For some time, the city of Detroit has come to occupy a space in the collective American imagination as a region drenched in negative connotations. But anyone who has ever lived in a city bound up in the nuances of community living knows that portrayals of this nature are never as simple as they seem. There are countless individuals in Detroit who represent the antithesis to this narrative, and the city’s flourishing arts scene is a testament to the rich culture of a district burdened by adverse media coverage. One individual working to shed light on Detroit’s reality is Jeremy Brockman, a filmmaker whose passion for shooting still images comes from their direct contrast to the methodical planning and editing involved in his cinematic work.
Brockman was born and raised in Detroit, and his project Sunday Morning focuses on the religious and spiritual events that he came to realize form an integral part of the city’s DNA. Growing up in a Christian, African-American community, he saw his faith evolve throughout his life into a practice rooted in asking questions and perpetuating dialogue about his beliefs. This personal experience prompted Brockman to explore other faiths championed by African-Americans in the city. He explains, “As I began to learn more and observe more about the way Christian doctrine was being taught, I began to wonder about African-Americans of other faiths. How are their communities? What is their way of thinking?”
The resulting images are intimate moments of calm and pacificity, only revealed as belonging to a religious or spiritual context when viewed as an expansive series. The poetic scenes embody the natural osmosis of community and spirituality, offering an unsullied perspective on Detroit. “Most of the images I capture are some of the more quiet moments that I feel are so vital to the religious experience, yet are often overlooked. When the African-American spirituality is thought of, usually the ‘loudest’ images come to mind – crying, shouting, dancing, etc. That’s praise, and that’s the exclamation point, but what happens after that? I’ve always been drawn to the quiet moments—the worship. That’s where the real conversation with God happens. In a way, this is a form of worship for me.”
The beauty of Brockman’s work is that its intention isn’t to address Detroit’s issues. Rather, it’s meant to present an alternative narrative that courses naturally throughout the city. After a lifetime of grappling with his hometown’s stereotypes, Brockman’s work is grounded in the impetus to gradually unbraid these unfortunate tropes. “There are several misconceptions about Detroit that annoy me. I’d run out of space listing them all. The biggest I would say is that people who live in the city are ‘stuck’ here. There are people here who have been here and want to be here through all the ups and downs. They’ve been making the most out of what they have because they don’t want to leave. They have roots here—family, businesses, homes, investments. They are Detroit to the core and will do all they can to make the best life for themselves in this place.”
Editors’ note: We discovered Jeremy Brockman’s work thanks to the organizers behind “Documenting Detroit.” Day was a fellow in their program for emerging and early career photographers. We encourage you to learn more about this important and inspiring initiative.