Flint, Michigan: Pride For a City Still Struggling

Flint, Michigan: Pride For a City Still Struggling

This is the latest in our One Photo series, where photographers share their most meaningful photo and the story behind it.  

We asked freelance photographer Brett Carlsen to share the story behind this photo of a young man from Flint, Michigan.  

What is this a photo of? What’s the subject and when did you take it?

This is a photo of a young man from Flint, Michigan. His name is Marq Stephens. He was playing basketball in a popular sports facility on the city’s northside. This photo is part of a series on the area surrounding Berston Field House after the water crisis was in full swing.

Marq Stephens 19, takes a break from a basketball game to show off his tattoos that read “Flint Made” on his forearms, the scar on his chest is from suffering a cardiac arrest in his teenage years. Photograph by Brett Carlsen

Why does this one photo mean a tremendous amount to you?

I was on assignment for the Undefeated, which at the time was in its beginning stages of existence. It meant a lot to be asked to contribute on one of the publication’s first assignments — the amount of trust that showed was tremendous and not something I took for granted.

I was on assignment and looking to make photographs in a neighborhood I knew very well and spending a considerable time with these guys playing basketball. My goal is to make the photographs I intend to, but I always look for details that tell a story more than words can.

On this day, I started to look at their tattoos. Several had Flint themed tattoos, but Marq had one a bit different. It said, “Flint Made”. This speaks to a larger story and questions. After such a crisis, where does the city go from there?

I framed him in a beautiful light and cleaned up the background so the focus is solely on his skin. But it’s his smile that really makes the frame. A happy coincidence I couldn’t have planned.

Tattoo on a man’s chest to represent his city: Flint, Michigan. Scenes from Flint’s East Side. Photograph by Brett Carlsen

Why does this photo still move you today?

I love the city of Flint. It is where I did my first internship out of college, and went on to make an entire book of work there called Welcome to Flint. I just think it is an amazing place. To be trusted with telling a story from it’s endless book was an honor, and this frame still encapsulates what I think the city stands for to me.

A dealer pets the 6 week old pit bull he received 2 days prior between rounds of shooting dice. Photograph by Brett Carlsen

What has this photo taught you about being a photographer?

You always have to look a little deeper. In so many jobs, assignments or projects, you can get close enough to a successful photograph if you are somewhat proficient. But staying locked in and digging deeper will always add more.

That could be sticking with a play in a football game just an extra couple of steps, or it could be another trip on a personal project, or just one more look during a commercial gig. It is so easy to walk away when you first think “I got it!” but the extra effort almost always pays off. I have learned and applied this across my career. It’s uncomfortable and seems wasteful at times, but it pays off big when you least expect it.

Brett Carlsen has also been a PhotoShelter member since 2011. We asked Brett to share a few thoughts on what he loves most about the platform.

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