Through the Looking Glass

Our second day in Detroit is coming to a close. I sit in the common room of the activity center where our service trip group is staying this week. We circle around a table, playing cards and listening to music and trying to find summer internships. Since arriving, we’ve struggled with time changes (both due to shifting time zones and the evil edition of Daylight Saving Time), lack of sleep, and the unfamiliarity of this city and this experience.

When we picked up our rental cars yesterday, the person helping us asked, “What brings you to Detroit?”
We answered, “We’re here for a service trip.”
“Oh, thank you,” he replied.

I mumbled something vague about hoping to learn as much as we served. But I left the rental car counter uncomfortable and mildly shaken. It wasn’t his responsibility to thank us for showing up in his city, and I didn’t quite know how to justify my presence here.

Perusing my photos from the trip so far, I notice a lot of pictures taken through windows. I’ve taken far fewer images than I usually would on a trip, and I find a few explanations: I’ve been busy, but I’ve also been uncertain. I’m visiting a new city, here to volunteer but also here to learn and reflect. I want to photograph the places I see and the people I meet without making a spectacle of them, and it’s taking me some time to decide how best to do that. Trying to decipher my time in Detroit so far has been a lot like looking through a windowone obscured by my own preconceptions and prejudices, and framed by limited time and knowledge.

While looking over my shoulder as I compose this post, a fellow service trip group member helpfully reminds me that a looking glass is a mirror, not a window. I assure him that I am aware of that fact, and I stand by my title for this blog entry. Not only has this journey taken me to a new and, in many ways, unexpected place; it has forced me to see myself reflected in the photos I have and haven’t taken, in the images I want to capture and the ones I shy away from.

Also, you can totally look through windows (which, consequently, are often made of glass), so this is a fine title.

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