One of the most unusual Detroit-themed photo books available this holiday season is yet another guide to Detroit, but featuring a mythological mascot: Le Nain Rouge.
It’s written and photographed by Dave Krieger, who says he began the project as a reaction to the “ruin porn” of the last decade. Instead of that, Krieger wanted to create an upbeat book about the intact beauties of the city.
“I’m trying to get people to think about Detroit differently,” Krieger says.
That’s where the Nain Rouge concept came in: an anarchic avatar to unite the book, and a persona to adopt for the little Nain notes sprinkled throughout the book, in which the red guy shares his views.
“He is finally revealing himself to offer up his perspective about what is cool about Detroit,” Krieger says. “He gets a little salty about the people who seem to be pompous and arrogant. He’s got a positive mindset. He never takes credit for his contributions but is always blamed as the consummate outsider.”
In fact, of the many iterations we’ve seen of Le Nain Rouge, Krieger’s might be the most interesting yet. Unlike the goofy goblin of the annual parade, Krieger’s version calls to mind “the most interesting man in the world” of the Dos Equis ads. Despite his red skin, horned head, and yellow eyes, he mostly wears a buttoned-down suit and looks as suave and unflappable as anybody who’s lived in this town for 300-odd years.
The guy behind the makeup is local bartender Andy Wainio, and there’s a lot of understated visual comedy in the way he mingles with real Detroiters, acting as if nothing here is weird at all.
The photography is excellent, and hits a lot of the places you might expect: Eastern Market, the main branch of the Detroit Public Library, the Motown Museum, the Player’s Club, the Fisher Building, the Raven Lounge. But some of the very best shots are the stunning interiors even many longtime Detroiters haven’t seen, such as the inside of the Schvitz, or the grounds of the Indian Village Tennis Club.
The technical challenges of photographing a model in such heavy makeup forced Krieger to cluster his shoots carefully. It took several hours for Wainio’s makeup, to say nothing of the full-body red makeup required for the Schvitz shoot, which featured the red guy clad only in a towel.
In the book, Krieger mixes up the shots so that only one or two on a spread will feature the Nain Rouge, so the character complements the photography instead of overwhelming it. Had every picture featured the Nain Rouge, Krieger says, “it would be more of a Where’s-Waldo-type book and after five pages you’d be sick of seeing him.”
But Krieger also wanted to make sure that the little red guy set a good example. In several shots, he’s volunteering with local nonprofits and charities.
“The idea is that almost anyone can get involved,” Krieger says.
Dave Krieger will sell and sign copies of his book 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth St., Detroit. The book should be available starting Dec. 4, with copies at Detroit Mercantile, Somerset Detroit Shop, Pure Detroit, and more. See thenainrouge.net for more info.