Michigan journalist and author Michael Hodges has covered the fine arts beat for The Detroit News for nearly three decades, but it's his books that have allowed him to showcase his photography, research and writing through his fondness of architecture.
Hodges, who grew up on a dairy farm in Rochester Hills and attended Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, released his first book, “Michigan's Historic Railroad Stations,” in 2012 with the Wayne State University Press. His follow-up, “Building the Modern World: Albert Kahn in Detroit,” was released in April 2018. Each of the books feature more than 100 illustrations, including historic postcards or pictures, as well as striking photographs taken by Hodges. In 2019, Hodges' latest book garnered a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan.
“What lifted me through both of my books was the photography,” Hodges said. “I write books about architecture so I can take pictures, and my publisher is obligated to use them.”
Hodges said the art and architecture throughout the Cranbrook campus helped to instill an appreciation for the subjects. Likewise, the constellation of outbuildings at his father's dairy farm helped to build a sense of place from a young age. Yet, it was politics that initially interested Hodges, leading him to earn a degree in political science and government from Tufts University. He later spent four years as a teacher before earning a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University.
“I've never written about architecture for the paper. Buildings tend to fall to the development writer, and that's never been my beat. My beat is fine art. Fine art and museums, principally,” he said. “I was always good at writing. I decided I could try to make a living writing while in graduate school in New York City when I was hired part-time by (former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs) Richard Holbrooke, who went on after I worked for him to be Ambassador for Germany (and US Ambassador to the United Nations). He had hired me to help with some speechwriting while in New York. I thought I might be good at political writing, but I fell into journalism instead.”
Hodges wrote feature stories for the New York Post for a year before moving to the Ann Arbor area and covering the fine arts beat for The Detroit News. In 2008, Hodges was in Chelsea, outside of Ann Arbor, when he came across a historic little train station, sparking the idea for his first book. The photographic survey of old train stations across the state led him to submit more ideas to the university press, and his second book.
While other books about Albert Kahn exist, they have tended to be more academic in nature and geared toward those with architecture backgrounds. Hodges instead traces Kahn's beginnings in poverty to his rise as one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, including friendships with Henry Ford and his son Edsel. The book also details for the first time Kahn's influence to save the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as his role in the industrialization of the Soviet Union.
“It was fun, but sort of a challenge,” he said of his train book. “In many cases there wasn't that much information. I used old historical newspaper articles. If a crime occurred in relation to the station, it got in the book… I found writing a biography easier because there was actually a story and narrative arc. You don't have to cobble together something like with the train station book.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent