CultureDetroitPeopleStories

Storytellers in search of what’s truthful and real, across Detroit’s 139 square miles

Documenting Detroit's latest class of fellows craft the visual essays that shape how we see Detroit

2018 Facing Change: Documenting Detroit fellows (Courtesy photo)
Photograph by ALAN CHIN

In Hart Plaza this weekend, shimmering light seemed to drench all comers to Motor City Pride. It reflected purple hues off a man’s star-shaped sunglasses and sequined jacket; bathing two women in sun glow as they danced in unison; spotlighting a couple embracing with clasped hands and beaming smiles. But I wasn’t there to see it IRL. Instead, I followed along from Tulsa, avoiding FOMO with photographer Steve Koss’ candid festival shots on the @everydaymotorcity Instagram feed. Koss’ work is just one example of how Facing Change: Documenting Detroit’s has made a mark in this city cultivating a community of photographers and capturing its stories.

The program was started in 2016 through Facing Change: Documenting America, a national collective of photographers. Last week, the nonprofit announced their third class of fellows, a group of 20 emerging photographers who will spend three months working on the documentary photo essays they pitched in their applications.

Photo from “People with a Purpose” series by 2018 fellow Kyla Milberger.
Project: Following a high school class of adult students with cognitive and physical impairments, to destigmitize and diminish misconceptions. Quoted: “I strive to understand the intense obstacles that people endure on a daily basis. The most raw and real moments are the most critical photographs to capture, because they humanize individuals.” Follow: @kyla_milberger

 

The topics cover a lot of ground, said Documenting Detroit Managing Director Alan Chin — from gun violence to aging rappers still trying to make it big.

“You can apply with any kind of idea … as long as it’s truthful and real and happening in the 139 square miles,” Chin told Detour.

The core of the fellowship is the one-on-one mentor pairings for fellows. Mentors include photographers, editors and curators from local institutions and national outlets like Buzzfeed News and the Washington Post. During a 10-day intensive workshop, fellows meet with their mentors, attend expert lectures and take training sessions.

Photo of street navigator on medical run by 2018 fellow Shiraz Ahmed
Project: Telling the story of Detroit’s health care crisis and the patients locked out of the healthcare system due to costs, stigma and distance. Quoted: “I’m intrigued by how community comes together to fill the gaps of where government and institutions have failed them.” Follow: @alivedetroit

 

Koss took up photography after starting to document his life while stationed with the Air Force in Okinawa, Japan. He was in the first class of fellows, and explored the diverse world of nightclubs for the essay “No Time to Worry.” “When times are bad for a city, people go to a bar. When times are good for a city, people still go to a bar,” he explained in a description of the project. Koss’ attention to partiers’ internal lives made him a natural choice to shoot this year’s Pride.

Documenting Detroit has helped propel other fellows forward in their careers — like Amy Sacka, who is now a National Geographic Explorer, and Julian Bibb, a forklift operator who recently shot the races on Belle Isle as a photographer for the Detroit Grand Prix. And they stay in the fold, participating in programs with the newer crop of fellows or collaborating on work, like Koss’ Instagram takeover.

“I’m very proud that we succeeded in creating a small, vibrant community,” Chin said.

“Queen Anne’s Highway” by 2018 fellow Noah Elliott Morrison
Project: Documenting people’s connection to their cars, and how they can make us feel powerful and powerless, sometimes within the same turn of the ignition. Quoted: “Detroit is home for me. I find comfort in the unplanned and now green spaces that came out of years of neglect. There’s a dark and turbulent history surrounding so many now mild and underserved places. It’s a quiet reminder, and you have to be listening to notice.” Follow: @noahelliottmorrison

 

The fellowship is just the beginning for Documenting Detroit. The program was awarded $150,000 in matching grants through the Knight Arts Challenge in October, allowing staff to get paid for the first time. Chin would like to expand to other cities, and give the robust local programming, built with partners in the creative community (like Framed by WDET, Red Bull House of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts), a permanent home base with studio, gallery and education space.

“Detroit is simultaneously big and small enough that there is room for that, another major-small cultural institution… that’s really representing a community,” Chin said. “Detroit does has that need and has that space for it, and I think we fill that role.”

Until then, they’ll keep making space for artists to craft the visual stories — the real ones — that shape how we and the world see Detroit. — Kate Abbey-Lambertz

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