Photographer Terry Shear has a rich appreciation of Detroit’s history and peruses Detroit’s streets and alleys looking for his next venue to photograph. When he sees an opportunity to gain access to a building, he disappears into the night and up to the Detroit skies in superhero fashion. Armed with his camera and a tripod, Terry is off in a flash!
Zipping up the closest fire escape, drain pipe, or other mildly-secure objects attached to a building, Terry gains access to Detroit’s many inhabited and uninhabited building rooftops. The roofs of century-old buildings are where Terry performs most of his photog magic. Evading security, copycat photographers, squatters, and overly-concerned citizens to gain up-in-the-air access, Terry is at home with his art, stories in the air. If he’s lucky, only pigeons have visited these rooftops before him. Terry is on a never-ending adventure to explore, capture, and share the sights most of us would dare not go.
Terry Shear has turned his passion for photography and exploration into an outstanding library of images – shooting in places where only a select group of Detroit urban explorers have gone before! Luckily, social media platforms – like Facebook and Instagram – allow Terry (and others like him) to share outstanding images of Detroit’s sophisticated history, unique architecture, and striking beauty.
Detroit Proud was thrilled to connect with Terry. Postman by day, Detroit rooftop adventurer by night – Terry delivers the Insta-goods to Detroit Proud! Check out what he had to say about his craft and his love of for the people and places he photographs!
What makes Detroit a unique place to photograph?
Just take a look at the amazing murals all over Eastern Market, the Dequindre Cut, the city itself – it seems to be an ever-changing canvas. For me the timing is unique, a lot of eyes seem to be on Detroit. It seems more hopeful to me than ever before in my lifetime, and it’s exciting to document the things that are all helping make it happen.
What makes the perfect night out while trying to score the perfect shot?
I’ve had shawarmas on top of Book Tower with friends while watching and shooting sunsets. I’ve been to all out barbecues on top of Fisher Body Plant 21. For me, it’s not just about getting the perfect shot, it’s about having fun too. I don’t feel like it will ever get old.
A good friend of mine, a professional photographer and storm chaser, Jamie Betts, gave me some of the best advice any photographer has ever given me. He told me to shoot everything. It proved to be great advice, and advice I like to pass along.
What’s your favorite Detroit-themed photo you’ve ever taken?
I have a photo of our awesome Detroit firemen at work. It was a panning shot, something I rarely do, but the image captures such a real moment. I have nothing but love and respect for the Detroit Fire Department. If you haven’t seen Burn, watch it. It’s an honest depiction of how hard these folks work.
What’s the longest you’ve sat on one of Detroit’s rooftops waiting for the perfect shot?
I spent entire sunsets to sunrise on top of American Hotel last summer when we had 3 occurrences of the supermoon. I sat up there next to Masonic Temple and captured a beautiful moonrise and moonset. (Maybe I stayed there because it was still probably the hardest place I’ve ever been in and I was scared how I was going to get out.)
Any advice for someone looking to gain rooftop access?
Sometimes it’s as easy as pulling a door construction workers left unlocked. I can’t give away all my tricks. [Laughs]
What was your early experience with photography? What originally piqued your interest?
I grew up in a family that stressed education and sports, the arts weren’t particular to my upbringing. I dated a girl through high school and most of college, and I started taking summer trips with her and her family up north to Alpena. It was the opposite of all of my family soccer trips across the country. We’d sit around the campfire listening to Cat Stevens, and looking at the constellations, and I think it was then that she and I bought a Nikon SLR (single-lens reflex camera).
Years went by before I decided to pick up my first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera), but once I did, I wanted to learn as much as I could, as often as I could. I love that I feel I’m constantly learning when I’m shooting, even if it’s not about photography. It’s forced and allowed me to meet people from all over and all walks of life. I love that aspect as well.
Describe Detroit’s photography community. What’s it like meeting and working with local talent?
To sum it up pretty easily, I think it’s a lot like most other art niches in the city. Detroit is full of talented artists. It’s an exciting time for the city, and I think it’s going to be great to have so many different perspectives [to document the] changes.
People want to work with people that are in it for the right reasons, not just because their talent is out of this world. Our city is saturated with talent, you have to do things because you love to. Not to make money, not to make others happy, not to say you did it. It’s gotta be from your heart, and when it is, it is obvious that it’s real. Real is exactly what sets Detroit apart from other big cities right now. There is a sense of real hope in the city. Good things are coming, and I think it’s a great time to be a part of the heart of the city.
Another one of my good friends and someone I always looked up to as a photographer is Joe Gall, aka Camera Jesus. He also gave me some of the best advice, if photography is ever anything I pursue more. He said it’s important to be a good person and know how to treat others, in addition to being talented. I’ve found, Joe is right nine times out of ten.
How has social media expanded your ability to share your work?
It’s changed immensely, even in the last few years. Instagram has become such an easy way for people to share images. Not only that, it’s brought together an entire community of people interested in similar things. It allows you to communicate with people with similar interests. Personally, I’ve been really fortunate and have made some incredibly talented friends through Instagram. It’s also given me a lot of exposure I would have never expected, and I’m always flattered people are so encouraging and supportive of my work.
What keeps you hungry to fight the elements – losing sleep, getting dusty and dirty, and bending some rules – to capture that perfect photo?
I love doing it, as much, if not more than I did when I first started. I love roofs. I love the thrill, and I love the views. I’ve never been big on the ruin porn or the old churches, although there are some unbelievably beautiful abandoned churches and schools throughout Detroit. I’ve also been very fortunate to see most of them. When I started shooting, I never imagined the diverse group of people that would ultimately become my friends. I said this before as well, and I’ll say it so many more times, I have so much to learn.
When you’re not shooting, what can Detroit Proud readers find you doing?
I’ve worked for the United States Postal Service since I graduated high school. I would do it during the summers when I was home from Michigan State and somehow, it snowballed into a career.
I spend most of my summers at DTE seeing as many shows as I can. Music was my first love. I actually grew up playing soccer with Josh Epstein, from the band JR. JR.. I’ve been a fan of what he and Dan started, and where they have gone and are going. It’s cool to see them getting so much success. I love seeing good things happen to good people.
Detroit Proud thanks Terry for sharing his art, time, and adventures with us. Want to check out more of Terry’s photos? Check out his Instagram HERE – his prints are available for purchase!
Have questions or are interested in booking Terry for your next photo shoot? Check out his Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.