'Documenting Detroit' Project Aims to Change Narrative of City Through Photography

September 14, 2017, 4:05 PM by  Catherine Nouhan

Over the past two years, Documenting Detroit has given 37 fellows the opportunity to dedicate time, energy and talent to photographing Detroit in a brigher way. The fellows have included community college students and forklift operators and nearly half have gone to school for photography. Many others are self-taught.

"Photographers awarded the Documenting Detroit fellowship will craft a complete photo essay illuminating lives of Detroiters throughout the city’s 139 square miles, and learn and hone media skills," the organization's Facebook page reads.

The nonprofit, the subject of a Sept. 13 feature from CityLab's Teresa Mathew, wants to move photos of Detroit away from the "ruin porn" narrative, those spectacular photos of gutted, dilapidated urban structures, that's grown so popular over recent decades. Mathew writes:

Documenting Detroit was first dreamed up during a road trip between Shaffer, an artist and producer, and Alan Chin, a photojournalist and instructor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Chin, now Documenting Detroit’s creative director, was inspired by the Documentary Center in the South Bronx, a nonprofit gallery and education space founded by photojournalist Michael Kamber in 2011. Chin wanted to create something that would, “significantly impact neighborhoods, communities, and photographers—voices that don’t normally get represented, [such as those] just starting out or working three different jobs,” he says.

Fellows have taken photos of every corner of the city and crafted portraits of Detroiters from all walks of life. The project also puts an emphasis on the diversity of the fellows themselves, in race, gender, background and occupation:

Over the past two years, the 37 fellows have ranged in profession from community college students to forklift operators. Twenty-five percent are self-taught, and nearly half have gone to school for photography. “The majority of our fellows are non-white,” says Chin, which he believes is important for a city that is 83 percent black. “We also have economic and gender diversity—it’s not just people with privilege coming and photographing people without privilege.”

Read more:  CityLab

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