The national news is full of stories about the revitalization of Detroit, but while these generally paint an optimistic portrait of a city on the rise, many neighborhoods and residents still feel like they are being left out.
With the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Riots having just passed (July 23rd, 1967-July 23rd, 2017), my work focuses on the lives and stories of people still living in “old Detroit”—those who have yet to feel the ripple effects of downtown development, and who fear they never will.
My work documents the aftermath of Detroit’s decline and its ever-changing future. There is a resurgence of hope that Detroit can promise a better life for people—if they can afford it. New commercial developments spark hope of progress, but they also overshadow the city’s history. Old communities like Black Bottom have all but disappeared; the city has glossed over this loss with a fresh coat of paint, while many locals are still enduring what seems like a never-ending past: poverty, uneven job prospects, poor school systems, high crime and evictions.
After going through some of the worst riots in U.S. history and now coming out of bankruptcy, I explore the parts of Detroit that feel they are beyond the orbit of the city’s ongoing transition. Using the desolate cityscape as the backdrop, I wander through this landscape either by foot or in a car, searching for a past that’s creeping along with the present. By creating a narrative that is sincere to everyday life in Detroit, I hope to capture the people and moments that are at risk of being buried by burgeoning developments and an influx of new city dwellers.
Editors’ note: We discovered Jarod Lew’s work thanks to the organizers behind “Documenting Detroit.” Lew was a fellow in their program for emerging and early career photographers. Discover the other 2016 fellows and learn more about this important and inspiring initiative.
If you’re interested in seeing more stories like this, we’d recommend the following previous features: Detroit from Up Close and On High, a series of aerial and street-level views of the city that reveals the close pairing of young money with struggling communities; Detroit Nocturne, nighttime portraits of small businesses in Detroit that challenge the narrative about the city’s economic decline and recent rebirth; and Detroit Stories, portraits that address how the upheavals affect local and community memory.