Voyaging: A 2023 Springtime Photo Trip to Saginaw, Michigan
Tell someone you’re going away for a weekend to Saginaw, Michigan to take photos, and you may receive puzzling expressions—I certainly did. The responses of wonderment I received were mostly from the people I encountered in Saginaw, too.
Saginaw is often on lists, but they’re not the types of lists that garner praise or accolades. The lists are usually rankings of dangerous cities in Michigan or the United States. Saginaw is often close to the top in the state and nationally.
So why travel to Saginaw? I went there because even though it’s a city with challenges, poverty and crime, it’s still a city where people live and since it’s a piece of the fabric that makes up the state of Michigan, it deserves to be documented.
Also, there are some incredible aspects to Saginaw. There are some fantastic people there, mind-blowing architecture and the best place to buy a tortilla I’ve ever been. Much more importantly, it’s a city with vast potential and with strong communities, along with a rich history.
I previously created a blog post, here, about working as a photojournalist intern at the Saginaw News in 2005 and returning years later to photograph.
In addition, Saginaw is only about two hours from home so it’s easily traveled to, and from, in a weekend.
My favorite place to stay when heading to Saginaw is the Relax Inn. It’s in a quiet section of country away from the hustle and bustle, the staff is kind and the prices are phenomenal.
On the particular weekend I was there, the weather was to be quite cold, and it sure was. When I woke up on Saturday morning, it had snowed a lot and the wind was creating a wind chill that tested even my Michigan blood.
However, photo weekends are precious and not to be squandered, so once I put my extra vest on and warm gloves and a stocking hat, it was out the door I went.
A film camera, accompanied by my iPhone, was my only rig for this trip. Sometimes I bring a film camera and digital camera, but more equipment tends to make things a hassle and I wanted to keep things simple on this trip.
Earlier I mentioned that Saginaw has a reputation for being dangerous so I’ll mention here that the same rules apply when in Saginaw as when in any big city: Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and don’t wander in unfamiliar and unsafe areas at night.
As I began my photo excursion in the city, I began to notice some buildings that had been removed since the last time I’d visited. This is a shame because the buildings were architectural gems. The good news though is that some of the best architectural gems remained.
My travels began near the apartment building on Thompson Street where I once lived. It seemed like a fitting place for a photo outing since it’s one of the first internships I had when I started my photojournalism career.
Across the street from the apartment building was a beautiful green Mercedes Benz car in a church parking lot.
My travels afterward included some fine examples of mid-century modern architecture. It’s abundant there. It was especially important to me to document these buildings now, since one never knows when a building will be torn down.
To me, this is one of the most important reasons to photograph. You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that documenting what you do can become an important historical record. This is especially true as time moves on.
When I wasn’t photographing architecture, I was wandering about Old Saginaw City. There are vignettes, especially in the Old Town area, that speak to the grit and authenticity of the area.
It was fulfilling and so great to be back in Saginaw. Being there for the weekend confirmed what I felt about it: it’s a tough city with some beautiful features.
I can’t wait to return.