Pumping Stations, Pipes and Treatment Plans: Photographing Water Infrastructure … as Art

Brooklyn-based photographer says Detroit’s water system offers message about meaning of infrastructure.

Pipes, towers, retention basins and other water infrastructure are art to photographer Stanley Greenberg.

“They were built at a time when governments thought, ‘This is a public service, and we need to show how important it is,'” says photographer Stanley Greenberg.

Copyright Stanley Greenberg, used with permission

Greenberg, who has published several books about New York’s water systems and related architecture, was recently in Detroit for what he describes as the first in what will be a series of visits. He talked about his work with WDET’s Sandra Svoboda.

Click on the audio link above to hear the conversation.

Here’s a transcript:

Sandra Svoboda: Why are you photographing in Detroit?

Stanley Greenberg: I’m working on a couple projects. One is about big-city water infrastructure, and another is about the Great Lakes and also water infrastructure. So it kind of hits both topics here. Everyone knows about New York’s water system, and they hear about Los Angeles and San Francisco and all the battles, and all the wars, and all the issues with those. But you don’t hear that much about the infrastructure in Detroit, and it’s such an incredible system. I mean, you look at the buildings and they’re like temples. They were built at a time when governments thought, “This is a public service, and we need to show how important it is, and we’re going to make temples for people, and they’re for water.”

Svoboda: What did you photograph while you were here in Detroit?

Copyright Stanley Greenberg, used with permission

Greenberg: I didn’t have inside access this time. I’m hoping to get that soon. But I did photograph from outside at Waterworks Park and outside the water treatment plant, and a little bit up the river along some canals. All kinds of little things I could find. Sometimes I just photograph the things that are just not obvious to the passerby but are part of the infrastructure. I like to point out what’s there so that you pay attention too.

Svoboda: What should we be paying more attention to with our own water infrastructure? Sometimes we see things more clearly through a visitor’s eyes.

Greenberg: It’s such a beautiful system. I wish that everyone would be able to get a little bit closer to it, know how it works, so that they don’t just assume the water is going to come out of their tap. There’s a lot of work that goes into that, and it costs a lot of money. That’s what taxes are for.

Svoboda: What will happen with the photos that you took around Detroit from this trip here?

Greenburg: Eventually I’d like to make another book about water systems. So I’m not sure if this is more for the Great Lakes book or the big city water system book or both. But a book.

Copyright Stanley Greenberg, used with permission



  • Sandra Svoboda

    Recovering Bankruptcy Reporter/Blogger looking forward to chronicling regional revitalization on-air, digitally and through community engagement.