Bill Rauhauser, Detroit Photographer (1918-2017)

Three on a Bench, Detroit River 1952, photo by Bill Rauhauser

Bill Rauhauser died the night of July 29, 2017 at the age of ninety-eight—-two weeks shy of his ninety-ninth birthday. He spent the previous day doing what he loved most: making photographs in Detroit. After a morning interview at home with a WDIV film crew, Bill and his model Cinnamon had lunch at the Country Oven restaurant and then traveled to Belle Isle with WDIV in tow. Shortly after the photo session wrapped up, Bill suffered a stroke and was rushed to Detroit Receiving Hospital where he fell into a coma and died the next night at 9:38 PM. His son Russ and Cinnamon were with him.

For decades, Rauhauser was a fixture in the artistic growth of Detroit. His love of photography helped sustain and give meaning to his life—-and to those around him. After viewing a major Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at MoMA in 1947, Rauhauser re-awakened his passion for photography and steered his life in that direction. In 1955, his photograph Three on a Bench was selected by Edward Steichen for his blockbuster Family of Man photo exhibition.

Rauhauser made contributions in photography beyond his well-known street work. In 1964, he co-founded the Group Four Gallery in Detroit, one of the nation’s first galleries devoted to photography. In 1968, he brought photography to the attention of Wallace Wood, then director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, where he cataloged the museum’s early holdings and for many years helped curate photo exhibitions as a volunteer assistant alongside head of the print department Ellen Sharp, thus beginning the museum’s engagement with photography that continues today.

Rauhauser’s influence on generations of local photographers made a difference. After an eighteen-year career in architectural engineering, he worked thirty-years as a professor of photography at the College for Creative Studies. From 1970-2000, he instilled his passion and excitement about photography to students, invigorating history by sharing his photograph collection and exposing students first hand to nationally renowned artists.

Rauhauser’s photography began to shift in the ‘60s and ‘70s, moving into conceptual art concerns with his Object Series, Cubist Still Life Series and Temples and Tombs Series. These experiments in perception and color were tinged with humor and were a radical departure from his street work. Rauhauser always challenged himself, developing new work into his late nineties including a color series with the model Cinnamon and an exploration of kitsch in still life.

After his “retirement” in 2000, Rauhauser began to self-publish a series of books that covered his career as a street photographer. His most successful book was the photographic survey: Bill Rauhauser 20th Century Photography in Detroit, published in 2010, written by his close friend Mary Desjarlais. Other books included: Beauty on the Streets of Detroit (2008); Detroit Auto Show Images of the 1970’s (2007); Bob-Lo Revisited (2003); and Detroit Revisited (2000).

During the past decade, Rauhauser’s work was collected by MoMA and featured in national and international exhibitions. Rauhauser also donated hundreds of his urban photographs to the Burton Historical Library and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

As an artist and colleague the door was always open, sharing his time as an active participant in local photography, artist and book groups. Rauhauser made life an adventure of learning, always staying engaged with new projects and lively discussion. In 2014, Rauhauser was awarded the Eminent Artist Award for lifelong achievement by the Kresge Foundation and began a successful relationship with artistic representation from the Hill Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan.

Bill’s wife Doris was an educator, lifelong muse and pillar of support. In the 1980s, Doris developed paralysis and was lovingly cared for by Bill until her death in 2007. His son Russ, two grandchildren: Amanda and Kevin and daughter Nancy survive him. Bill was a friend and supporter of the arts—-and will be missed by all who knew him. He made a difference. From one of Bill’s favorite poem/quotes:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost

A monograph of photos and essays by and about Bill Rauhauser was assembled by the Kresge Foundation in 2014 and can be found online at: Bill Rauhauser Eminent Artist

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6 comments on “Bill Rauhauser, Detroit Photographer (1918-2017)
  1. So sad to hear about Bill. He was my teacher at CCS. When I had a small gallery in Royal Oak, I was so proud to show his work. He was not only a gifted photographer, but a kind and wonderful man.

  2. Well put Cary. Bill always instilled a sense of leadership, and well warranted respect, at the Book Beat photo gatherings. A beautiful person!

  3. Bill was a very insighful person and my first collector in 1969. I had many shows of his work at The Halsted Gallery in Birmingham during the ’70 & 80’s. Bill was also a very passionate book collector and was putting together a collection of H C Bresson’s work. at his death.I will miss Bill as a photographer and as a friend.

  4. Thanks for posting your wonderful tribute to Bill, Cary. Almost all of us in the Detroit photography community have been the beneficiaries of Bill’s kindness, wisdom, and gentle leadership, and we owe some of our own success to what he has done for us. I think Bill would want us to move ahead in the same spirit, paying it forward. What a great man he was, and what a legacy he left for us!

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