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Eyes in focus

Look down at southeast Michigan from outer space. Everything seems as “normal” as our Paris of the Great Lakes can be. You can’t see Detroit Focus 2000, the biggest thing to hit this state since the glacier (or at least since the Detroit Electronic Music Festival), from way out there. But at ground zero, this photographic explosion set off by Detroit Focus seems to be just about everywhere you turn — uptown, downtown, Ann Arbor, Grosse Pointe, Pontiac, Wyandotte, Ypsilanti, in the byways, on the thoroughfares — you can feel it all over.

For the month of November, the art of photography as practiced by Michiganders and some inspiring out-of-state guests (young and old, debutants and masters, journalists and concept artists, mainstreamers and avant-gardists alike) will be featured in shows at more than 105 venues, mostly within an hour’s drive of one another. The work of more than 300 photographers (including 50-plus from such sites of otherness as Japan, Spain, San Francisco and New York City) will illuminate venues ranging in size and art-scene reputation from the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Public Library to Flint’s Buckham Gallery, two different Borders Book Shops, the Coffee Beanery in Birmingham and Detroit’s Russell Street Deli.

Detroit Focus’ executive director, Michael Sarnacki, says the impetus for this mammoth celebration of the art of lenses and light came from an initial conversation with Leslie Sparks, the director of Toronto’s “Contact” photography festival. But what started 16 to 18 months ago as just an idea in a dark corner of Sarnacki’s brain is now a project with a life and momentum of its own, like an irresistible boulder rolling down an endless hill. And in the process, ideas about what might be an appropriate space for an art show have been transformed, bringing imagination to everyday life in new, almost utopian ways.

Sarnacki recalls approaching each of the venues, large and small, traditional (the DIA) and unconventional (the Dragonmead microbrewery in Warren) individually: “… yes, every one. And we probably got 90 percent of the ones we went after.”

Then there were fund-raising expeditions in hopes that at least one major contributor would start the boulder rolling. That first bona fide donor was Olympus Corp., followed soon after by the Ford Fund, General Motors, the City of Detroit and a series of individual collectors beginning with Warren Coville.

Now, after countless hours of organizing, after matting and framing hundreds of prints, Sarnacki is tired, 20 pounds lighter than when he started and full of anticipation. “There’s so much riding on this. I’ve used up all of my friends and made some great new ones. But it’s been worth it. It’s my gift to the community.”

So with this past Sunday’s gala opening at the Southfield Centre for the Arts now a part of history and the gargantuan image explosion well under way, there are only two things left to do:

First, Sarnacki and Detroit Focus find themselves about $30,000 short in their budget — a problem they plan to rectify with sales of two portfolios (in editions of 10 each), “… to help cover our costs, including prints selected from various artists in the shows.” Call 248-541-3527 for information.

And second, the rest of us can go just about anywhere in the metro area (and beyond, to the Toledo Museum of Art or the Dannos Museum in Traverse City) to enjoy the widest and wildest cross section of photographic visions that this particular stretch of Midwest earth has ever seen. In fact, you can start right here, with MT’s own selection of five uncommon practitioners of the art of vision.

George Tysh is the Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at gtysh@metrotimes.com

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