A Tale of Two Cities
A photographic juxtaposition of the
ancient city of Petra and modern urban Detroit

From June 30 to July 21, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology will present the special exhibition “Red Rock & Rust Belt,” with an opening reception from 2:00 to 4:00 pm on Sunday, June 30. This unusual exhibition of photographs by Susan Webb reveals the connections between two great cities that do not readily suggest comparison: the modern city of Detroit, Michigan, and the ancient site of Petra in modern Jordan. These two places, separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles, share grand buildings, soaring façades, and the imprint of the people who worked to create them. In the photographs, the viewer is confronted with evidence of achievement, strength, and the challenge of time passing. Here also are images of the people who live in both places, their presence turning the foreign into the familiar.

Detroit, the largest city in Michigan, rose to prominence from simple beginnings as a French trading outpost in the early 1700s. By the 1920s, Detroiters had built a powerhouse of industry, manufacturing, and innovation with wide boulevards and stunning architecture known as “the Paris of the West.” In the last two generations, however, the city endured a precipitous decline. In the remains of a once grand and beautiful urban landscape are buildings that evoke a glorious past. To dedicated Detroiters, those buildings offer hope that this metropolis will rise again.

Petra lies in southern Jordan, about 50 miles south of the Dead Sea. A nomadic tribe known as Nabataeans made it their capital more than 2,000 years ago. Today, the area around Petra is home to resilient Bedouin tribes and is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites. In antiquity, Petra was the hub of spice and silk routes that connected the Far East with the Mediterranean. The Nabataeans lived on a grand scale, carving theaters, temples, and tombs out of the red sandstone cliffs, adorning their surroundings with fountains and gardens. Today the Nabataeans are largely known by the monumental structures they left behind.

These stunning photographs illuminate two cities that lie in the shadow of history. Every shot provides the viewer with a double vision: the present moment embedded in the past, and the shadow of the past inherent in the present.

Susan Webb (Photographer)

Beginning with the Kodak Brownie her dad gave her when she was eight, there has been one constant in Susan Webb’s life: a love of photography. Born in the Blue Mountains of Australia and raised in Sydney, Susan channeled her innate visual interest into the formal study of photography in London, England.

A love of classics and the arts led her to archaeological photography. She has traveled and worked extensively throughout the Middle East and Europe, documenting excavations and found artifacts for several notable universities. Her photography is widely published academically. Susan has made Ann Arbor, Michigan, her home base but has spent part of almost every year in Australia. She views this exhibition as an opportunity to move from the exacting mode of academic documentation to a more personal artistic form.

Contact:  Todd Gerring at 734.647.4167 or