Dave ‘Suge White’ Krieger, as he is known by friends, is a native Detroiter who has made his mark on the city both professionally and creatively over the past several decades. The life-long photographer, movie producer and now author has just completed his latest endeavor, Things I Do in Detroit: A Guide Book to the Coolest Places by the Nain Rouge, an alternative guidebook to the city. A full color representation of the city accompanied by photos and text.
And who better to guide you through the coolest places in the coolest town than The Nain Rouge, or Red Gnome, himself, Detroit’s oldest and coolest resident.
So dive in, the water’s warm, but don’t be afraid to take some chances. We caught up with the gregarious author to find out more about him personally, professionally and about his latest book.
Honeysuckle Mag: What inspired you to do The Nain Rouge guide book?
I was first told the story of the Nain Rouge by my father when I was nine and it has always fascinated me. I questioned his portrayal. If anyone hung around here for over 300 years, he must like Detroit. His malevolent nature determined his outsider status. Those in power or those afraid of those who are different, must have maligned his character. On this basis I am trying to resurrect his good name and turn him into Detroit’s most dedicated citizen. He has seen 300 years of change, I am trying to create a new narrative for him, similar to the “Dos Equis” guy, he is the most fascinating person in Detroit.
How long have you been taking photos, tell us a bit about your history.
I graduated Cass Tech at 16, a few years early and began volunteering at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in photography. Under the mentorship of Dirk Bakker, a great photographer in his own right, I learned the craft and moved up from file clerk to photographer.
During this time I met and shot a portrait of Andy Warhol, which is now one of 11 photographs of mine in the collection of the DIA. After my apprentice at the DIA, I assisted many photographers shooting cars, as is the case for anyone in Detroit. I spent months each year in LA and then Paris in Autumn, working as a photographer’s assistant.
After 5 years of traveling, I began my photo career in NYC; my first assignment was for the NY Times Magazine on Thai Kickboxing. It was nominated for a World Press Award. I printed for some of the great fashion photographers in my early years in New York including, Annie Liebovitz, Deborah Turbeville, Mario Testino and David Seidner. My portraits were included in the Detour Magazine 25th anniversary show at Bulgar with Kelly Klein, Bruce Weber and others. After 12 years in NYC, my family responsibilities brought me home to Detroit where I started the online magazine, Model D.
Moving on from photography, I began working in film, moving from location manager to producer. I have worked on over 30 films in the last 10 years including Batman vs. Superman, Ides of March with George Clooney, and This Must be the Place with Sean Penn. the director of this film Paolo Sorrentino, begged me to be in the movie, when I finally relented and said yes, my only request was to be Batman in the movie, to which he accommodated my request and rewrote the script to include Batman walking down the street talking with Sean Penn’s character. I produced the Detroit scenes to the #1 movie over the summer, “Don’t Breathe”, and an indie produced in Hamtramck, “Cash Only”, which the NY Times compared to Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”.
Of all the places you featured, what are your top 5 favorites, can you pick?
The Million Dollar Courtroom was interesting because not many get to see it. It got its name when the previous courthouse was demolished in 1929 to make way for the new Federal box style courthouse of today. The chief judge at the time refused to allow his court to be destroyed and it was rebuilt piece by piece into the new courthouse. One of the first times a building or part of a building was saved.
The J W Westcott is a mail tugboat which is the only zip code not granted to a landmass in the US. It delivers mail to sailors as the pass through Detroit and has done so by the same family for over 100 years.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) photo is one of my favorites with the Nain Rouge standing at the conductor’s pedestal with the entire orchestra standing behind him.
There are so many places and events that we covered, I am proud of all of them.
Name some of the biggest challenges in creating the book.
Taking over a year to produce, it grew tiresome. Trying to make sure we hit all of the annual events and keeping the quality of the photos to a high level while only having in some cases minutes to shoot was challenging. It was demanding pressure to keep going when you were unsure of whether you would like the end result.
How much of it did you photograph sober?
Haha, we were sober much of time. One of the first shots at the Cadieux Cafe I offered a few whiskeys to the Nain Rouge, his slight build could not keep up and it became a real challenge to get him through the day. The writing on the other hand needed a bit of help to get through and it this case; I’m surprised by the end result.
Is there anything you left out?
There were a few places, which declined our invitation to participate. The Heidelberg Project, Detroit Children’s Museum and Detroit Party Marching Band all refused, I think to their loss in the end.
How do you feel about the current direction Detroit is headed with gentrification and all of that?
Being a lifelong Detroiter aside my time in NYC, I think it is only a benefit. One of the things I like about NYC was that there was a Macy’s there. I only went once a year to see Santa but It was an essential part of the fabric of a city. Living in the East Village, I appreciated the diversity of the Hells Angels down a few blocks to Phillip Glass and William Wegman living around the corner.
A city is made of many elements and without all of them; the city suffers from a lack of diversity and understanding of each other’s contributions. It is imperative that Detroit has racial and socio economic diversity so that all people can learn to live and love together.
Where do you live today?
I live blocks from the DIA in one of those neighborhoods that is changing dramatically. Many of my favorite spots has been over run with younger, hipper crowds but the city has a lot to offer and I can manage to find new spots to call home.
What are your favorite things about Detroit?
The way that Detroiter’s don’t give a fuck about you, your city or its problems. We have experienced the hardships of racial intolerance, economic bias, governmental interference from the Feds, state and county and we still survive. It is a badge of honor that many wear. The independence of those times are being lost by the gentrification and economic improvements as those come with a cost. Despite that, there is enough land in Detroit for anyone who wishes to attempt their dreams without major interference so we haven’t lost that edge yet.
I have a couple more books to release and a few more movies to produce this year. My childhood bucket list always included being a photographer, movie director and writer, my next project will be designing and building my own home, so I hope to check architect off the list. The last thing on that list will be becoming a lawyer. I think I can find time to do that before I die, all I have to do is get into some trouble and then represent myself and if your know me, you’ll know that’s no stretch to accomplish.
** See our video profile on the mythical character here with Marche du Nain Rouge festival creator Francis Grunow here.
Things I Do in Detroit: A Guide Book to the Coolest Places by the Nain Rouge. Written by Dave Krieger, edited by Kiersten Armstrong and Mike Warlow.