Early on in my relationship, I sent my boyfriend a song, “Belle Isle,” by Anna Burch. It’s a song drenched in summer love about a place that means a lot to me. Perhaps I was projecting hopes for our budding romance. Maybe I was trying to woo him. It worked. He liked the song (and me), and here we are two years later.
This summer, I was reminded again of that song as I was walking through Belle Isle. I started seeing couples all over the place with that fresh love vibe. It was a feeling I felt lucky to still recognize, and I wanted to literally capture it. I began approaching couples that had that look about them — whether they were touching or laughing or sometimes kissing. What’s interesting is that the majority of couples I photographed told me they were new in their relationships, often less than two years in. I started to think about what that says about when and how we show affection in relationships — and how it physically materializes in the space or closeness between couples.
I began to see the series “Love Island Detroit” as a metaphor for the place we all go to when we are newly in love. A space of equal parts romance, mystery and escape — where all you need is a towel, a little sunscreen, and the belief that anything is possible.
This isn’t the first time I’ve photographed Belle Isle. About five years ago I did a documentary photo project covering the entire island. I remember photographing a couple who was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They were renewing their vows by the Belle Isle fountain. The wife was in her original wedding gown, her lace veil extending many feet behind her.
I do wonder if any of the couples I photographed for Love Island Detroit will stay together. One couple was on their first date and I could feel the nervous excitement. “If you get married, make sure you contact me. You’ll want this picture,” I said, curious about how it all would go.
Oftentimes when photographing this series, I'd find little nods to love in odd places. "Xo" sprayed on a bridge. "I love Mariana" tattooed across a fence. I discovered this notebook in a box at the north end of the island near Hipster Beach. I was surprised to find that lots of couples had written messages about their time together on Belle Isle. This particular note, about the thrill of having new experiences together, captured in words the sentiment I was trying convey through my camera.
Since photographing these couples, many of them have stayed in touch. One created an entire collage with the picture I took along with ephemera from their relationship. "See?" the man emailed me with a shot of the gift he made for his new fiancé. I see my picture in the middle, the couple leaning up against each other, their arms intertwining with an ease that looks like a beginning.
Amy Sacka is a Detroit-based photographer whose work has been published in National Geographic, The Guardian, PBS World News Hour, BuzzFeed, and others. More of her photos can be viewed at amysackaphotography.com.