Photo Essay: Ann Arbor after dark

Photo Essay: Ann Arbor after dark


The University of Michigan campus is well known across the world — it exudes its vibrant and booming nature no matter what day it is or what time it may be. It is a place of community, of passion and of change, a place that is a bright light in the lives of many. There is always something to do during the day, always a spectacle occurring in one of the many buildings or areas stretching across campus.

All this can be said for the daytime … but what happens after dark? Does the seemingly sleepless campus in Ann Arbor ever still? I wanted to find out for myself, to expand what I know and what I see about this place I call home. 

8:13 p.m.

During the day, the Diag seems like a breeding ground for chaos, in the best possible way. Because of this, it seemed like the best place to start when learning more about what happens after dark. What I didn’t expect was to see a bulldog wearing a Michigan jersey — and he honestly wore it better than most people I have seen. His name was Wall-E (I was informed that yes, he was named after the movie), and he was going on a nightly stroll, enjoying the weather, as one does. 

A Boston terrier sits underneath the M on the Diag, wearing a blue Michigan football jersey with the number 10 in maize. Around the M are yellow chalking promoting a campus club. Brown leaves are also scattered around.
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He couldn’t be reached for a comment, but I am sure he loves Ann Arbor just as much as the rest of the U-M population.

9:32 p.m.

A man plays a saxophone, blowing into the mouthpiece and pressing the buttons along the instrument. He is dressed in a black quarterzip pullover with a light blue shirt underneath. He is wearing dark jeans, boots, and yellow rimmed sunglasses. He has a music stand, a flute, and a small saxophone in front of him as he plays. An open case sits to the left of the music stand on a foldable table with a plastic jar of money.
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As I worked my way toward downtown, the sweet music of the saxophone filled my ears, and it was an inviting sound that immediately drew my attention. As I got closer, the image of a gentleman playing saxophone became clear, standing at Maynard and Liberty streets. It was captivating to watch, seeing him sway and become a part of the music he so passionately performed. I stood for a few moments, taking in the music filling the streets of Ann Arbor.

Based in Ann Arbor, Ahmid Alexander is a saxophonist and music educator from Ypsilanti. Few words were exchanged between us, yet I got the impression that blessing the city with his smooth and lovely tones is a regular occurrence. I could’ve listened to it all night, but I had other places to be.

10:50 p.m.

During the night, especially on weekends, many different groups of people pass through the sidewalks and lawns of campus, each arriving and leaving different destinations. Some head to the library for their late-night exam cram sessions, while others are leaving, ending their studying for the night. Others were grabbing a quick snack from Joe’s. 

As I walked back toward the Diag, these three girls walking arm in arm caught my attention: Annie Malek, Emma Byerwalter and Hannah Lok. Their laughter and chatter filled the night air as they walked, and after talking to them I found out they were on their way to Rick’s for Hannah’s birthday.

Three girls, all blonde, link arms and are smiling. The girl on the left is wearing a black leather jacket and looks ahead, with her left arm linked to her friend next to her. The girl in the middle is wearing a sage green puffer jacket with her right hand in her pocket and smiles looking slightly down at the ground. The girl to the left of the middle girl is wearing a dark coat with a plaid beige scarf and gold hoop earrings. She looks smiling at the girl in the middle. The Kinesiology building stands behind them with snow on the ground.
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11:15 p.m.

If you have ever been on campus, you have definitely seen the skateboarders that populate the sidewalks and open areas as soon as the temperature hits anything remotely above freezing. So, it seems only fitting that I came across three people enjoying their night on the Diag with their skateboards: Dorian Brendtke, Jaylen Jones and Demarcus Cousins. I will admit it is a bit captivating to watch people manipulate boards in ways you know you could never achieve. Watching them weave between each other and utilize the steps on the Hatcher Graduate Library was really intriguing to observe. The coolest thing about them? They are all from Ypsilanti, and they all met through skateboarding and consequently became friends. They choose to spend their nights in a city outside of where they’re from, hanging out with each other through what they love to do.

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12:27 a.m.

After the skateboarders left, somehow I still found myself on the Diag enjoying the night and the (non-creepy) act of people watching. It was during this time that I met Conor Finn and Ruben Garcia. Honestly, they were probably the most interesting people I met during my adventures at night in Ann Arbor. I had the pleasure of watching them dance in front of the Graduate Library, out on display for everyone to witness. The dance, seemingly a mix between the tango and ballroom (though not rehearsed) was truly a spectacular sight. There was lots of dipping, swaying and running into each other, yet the execution was superb. 

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However, nightlife in Ann Arbor can also be tranquil. 

I set out another night, focusing more on the external surrounding that I frequent throughout the day. During my walk, the amount of lights illuminating the campus was honestly surprising. I had never actually made a point to acknowledge the lights and the lamps lighting up campus and Ann Arbor with the light lost from the day.

Oftentimes, the constant presence of some of Ann Arbor’s landmark buildings is overshadowed by the eccentric nature of its residents. With the intention of being present in my surroundings, I found myself being appreciative of the places I walk past everyday. I noticed details I had previously missed, like the way the lights in Ross reflect off adjacent walls, giving the illusion of a continuous stretch of illuminated space. Even something as simple as the bus arrival sign caught my eye when I took the time to look, seeing how the lights serve as a guide in the dark. The lights in the Law Quad felt entirely different in purpose, the yellow glow creating a warm, inviting ambiance.

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Through this process I have come to appreciate the intimate moments of campus after dark as much as I appreciate the dynamic moments. This experience unlocked a new perspective, one that allowed me to see the familiar in a completely different way. I have come to realize I enjoy the sound of the leaves taking over what would have been the sounds of people and construction during the day. I am enamored with the snippets of quiet conversations I catch as I pass by, the way I notice so many more features inside buildings when the interior lights contrast with the darkness outside. 

Not everything is chaotic at night; not everything is calm. These moments come and go, endlessly morphing into something different. Just like in the day, you never know what you are going to come across. There is not the same routine ebb and flow of people going from building to building, class to class. Instead, each location is a newfound glimpse into the vastly different experience of each individual and the beauty that the campus and the city have to offer. 

All this is to say I caught only a glimpse of what goes on during the night here, a small window into a whole world of activity. Yet it is certain that life on campus does not cease, even when the sun does. No matter where you may find yourself, if you take a second to look around you can always find something, or someone, that will make your night a little more interesting. It just takes looking and a little bit of adventure. 

Assistant Photo Editor Riley Nieboer can be reached at [email protected].