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'Overnight' photography exhibition explores a dark Detroit
Catie Newell with Nightly Series.

ANN ARBOR, MICH.- Detroit-based architect Catie Newell wants to capture her city’s darkness before it’s all gone.

Once the worst in the nation, Detroit’s streetlights are being replaced by thousands of LEDs in a $185 million infrastructure project. Before all the lights come back on, Newell has been working to document that darkness in neighborhoods around the city.

“The lights are coming back, and we’ll lose that darkness,” she says.

Newell’s photographs are the focus of a new exhibition, “Overnight,” on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. “Overnight” includes photographs from her Rome project, as well as new photography from the series “Nightly,” featuring nighttime images of Detroit streetscapes and interiors, alongside a site-specific sculptural installation commissioned by the Museum.

The installation draws on Newell’s architecture background, and is made up of materials—copper, aluminum, piano wire, LEDs—that reference the city streetlights, and will be lit at night.

The most important element in Newell’s formal artistic vocabulary is light, not only as a “material” in its own right, but also as a condition. Varying in strength, form, and duration, light constructs architecture as a situational experience rather than a fixed space. Newell’s fascination with light is a fascination with darkness. Through urban interventions, installations, and photographs, she investigates how darkness creates alternate environments, with unseen geographies, untold histories, and secret identities.

“I’ve always been interested in darkness and the night,” Newell says. “Colors look different. Things have a different hierarchy, based on what’s lit and what’s not.”

Exploring the neighborhoods around East Grand Blvd. and the Grand Belt in the middle of the night, Newell purposely avoids the now clichéd abandoned structures around the city. As Detroit’s new LED streetlights come in, Newell said she looks for hot spots of light surrounded by darkness.

“I’m more interested in capturing these moments that are kind of impossible,” she says.

Newell, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, is a recent recipient of the Rome Prize in architecture. Her “Overnight” exhibition runs at UMMA in the Irving Stenn, Jr., Family Gallery from June 11 to November 6.

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