Matthew Dotson

Detroit Touch: A Summer Night on Woodward Ave

A photo essay by Matthew Dotson
Published May 10, 2024

DETROIT, MICHIGAN — On August 31, 2017, I was on the rooftop of The Madison building in downtown Detroit, participating in “ConnectDetroit2017,” an event for aspiring and wannabe social media influensters (including myself).

This event’s location was known for its striking mural of whales, now hidden behind advertisements from Rocket Companies — a Dan Gilbert venture. After spending time on the rooftop for about an hour or so, I got bored and ventured down to Woodward Avenue as night fell.

Drawn away from the rooftop scene, I focused on capturing long-exposure shots that would highlight the dynamic street life of Detroit’s most iconic avenue. My lens was drawn to landmarks like The Fillmore Detroit and the Fox Theatre. This evening at The Fillmore was particularly significant, as the venue still boasted its classic marquee—a symbol of old-school charm. Sadly, this marquee would be replaced by a gaudy LED screen the following year, stripping the locale of its vintage appeal.

The warmth of the marquee lights blended with the ambient city glow and trailing car lights, creating a surrealistic portrayal of urban life during the last days of summer.

These photos not only depicted the energy of Woodward Avenue at night but also foreshadowed my brief employment at The Fillmore Detroit the following spring (working in guest services), adding a personal layer to the visual narrative.

Each image from that night stands as a distinct capture of an aesthetic I refer to as the “Detroit Touch.”

An unforgettable night at The Fillmore Detroit, featuring performances by 2 Chainz and Young Dolph. In a sad twist of fate, Young Dolph would tragically be gone four years later—gunned down with over 22 gunshot wounds inside Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies in Memphis. In the backdrop, the Fox Theatre, which had already switched to its LED marquees two years earlier, silently watches over the scene.

Red brake lights streak through the darkness, tracing paths down Woodward Ave as the night deepens.

Standing in the median of Woodward Ave, facing east, the lens captures a cinematic view of Detroit, alive with the pulse of the city.
This frame captures a moment frozen in time, reminiscent of a Richard Estes painting—hyper-realistic yet blurred by long exposure. Off to the left, a police car sits motionless, adding a quiet intensity to the scene.
The traffic lights switch from red to green, transforming the atmosphere of Woodward Avenue and altering the entire mood of the photograph.
Two cars drive on the tracks of the QLine, installed just months earlier in May. It’s a quiet testament to the ongoing evolution of Detroit’s urban landscape. Seven years later, I still haven’t ridden on it yet.