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  • by Amanda Rataj

IAN WILLMS: Beyond street photography

Ian Willms recalls his first visit to Detroit, Michigan, in 2005 as feeling like he “had just landed on the moon.” Drawn there by music, the underlying pulse of the city, Willms saw things that stayed with him. Memories of the people he encountered drew him back to Detroit from 2007 to 2010 to document his impressions by using his plastic Holga camera.

At first sight, the images in the Detroit series feel like stepping back in time. At points both gritty and soft, these black and white photographs of unkempt yards, people, and buildings often reveal themselves as contemporary only through minute details such as modern cars and street furniture. The Holga’s quirks coalesce to create what Willms calls a “beautiful, surreal rendition of reality,” which gives his exploration into one of the largest and most impoverished cities in America a visual depth that goes beyond traditional street photography.

Willms’ tentative interest in photography was encouraged when he won a camera in a photography contest as a teenager, and, like many, he began to use photography as a response to his surroundings. Inspired by the work of street photographers he found in the Life Library of Photography books, Willms attended the Loyalist College Photojournalism program in Belleville, Ontario, to learn the technical and practical skills needed to work at any major Canadian or international newspaper.