Dear Belle Isle: Local photographer invites you to write a love letter to our esteemed island

Detroit resident Amy Sacka has been taking photographs on Belle isle for a decade. She loves the water and nature, but her subject is the people who inhabit the island – Detroiters and Michiganders from all walks of life who share a reverence for the jewel of the Detroit River.

Amy Sacka on Belle Isle. Photo by Nina Ignaczak.

“It’s really a refuge for people,” Sacka told Planet Detroit. “It’s a place where people can find peace and contentment. And I think it’s also a place people go to for healing.”

Sacka’s work on Belle Isle has been published most recently in a Detroit Metro Times photo essay entitled “Love Island Detroit,” featuring couples across age, race and sexual orientation who escape to the island for some romantic time.

And in 2016, she published a photo essay of her observations on the people of Belle Isle with Documenting Detroit that was featured in an exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts and published in Musée Magazine.

It’s the people who share her love of Belle Isle that keeps drawing Sacka, who lives a mile from the island and has a strong family history and memories of time spent there, back with camera in hand.

“There’s something in the interaction that I have with people when I’m photographing them in a space that matters to them and to me. It becomes a shared experience,” she said.

In July, Sacka decided she wanted to find a new way to connect with her fellow Belle Islanders. So she decided to install a notebook for people to stumble upon with a simple directive: Write a love letter to Belle Isle.

Somewhere on Belle Isle. Hint: North end. Photo by Nina Ignaczak.

Sacka wasn’t sure if people would find the box, located along a trail on the island’s rugged north end, and whether they would heed her request if they did. In the beginning, the notebook went missing. 

“I was heartbroken because I thought, ‘Well, my experiment failed. And I forgot about it,’” she said. Two weeks later, she checked on the box, and the notebook had returned – filled with notes. 

People have written about everything from the changes on Belle Isle to coming to the island as a kid. They’ve written poetry about nature. 

“It makes my heart weep because nobody knows where these notes are going,” she said. “I just have a simple request: write a love letter to Belle Isle. And the notes are so thoughtful; I wonder how long they sat there and thought about writing it.” 

Photos courtesy Amy Sacka.

She’s gone through three notebooks so far, returning every few days to collect the notes, which she’s saving for a future exhibition. The box has also picked up additional tokens of love, including a bouquet in a beer can and an anonymously authored homemade printed guide to the island entitled “Wahnabezee.” Sacka would like to know who is behind the guide, which includes illustrations and ideas for enjoying the island’s peace.

She placed the notebook on the island’s north end – a wild and sort of lawless place, home to the unofficial “hippie beach” and random art installations – to attract the most intrepid explorers. For her, the area embodies how Detroit has “always been a place where you can go around the corner and be surprised.”

She’s not sure how long she’ll keep the notebook in place, but she hopes to keep collecting notes for another season at least.

“What’s so cool about Belle Isle is that it maintains some of those rough edges that people love about Detroit as a city, but it’s just wild with beauty. It has this wonderful combination of things that make it uniquely Detroit,” she said.

To write your love letter to Detroit, bring your curious heart to the island’s north end. Follow her work on Instagram here.

Our reporting 

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