographed nearly a decade ago. His vision includes a varied group of locally-casted individuals photographed alongside familiar face, Carolyn Murphy, who epitomizes the independent spirit of the American tomboy.  These are our neighbors, our colleagues, our collaborators—a celebration of the city through the lens of an American icon. 

Check out more images from the campaign, and to see what Bruce Weber and Carolyn Murphy had to say about the city of Detroit.

Shinola: What did you find most inspiring about Detroit when you visited the city in 2006, and what interested you in returning last year?

Bruce Weber: When I first went to Detroit in 2006, I was with Kate Moss, and we did a story for W Magazine. The city was so welcoming—even though it’s a big place and spread out, Detroit had that wonderful small-town kind of attitude: people were really friendly, they looked you in the eye when they said hello on the street, and they greeted you with a smile.

In the time since, how do you feel Detroit has changed?

Bruce Weber: Since I first visited, I feel a real sense of optimism has grown in the city. You might see a new building going up, but equally important is the garden surrounding it. Empty lots are filled now with trees and flowers. People have built private gardens to grow vegetables in their backyards. Everywhere I looked, I saw the kind of sustainable change that Grace Lee Boggs writes about in her books.

What was your vision for casting and capturing the spirit of the city?

Bruce Weber: When I first was in Detroit, we met so many interesting characters, who then introduced us to people they knew. For this job, I got together with our friend, the casting agent Jennifer Venditti, and talked about the kinds of people who we felt represented Shinola—people from a wide spectrum of experiences.

How does community play into your work?

Bruce Weber: I’m a small town boy, and I like to think that those values I had growing up in the midwest taught me a few things. First—respect your neighbors. Second—if someone is in trouble, it’s important to be there for them. Third—if you throw away something on the street, it’s as if you’re littering in your own backyard. I feel a responsibility to be there for my team, to be a role model for the people I work with. When we go on the road together, into towns we don’t necessarily know, I try to be a good representative of the people I am working for, as well as my other friends who are photographers.


So, Carolyn, your visit to Detroit this last October was your first time in the city.  Could you tell us about your initial impressions of the city and highlights from that experience?

Carolyn Murphy: My first visit to the city of Detroit was last October and my initial impression was one of pure surprise and quite infectious in spirit. I had preconceived notions of a place that would be desolate and rundown, but to the contrary I found that there were tiny gems of architecture and the people of Detroit were welcoming and warm. 

One of the highlights of my trip was learning about Shinola as a brand, visiting the factory and connecting with the Shinola team. There was a cohesive spirit here that I had no idea I was going to be a part of—a real sense of pride—both in American industry and in supporting community. Even better than that were the Detroiters who were cast for the shoot. I was more than inspired by the hidden talent, through music and art. At one point during the shoot, I sang “Amazing Grace” with a gentleman named Melvin, who had been a part of Motown. It was so moving to share in that experience with someone who I consider a legend, and humbling because I don’t sing! 

I think Shinola is a brilliant company, but more importantly it’s authentic in its mission. I think everyone involved on this shoot was blown away and moved—we all felt we were part of something bigger. 

Your relationship with Bruce Weber spans over years. What was it like to work with him the first time? And what was it like to work with him on this campaign in Detroit?

Carolyn Murphy: Bruce Weber and I first worked together in the very early 90’s and I can just remember wanting to hug him and hang out with him from the get-go—he didn’t seem fitting amongst the “fashionista” crowd and that’s probably why I liked him even more. I was honored, of course, to have the opportunity to work with him and that first experience of stepping into his magical circus is the most fun I’ve ever had and have continued to have in my 20 year career. 

Working on this campaign was more heartfelt than any other job I’ve experienced. I think Bruce brought me in not only as the “all American” model but from a place of knowing how much it would resonate with me on a deeper level, and for this brand, that’s what it’s all about. Authenticity, having connection to community. Bruce is a sage, he brings people together with careful intention and attention. He and I both had “chicken skin” on this shoot and it felt overwhelmingly real. You’ve been a passionate advocate for the revival of American made goods and sustainable living, when did that start and why?

Carolyn Murphy: I have been passionate about the revival of American industry for many years, it started back in 2009. The economy had tanked and I was living on a farm in a small American town, surrounded by people struggling to make ends meet. It didn’t make sense to me that I couldn’t create or endorse products that had true “meaning” behind them. 

So, when I was asked to curate for an online e-commerce site (Open Sky), I said I would only sell things made in America. It became a healthy obsession to find small businesses in this country, try and help them out, and consumers appreciated the message. 

I also formulated a television show that would highlight these businesses because I wanted to find a way to educate Americans on where their money was going, and pay it forward to companies that were generational and unwavering. Unfortunately, there was some resistance and limited thinking from producers, so I put it on the back burner. 

Blessedly so, three years later comes Shinola. It is more than fitting. This company is the embodiment of what America needs right now—creating jobs, reviving a city, producing quality product—as opposed to junky quantity—and introducing Americans to an attainable luxury. The connection to Detroit even furthers the passion because the city symbolizes and epitomizes American industry today—nearly lost but for its strong willingness and pride to resurrect.  

Who, in  your view, is the quintessential Tomboy?

Carolyn Murphy: The quintessential tomboy is a young lady who can hang with the boys and tolerate the girls. She loves nature and sports, isn’t afraid of getting dirty. She’ll climb a tree, build her own chicken coop and sleep in a tent. Her spirit is independent, free and forever seeking…


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