Detroit is a city with a rich history of creating the most influential people in the world. To celebrate past and current success stories, Neighborhood Natives is a gallery of photos of notable Detroiters returning to neighborhoods that they grew up in, with the purpose of showing youth the different faces of success that come from Detroit. The series was created by The Neighborhoods, the department of storytelling for the city of Detroit.
Chief storyteller of the Neighborhoods Aaron Foley brainstormed the idea of creating a photo series along with his team. “We wanted to create a way to get our faces out, beyond the website and social media” says Foley. During a meeting lunch break, creative director Amber Lewis showed photographer Cyrus Tetteh Brandon Maxwell’s Love Letter to Detroit for Vogue.
After seeing the video, Tetteh developed the idea to do editorial photos in Detroiters’ old neighborhoods. From there they wasted no time creating a list of people who would be great for the project, with their first one being a Motown legend.
“We put a list together of people who would be a dream to shoot, and get in contact with. Amber and I started with Mary Wilson of the Supremes who was our first subject, and we kept going from there,” says Tetteh.
With various schedules and post editing it took a year to complete the project. The project was first introduced in the Crain’s Detroit Homecoming Booklet as a collaboration, before being installed as a exhibit for the Main Library.
Tetteh recalls that all the hard work was well worth it. “Detroit has a lot of history, and a lot of people don’t know the history. It’s not celebrated always as it should be, and because of that the youth is really lost. We don’t know about the doctors and artist who are from our block, but we know who the big drug stars are,” he explains. “I just wanted to give Detroit neighborhoods a vision of a face—it’s not all about drugs—and give a better representation of our neighborhoods.”
Participant and Huffington Post editor Phil Lewis also felt the need of the importance of representation; his photo was taken in front of his old high school. “I hope that they see a diverse group of people doing interesting things in all different ventures of comedy, entertainment, entrepreneurship, and myself in media. I hope they encourage young people, showcasing how much more the next generation can do when they see our photos,” says Lewis.
The exhibit will be at the Detroit Main Library until March 27th, 2019. The Neighborhoods hope to create a new series of events to continue the conversation. “We are still planning more stuff for the exhibit at the library, like fireside chats with our subjects,” says Tetteh. “We want to bring people back from the photos, to be visible for the neighbors, the youth, for everyone.”