is an exhibition that runs from September 8, 2013 through January 12, 2014 and a book that will be released by the MSU Press in April 2014, preorder online
. Through photographic portraits, interviews, essays and poetry it demonstrates the vitality and humanity of the people of Detroit and provides a powerful counter-narrative to the vision of Detroit as a Rust Belt wasteland.
Portraits of the Motor City, the centerpiece of Detroit Resurgent, is based upon the MSU Museum’s commission of French photographer Gilles Perrin to make a series of portraits over a three-week period in 2012 and have Nicole Ewenczyk, his wife, record interviews with each subject.
Sixty-two portraits, sixty-four people in photographs and their own words. People from all walks of life, ages, and ethnicities; these are the people whose stories of vision, hope, frustration, joy, courage, and renewal represent the greatness of Detroit past, present, and future. These people are the ones who breathe life into an often-maligned and frequently misunderstood city.
Factory workers, auto workers to business executives, artists, entrepreneurs, developers, community activists, union organizers, community bankers, social-justice advocates, urban farmers, cultural and political leaders, doctors and community health workers, lawyers, journalists, poets, musicians, educators, religious leaders, and steelworkers: these are the people of Detroit whose expansive humanity is poignantly captured through Gilles Perrin’s sensitive portraits and Nicole Ewenczyk’s insightful interviews. These are the people moving Detroit forward, remaking Detroit for the twenty-first century. These are the people of today’s Motor City.
While a few of the people highlighted are well known, most are not. This was intentional because in the end, it will be the people of the city, especially those at the grassroots level committed to its revitalization, that drive the changes that will reshape it. The people featured in these portraits are emblematic of the many, many thousands of people in Detroit who are committed to their city. We hope you enjoy the portraits and the stories of the people as expressed in the short extracts of their interviews.
An Extraordinary Document of Our World
An Extraordinary Document of Our World is a body of work by French photographer Gilles Perrin that spans nearly 25 years and reflects a global odyssey in search of portrait subjects. Respect for people and the work they do is central to Perrin. From the beginning, he’s seen his job as an artist and social documentarian to seek out and photograph what may become lost to time.
Slow, deliberate, intellectual—it happens in his mind and with his eyes. Perrin works in a style that hearkens back to the beginning of photography. He makes his portraits using a 4 x 5 inch field camera mounted on a tripod.
A keen observer of people and customs, Perrin is on a mission. He describes himself as “a photographer of the human heritage in all its forms,” who places his work into the time-honored humanistic photographic tradition of bearing witness. An introduction to his work in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia explains, “My work is to make photographs, and I want to be a witness to the condition of the world. I try to show a reality that matches my vision and my emotions; the work is a conscious construction intended to be far from ordinary photography.”
His portraits are never taken furtively and are never, as he says, “stolen.” He and Ewenczyk explain how he works and what he wants to do so there “is always a dialogue with [his] subjects.” And this communication, sometimes verbal and sometimes gestural depending on the country, allows “each person to participate in this social exchange, thus creating collaboration between myself, and the subject as a human being.” This philosophically based approach to portraiture honed over many years is how he approached subjects for Detroit Resurgent, a project that differed from those featured in An Extraordinary Document of Our World in terms of how some subjects were selected, while relying on the same humanistic foundation.
Perrin works in collaboration with his wife Nicole Ewenczyk who is responsible for all the logistical arrangements for their fieldwork and works closely with the portrait subjects to make sure they understand what she and Perrin are trying to accomplish.
Born in 1947 in France, Gilles Perrin worked first as an advertising photographer before turning to documentary photography. Since 1989 he has traveled around the world to make portraits of people in the social documentary tradition. He works with a large format camera using black and white film. The human and emotional exchange with the people he photographs is essential to him. His work is regularly exhibited and published. Gilles taught photography at Paris VIII University for over 20 years, at Ecole de l’image des Gobelins in Paris and gives private courses to French. Egyptian women, Artisans d’art de Paris, Parcours sans titre–reportage at the closing of the coal mines in the North of France–are some of his monographs.
When Nicole Ewenczyk (born in 1949 in France) met Gilles Perrin, they decided to work as a team. Nicole is in charge of managing, organizing and supplying all reportages. She prepares the field trips, looks for local contacts and explores field opportunities. She is the first contact person in relation with the subjects and gathers the testimonies of their lives. She wrote the text for Perrin’s monograph Artisans d’art de Paris and conducted the interviews for Detroit Resurgent.
Listen to an interview with Perrin and Ewenczyk on WKAR Radio.
Programs and partnerships:
May – December 2014
3408 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
Monique Watson, Worker, General Motors Volt Plant and Member, UAW Local 22, 2012