Some days you simply get lucky, which is exactly how we felt after executing on a month-long plan in the making to photograph hand-woven, centuries old rugs outside of their normal environs and against a modern Detroit backdrop (draped along busy sidewalks, in graffiti-clad alleyways and in front of construction sites).
We chose the Eastern Market area for the many opportunities within a few blocks radius, including the studio of Detroit artist, John “Spike” Osler.
Located on the third floor of the red brick Devries building and overlooking bustling market-goers below, Osler’s studio is filled with his paintings, many stacked against the dusty wainscoting three and four deep.
The artist got his start in Detroit in the late 1950’s as professional illustrator primarily for the auto industry and then as a photographer, eventually opening his own studio. In 1990, after almost a quarter of a decade in commercial advertising and with Detroit gripped by economic and social forces emptying the city, Osler shuttered his business, packed his bags and embarked on travels through southern states. Along his journey he photographed people where he spent the most time, particularly in the jazz clubs of New Orleans.
Upon returning to Detroit, Osler began to paint many of these intimate portraits, primarily of African Americans, and images from years that followed in the jazz clubs of Detroit. His paintings today line the walls of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Osler also created the 2014 and 2015 Detroit Jazz Festival Posters.
We ended our day in his studio, the setting sun pouring through the big windows and casting a warm glow onto the space and the faces in the paintings. As we rolled rugs onto the paint splattered, plywood floors, Osler chose tunes from Wynton Marsalis for the shoot’s soundtrack. In less than an hour our photographer had chased the remaining rays as they danced across the rug designs and we called it a wrap.