I been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,
Looks like between 'em they done
Tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'--
But I don't care!
I'm still here!
by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
Have you seen them? The plethora of photo essays in magazines, newspapers and on the internet that show Detroit as a lost cause? Seems like Detroit's downfall is the latest fad among photojournalists. They're coming here in droves. I recently saw two Detroit essays in a well known French photography 'zine; one was by two Parisian photographers who had traveled all the way to Detroit to photograph its abandoned buildings and desolate neighborhoods. And the realities they show are real...but they're not the only reality.
With each essay I saw -- and many of them were well done -- I felt more and more compelled to show the side of Detroit that I know and love. But until I read Langston Hughes' poem, I couldn't decide how best to go about it. His last line, "I'm still here!", was the key. It brought to mind all the people I've met in Detroit since I moved here in 1966, especially those in the Black community. Talk about strong. And resilient. And full of dignity. And committed to their community. Truly amazing people.
As soon as I realized it was Detroit's people I wanted to feature, I went back into my photo archives. And there they were...many of the Detroiters I've known over the years. But I also wanted to add new portraits, ones taken specifically for this project. So today -- two days after I conceived of this new project -- I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts in search of people to celebrate with my camera. And, of course I found them. Or I should say, they found me.
One of my favorite things about being a photographer is that it allows me to go up and talk to anyone I want. For a people-person like me, there is no greater joy. Today I met Tommy who introduced me to Ramona and Tracy. Then I introduced myself to Harold, and later I ran into Brad (pictured above) whom I'd met a long time ago. Tommy responded deeply to the Langston Hughes poem and to the idea of my project. He's going to connect me with some of his musician friends (he is a bass player). Brad and I had lunch together and it looks like he will introduce me to a group of Detroiters who call themselves The Westsiders. Fascinating fellows, both of them.
Can you see why I love being a photographer?
So this is just the start. You know me; I love long-term projects. By the way, I calling it "Detroit says, I'm Still Here!"