Lenses on Flint: City Inspires Book Project by 2 Young Photographers

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Outsiders can add an eye-opening perspective to a place we think we know.

Consider how two young New Yorkers frame Flint and some of its residents in a photography project they hope will become a crowd-funded publication and tablet app.  

Slate magazine's photo blog, Behold, posts 10 large examples of the "Welcome to Flint" images by former Rochester Institute of Technology classmates Brett Carlsen and Juan Madrid.

The pair started a $6,000 Kickstarter drive Thursday to publish their work as a color newsprint publication of 48-60 pages to be given away in Flint and sold elsewhere "for a low price." Twenty-five backers pledged $850 in the first two days of the month-long effort.

"Flint has made an amazing impact on us and we want to share that with anyone willing to look beyond the surface," Madrid writes at Kickstarter. 

The friends see themselves as "giving people a window into the lives of others" and "taking journalism back from a news media that is overwrought with sensationalism and fear-mongering," he adds.

Through extended stays and explorations of Flint, we have been let into the lives of many different people who make the city what it is. Our interactions have given us each our own unique understanding of Flint and its history.

We want to give something back to the community while also creating a wider context for conversations concerning the issues Americans are facing today. . . . Focusing on the negatives is the easiest way out -- we are connecting with the city on a human level in all of its beauty and ugliness.

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"There was a lot more to the city than I felt we were covering," says Brett Carlsen, a 2012 photography intern at The Flint Journal. (Facebook photo)

Carlsen, a Flint Journal photo intern last year, invited Madrid to visit and shoot. He quickly became intrigued, as Slate blogger Jordan G. Teicher describes:

On his first visit last August, Madrid met a former gang member who told him about how he turned his life around after getting out of prison. "Having that amount of openness on my first visit there really set me off, not just on the project, but gave me a renewed vigor for photography," Madrid said. . . .

The photographers shoot at the same time, but never together. Each of their bodies of work represents two different artistic approaches.

Carlsen, who studied photojournalism, looked to make connections and get access "behind closed doors," whether it was a church or a drug dealer's home. Madrid, who comes from a fine-art background, thrived on chance encounters. . . .

"I started realizing when I was at the paper that there was a lot more to the city than I felt we were covering," Carlsen said.

Carlsen set about photographing the city and meeting its residents, learning more about the its hardships since the collapse of the auto industry. "There's a lot of pride in the city. . . . It's a hard place to be from," he said.

The pair also were interviewed this month by Emanuele Berry for WKAR, an East Lansing public radio station.

Besides the newsprint publication, Madrid and Carlsen "are also working on an exhibition within the city and an app," they say on Kickstarter.

We want to democratize art and photography by removing it from the gallery setting and creating a community based showing that allows more people to understand and talk about photography but also starts conversations about the issues the photographs present and hopefully leads to action.

Carlsen has 10 images from the city on his website that aren't at Slate's blog. 

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