Tom Leeper doesn’t consider himself to be a biker or a photographer. Yet, the 51-year-old Berkley resident, who works in the staffing industry by day, does both as part of his Every Linear Mile project. In an attempt to get more familiar with Detroit, five years ago, Leeper started casually riding his bike around the city. On these excursions, he realized how many amazing pieces of public art were on display and decided to give more purpose to his rides. He calculated that there were up to 5,000 linear miles in the city and set out on a mission to ride all of them. He would eventually document the art he saw on his blog, Every Linear Mile. Now, halfway through his mileage, Leeper reflects on the journey thus far.
“If I can tell that someone invested some time, like they spent a couple hours or days working on a piece, then I take a picture of it,” says Leeper, who became more familiar with the art scene in Detroit when, years ago, he was introduced to creative occupants at the Russell Industrial Center. He photographs everything from murals and 3-D art to creations by Mother Nature, like ivy sprawling along the side of a building.
“From an art per-square-mile [perspective], the whole southwest area is pretty amazing,” says Leeper. “You see a lot of the heritage [in the art].” He strays away from what he considers the “popular areas,” like Downtown and Midtown, which he says have already garnered a lot of attention for public art. Instead, Leeper wanders into smaller neighborhoods and abandoned buildings. He’s also embarked on special projects photographing the canals of Detroit and hidden spaces in the Masonic Temple.
Wear and Tear
Leeper uses the Map My Ride app to track his routes and an iPhone 6 serves as his camera. He rides a Trek Hybrid bike, and, as of this summer, has had three “spills” and lots of flats, due to unfortunate factors like glass on roads. Leeper typically rides more than 30 miles every Saturday and Sunday morning. Sometimes, though, he’s so inspired by the works he finds that he continues exploring for an additional 5 to 20 miles.
The Extra Mile
The positive feedback that Leeper has received continues to be a motivator. “Every time I post, there’s always at least a few people who are like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ They’re not on the bike, but they’re definitely traveling with me.” As far as what’s next, he’d like to eventually move to Detroit, and hopes to create a village of tiny homes or an artist community in the city.
Pictured above are photographs of murals and 3-D art Leeper has come across throughout his travels. Visit everylinearmile.com for more of Leeper’s photography.