Special Issues » Made in Michigan

Photographer Doug Coombe captures the soul of Detroit

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"This city is awash with talent; my friends inspire me constantly," says photographer Doug Coombe. A longtime Ann Arbor resident who grew up in Dearborn, his photos are vibrant in every sense of the term: color, subject matter, styling, frame, and tone. Whether action shots or portraits, his photos are alive, which suits Coombe, who's exceptionally convivial and earnest. "I kind of view my camera as a passport into all these amazing worlds I probably wouldn't get to see otherwise," he says.

Inspired by the iconic live action cover image on the first Fugazi EP, Coombe began to document live shows while working at Schoolkids Records. After walking into the Metro Times office with his portfolio in 1999, his career took off. He's worked for Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, NME, Mojo, Wax Poetics, various record labels, and for Concentrate Media and Urban Innovation Exchange Detroit. "Michigan and Detroit are incredibly important to me," he says. "I really think this is the greatest music city in the world. We cover so many bases it's insane: soul, rock 'n' roll, jazz, hip-hop, techno, noise, folk, classical, juggalos — Detroit does it all."

Asked to describe his best experience taking pictures, Coombe immediately flashes on a rave in 1999 that the Hells Angels were doing security for and Eminem performed at. "It was the closest I had ever come to experiencing something like Beatlemania," he says. "There was a small barricade in front of the stage. He wasn't famous yet, but Eminem had a lot of charisma. All the women were reaching out trying to touch him — it was like I wasn't even there. I realized I was going to get trampled unless I got out of there. I hopped up on the stage briefly just to get out of there, and someone inadvertently knocked me off the stage. I did what any good photographer would do, which was to protect my equipment, and I smashed the hell out of my shin. I still have a scar from that. It was totally worth it. A photo from that wound up in [Eminem]'s coffee table book.

"I believe we create our own reality, so I'm really interested in people who are a positive force in the world — be it in arts, music, culture, government, education — you name it."

Coombe's reality looks especially good of late. His work will be featured in the Detroit After Dark exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which opens Oct. 21. "I'm psyched to be in a show with such great local photographers as Scott Hocking, Jenny Risher, Sue Rynski, Steve Shaw, and Leni Sinclair," he says.

A book is in the works, as well, a photo book of his Detroit music photography covering the last 20 years, to be published in early 2017. "I haven't come up with a final title, but Jamie Monger of Great Lakes Myth Society gave me the great idea to subtitle it 'Volume One,'" he says. "I'm totally stealing that from him."

Doug Coombe's work can be viewed at dougcoombe.com.


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