Ian Kushnir’s first fire photo, from a fire scene in 2005.
The metro Detroit area is known for its fire behavior and firefighting tradition. Fire photographer Ian Kushnir, who operates in the region, took some time to offer his thoughts on shooting fires in the area, his experiences, and more.
FE: What got you started in fire photography?
IK: I had a small interest in the fire service and always enjoyed seeing the apparatus and visiting fire stations. My dad, grandpa and uncles would always have a scanner going and we would go see fires. My grandfather was a manager in the Detroit news and always had a camera. I have photos he took of some of fires he took including the famous Ford Routunda fire. I always enjoyed taking photos myself. I entered a school photo contest in second grade; when everyone else was taking pictures of flowers in the yard, I was taking photos of Detroit blight. I was given a Kodak easyshare digital camera in high school. It was a only 2.0 megapixels. I was mostly taking railroad photos at the time with it. The first fire I took photos with that camera was a Detroit multiple on Buchanan and Hammond near Michigan and Livernois. I could see the smoke from my house. I took all the photo classes my college offered at that time. It wasnt until a few years later I got more involved with fire photography. I became a fire cadet with the Dearborn (MI) Fire Department and it increased my knowledge and interest in the fire service. In 2006 I had just purchased a Nikon D40 DSLR camera. Me and my buddy heard of a multiple at an apartment building on Detroit’s northwest side. On the way to that fire, we came across Detroit fighting a house fire. I took several photos of the house and at the multiple and it was very exciting. After my cadet years, I started doing more press photography in the area for an entire spectrum of events, from baby yoga at the library to presidential visits,. I still took many fire photos and fire-department related event photos in Detroit and Dearborn as well. Since I was a cadet, I knew everyone in the Dearborn Fire Department and was able to gain access other press could not. I became “Dearborn’s Bill Eisner“, the unofficial photographer. This later grew to becoming the official photographer for the Dearborn firefighters union and Dearborn Fire Department. Its a job and title I take seriously and I am very proud of. I also do work for other Detroit suburbs as well. I still do many photos of Detroit Fire, but moreso focused on community events and fundraisers. I do a lot with the Detroit fire clowns and I am a member of the Detroit Fire Department band.
FE: What kind of equipment do you use?
IK: Nikon 610 with my main lens being a very beat-up Tamron 18-200 3.5 lens. My other lens is a Sigma 70-200 2.8. My flash is a Nikon SB-910. My backup camera is a Nikon D90. I like to travel light, and too much equipment can become cumbersome. I feel its dangerous to be fighting with equipment during an incident, being in my position. I must be aware of whats going on as I will be closer then the usual photographer. I have also started using my phone for live streaming on Periscope.
FE: What have been some of your more memorable jobs?
IK: I have so many. I have seen the good and the bad in my short time. I have seen people, cats, and dogs rescued. I have been on very tragic and sad runs as well . It has been very busy the past two years, from multiple second alarms to two tanker truck fires for Dearborn alone. I can go on and on about memorable jobs. It’s the back story. The parties, fundraisers, the conversations, the brotherhood, the friends you make. I have thousands of stories and memories–that’s what is memorable. (I sound like an old man for being only 30?) I just have seen so much.
FE: What’s unique about the area you cover–the place, the firefighters, the hazards, etc.?
IK: Being I cover the mostly overlooked suburbs of Detroit, I often hear ” All they do is medicals in the suburbs” or “They don’t get fire there,” etc. I show the rest of the “world” that this is not true. Dearborn itself can be very busy. Its also a very old city with lots of multi-family houses, high-rise buildings, and many factories and commercial buildings. The Ford Rouge Plant, Greenfield Village, and Henry Ford Museum and Detroit Marathon refinery. Dearborn has five stations covering the cities of Dearborn and Melvindale. The department now belongs to two mutual aid groups, Western Wayne and Downriver, and responds to medicals and fires in surrounding cities. It’s the Home Town and Henry Ford. It’s always busy. It always has some kind of excitement…good and bad.
FE: What have been some of your more memorable publications?
IK: I make my own books for myself and for anyone who wants them on Blurb.com. To me, these make me proud alone, but some of my photos and books have already and will be archived in “The Ian Kushnir Collection” at the Walter P. Ruther Libaray at Wayne State University. I received this honor after an article had been published on a local news blog about my collection of lost Detroit news photos of the 1967 riots that had never been published. After taking the photos to the university, they found out of my work I have done myself and wanted to add this as well. It includes photos I took of the last days of the Pontiac (MI) Fire Department and the struggles of the state’s fire unions against anti-union laws passed in Lansing. My photos have been on statewide news stations and have been in the Detroit News and Free Press. I was also had photos in the Daily Mail in England. but not for a fire picture. The profile and logo for the popular Facebook page “Brotherhood of fire” Is also a photo I took. It was used on T-shirts to raise money for the Detroit Fire department by the National Firefighters Endowment.
FE: Any advice to aspiring fire photogs?
IK: Tell the entire story…Not just the fires.
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