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A vendor holds up 9 dollars bills with Obama's face on it.

Photo thought of the day…While organizing content for my website, I came across the photos I took when my brother, his Swedish wife and I took the 4:30am train down to DC to watch Obama be sworn in. It is an amazing experience putting my first website together bc I get to look through all my work and have a platform to show my photographs and video. Check out From Slavery to History on my website.

Here are some lessons I have been learning over the past week summed up in one-liners.

Work

-During a New York Times shoot I was in a very small town with one intersection photographing a mail box. I was hired to photograph a mailbox. And it was stressful because I could have done it wrong. I paused, with encouragement from my wife, stopped, stood, and realized that all I could see what what I saw. So I took the picture of what was in front of me.

-Content is still king. It is easy to get wrapped up in producing to please others or for hits, for my own idea of success or for what I can hope to become. All of those motives have given me a portfolio of diverse work but have left me to understand that I am starting a new now that I have recognized that the only motive I should attach to exists simply within what has created me.

-The key to failure is trying to please everyone.

-Comparison is death when it becomes how the way I value my work. Constant comparison marginalizes my work by influencing me to believe my work is only valuable when it looks like some other work I have seen.  Comparison leads to a constant game of catch up. An important part of production is to relax and value what is in front of me and give it the time to be produced into it’s fullest potential.

Work + Faith

-God has called me into a specific calling. Even though other filmmaker’s and photographer’s careers look very attractive, I have my own path that will lead me.

-The young rich ruler that the bible references has no recorded name 2000 years later. He had a name once but what he built his life around, his identity was what he became known for and is remember by.

Faith

-There is no separation between work and faith.

-I am having to believe that God is doing something great in me. I undervalue his work often and with the gift of my wife I have begun to understand how important I am to Him.

-While asking God to point out the idols in my life he has spoken in many answers. For a long time I was working to become known, to have my work known, to have identity in more than just me. He revealed that I am a master of masking my search to be included in this world with the good intention of being a Christ follower. Even while preparing my new website and blog I had to check myself that I wasn’t just preparing to be famous by setting up a system by which to be famous.

-I am learning there is so much joy in the Lord as I abandon hope in the mirages of this world.

-As God’s creation, we are made to search for Him and his son Jesus. All of creation screams his glory. I search as often as I can for everything that was created through Him, totally not giving Him glory, but holding up all he has given me and could give me as my hope. And then He reminds me He is there and all everything everywhere is to point to Him.

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During Stephen McGee Films shoot

During our interview with Naomi Long for Kresge Arts in Detroit I used the same camera I was shooting the interview with to snap a quick portrait. I toggled the setting on the back of the 5d Mark II to my black and white mode and took this shot. I love Naomi Long's poetry and love for other poets.

“This just in!!!! Detroit photographer and cinematographer Stephen McGee unveils new website showcasing his ten years of reportage photography and short films and it encourages people to document the world around them to help others and educate “.

Well, Thats what I hope the headlines will say but for now I just wanted to share with the few people that read my blog that my new site is being launched today. I am still making modifications and adding Portfolios with old work.

You can visit the site here… www.stephenmcgeefilms.com

I will also start posting my creative process as I finish my 96th film for Kresge Arts in Detroit.

All while learning more about my faith and where I belong in this visual world. Would love to know what you think!

My friend Jackie Victor and I were talking about major media being in town to cover Detroit.  I was at my usual spot, Avalon, discussing that most stories being told were actually just being retold. The packard plant being on the cover of a major magazine addressing Detroit was the example we both agreed not the best choice from a Detroiters’ perspective for a cover shot that should have been different.

So what story isn’t being told? I’m 22,000 images into a photo/video documentary in my search for who detroit is. My hope with this letter is to ask the detroiters themselves to help me by opening their lives. (thank you to those who have volunteered so far).

Please read this blog post and help me find the stories to tell. from bar mitzvah to mosques, car lovers to the unemployed, young and successful to a hip hop artist. My goal is 70 day-in-the-life photo stories with video and written components in the next 12 months.

My mom just wrote to me this after she read this desire to photograph Detroit, “My prayer is that you will look to those who are doing good in Detroit, to those who are living productive lives in Detroit, to those who are in love and making their way in Detroit. Look to the sprouting seeds, the seeds of new life.” I hope the same thing mom. Continuing…

As Detroiter who travels the world working on photo/video assignments, I have now turned my focus to cover Detroit for the next year. And I am going to rely fully on stories from Detroiters focusing most of storytelling through photography. For 7 of the next 12 months, I want to document the city of Detroit in depth using both photographs and video to create a traveling photography exhibition and feature length film. With letters from the Detroit citizens in the exhibit this will finally be a visual example of our city that doesn’t mock or attack, but just documents the life of the people. I want to live with you and document what you do. Sounds strange but that is how the best photographs come from and is where the spirit of Detroit can be found.

In the city that modernized the industrial line giving jobs to tens of thousands of immigrants and American citizens alike I ask how can the American Dream still exist for the citizens of a city that is not only mocked for it’s existence but on the fridge of bankruptcy. If you have a detroit moment coming up that I should photograph, or a story that I should interview you about, please contact me and you can be part of something huge.

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As a Detroit citizen by choice, I have throughout the past three years, photographed and filmed the daily life happening around me in Detroit.  From refrigerators flying out of high apartments windows to shootings to a 6th grade ceremony for Obama’s inauguration. I, with many of the new young homeowners in this city, share an optimism and see the potential in the shell of this former great American icon.  The optimism is not seen easily nor can it be reached by simply driving around viewing the many insecurities like attractions that encompass Detroit.

The focus will include a study on quality of life, the basic human rights that being met or not met and the definition of community in the terms of local and world view. Detroit was made, remade and unmade by the automobile industry over the course of the twentieth century creating within its city limits a human geography of race, class and power unique in America.  Amidst the constant negative news coverage and the doom and gloom of the 2008 and
2009 economic crisis, many Detroiters remain optimistic of another rebirth for their city.  Holding on to what citizens in other cities might take for granted, Detroiters share a strong sense of pride in their
common luxuries like the corner grocery store, cafe or church.  Detroit is a city whose boundaries are known, its history is written, its current status is unknown, its budgets, rhetoric and problems has been placed for the world to see (and mock) and its murder rate at an all time high.  Yet, with all
of that, I have found that individuals who are drawn to this city invest with a hope of being part of the change that is inevitable in thought and hope.  But with each investment comes the high possibility of failing if the investment isn’t timed correctly.

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I still don’t believe that Detroit has been written about in the popular media in the way that makes Detroiters proud and at the same time educates others. Over the past 5 months the city I have lived in for 3 years now has been swarming with foreign correspondents trying to get their story’s edge on a city that has been around for awhile. I say swarming because their are not too many of us freelancers here and it is easy to spot an outsider.  With most of the auto reporting being done from outside the city limits of Detroit I want to focus inside this great American icon that helped build America into the country it is today.

“There is so much unknown” a local mid-50s white male architect said during one of Detroit’s only fashion shows I photographed in the past year at the Detroit Artists Market.  “Which is why I stay,” he finished.  Here in Detroit I am a difference.  I, like the cars that make up most of America today, am an import.  I have driven slowly to enjoy what I see and have come from trips
abroad and have had to breathe slowly just to remember why I remain here.  Each hopeful Detroiter goes through their own recessions of doubt with the lure of another state’s common luxuries beckoning.  Much more than my desire to photograph and film my city is the desire for the inhabitants of
Detroit to have a voice of their own. As a Detroiter I want with the Guggenheim grant to give that voice and with that voice I think many outsiders will begin to think differently about how they not only
respond to the reports from popular media but how they look at their own communities to find that place is more than buildings, but are people.

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“People don’t want to know about the good in Detroit”, one news editor told me.  From my windows of an American built house and American built car I notice the light in the city, the possibility, the citizens in the city left for dead.  I continue to call Detroit my home even with all my travel to 28 different countries.  I have lived everywhere people want to live; California, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Italy.  The difference is that I am a difference here.  Not in a way prideful or bold, but in a way that by echoing the determination of the
few, in a way where I am accepted by other citizens instantly as a part of something larger, in a way that every single person in this community can be which is by taking advantage of the possibility to make a change here by being the change.  Conversation first.  Investment second.  It is not that I look past the hurt, it is that I, we, Detroiters, know that the past, pain, and failing industry exists and we count it as blocks for
building.

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It seems to most of the citizens of Detroit that the world doesn’t want Detroit to succeed.  For many of the young working class the day will come when the world finds Detroit as a center for possibility. In this transition to despair or success, there needs to be a proper documentation of what Detroit is now. “Detroit always finds itself” a subject of mine said in an interview.   Until financial stability comes the citizens of Detroit must hold on to what remains with or without the economy… hope.

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