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‘Welcome to Flint’: Two Photographers Take On the Most Dangerous City in America

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Welcome to Flint is the ongoing collaborative project between New York-based photographers Juan Madrid and Brett Carlsen and their two different takes on a city presently known as the most dangerous in the U.S. Last year Carlsen spent the summer working as an intern at the Flint Journal. That’s when he reached out to Madrid and the two began working on the project, each taking multiple trips to Michigan to soak up as much Flint as possible, although rarely shooting together.

While their style and approach differs—Madrid from a fine art background and Carlsen a photojournalist—they complement each other with a mix of that stumble-upon feel and a sense of looking behind closed doors. “I’m shooting it the way I find it, just the city I love in all its good and bad glory,” Carlsen says. “I’m very good at talking to people, I’m brutally honest and I think people in a place like Flint can see that, as they don’t usually have time for bullshit.” Carlsen bounces around a few different groups of people, spending time with “strippers, drug dealers, rappers, recovering addicts, police officers and everything in between.”

Madrid says their approaches are on opposite ends of the spectrum, “as a photojournalist, Brett tends to find subjects to follow for a longer period of time than I do. I wander around the city and talk to strangers, often brief (and sometimes powerful) encounters that leave me with an impression of the people of Flint.” Madrid especially remembers when he met the man with the “Lost Soul” tattooed on his face. He had spent 10 years in prison for a gang-related murder he committed at 18. Now determined to change his lifestyle, “he made sure to tell me what the tattoo meant; it wasn’t that he was a lost soul, but that all of us are, if we don’t care. And if we don’t care, we’re better off dead,” Madrid recalls.

The collaboration sounds like a dynamic one, the two working to inspire and challenge the other, sending wide edits to each other to discuss the direction they’re independently headed—together. “I wouldn’t say it is on purpose but we kind of have this in mind while working on the project; he is going to photograph in his way and me in mine as to get more depth than if we did one or the other,” says Carlsen.

One thing is certain, these two photographers have found a place that they want to share, capturing a portrait of a city at the top of the list in violence and economic hardship, while mindful to shed light on what positive lies between. “The original plan was to have me photograph the good parts of Flint while Brett photographed the bad. I think it’s evolved a lot since then, with each of us capturing both good and bad but also moving beyond that to weaving a more complex narrative that isn’t about absolutes.” And isn’t it just that, the power of stories unfolding in nuanced ways, people and place taking the reigns if you let them. Welcome to Flint.

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Juan_Madrid_Photography

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Juan_Madrid_Photography
Photo: Juan Madrid

Brett_Carlsen_Photography
Photo: Brett Carlsen

  • Dominique b

    Well I hope they take photos of the college campuses, cultural center, downtown area, schools that are still strong, the less “ghetto” sides of Flint. The side that’s proud and has deep non-violent roots.

  • http://Lilmissinfamous.comandmnldesignlmi.com LilMissInfamous

    Hats off to you! I am a Flint born Engineer and Motorcycle airbrush artist. I was born and raised on Flints eastside which is now completely devastated. Mine and my husbands families were generations entrenched in the auto industry that pulled out and sunk our town. They had a responsibilty to the people they raised. I am now grown and trying to help my friends and family hold hope that we are not completely lost. We are changing the face of our space. Reality is not the castle, cinderella fantasy . That facade has no place for us now. Its wayyyyy out of reach.

  • Rena

    The photos tell alot about the City of Flint. Born and raised in Flint, I remember a booming city. When the shops were open, when you could walk to the local market, when there was concerts at Kersley Park. People took pride in their homes, and their communities. As I drove through Flint this past weekend for a one day visit its sad to see so many boarded up businesses and home’s as well as burnt businesses and homes. Empty lots were homes once stood. The elementary school that I attended from kindergarten through sixth grade gone. I pray for the city, and the people that still live their.

  • Anonymous

    Did either of these photographers think to focus any attention on some of the positive aspects if Flint – the Cultural Center, UofM campus, MCC, the great updating to downtown, the Farmers Market, The Crim.. etc. Yes, there are negative aspects to Flint, just like any other city, but there are also positive aspects as well. Maybe shine some light on those. When all people hear and see are the negative that is all they will believe. I do not just mean that for those outside looking in, but also for those living there. If negativety is what is encouraged… that is what you will get.

  • GD Flint Born and Raised

    I’m sure the positives of this shoot are going to go vastly unlooked. Not one single shot of the community coming together to rise from the ashes. Plight, drugs, violence, etc. This community has so much more to offer. More bad press is exactly what we need right? I spend a lot of time in downtown Flint and in the recent years the city has displayed a large sense of compassion and progression, none of which is documented here. This in all honesty… pisses me off.

  • https://www.facebook.com/SchmidtPK Paula K Schmidt

    Always wanted to do this…never felt I had the “street cred” if you know what I mean. Lived in and around Flint since 1985. Great stuff, guys!

  • Elizabeth

    While your photographs are beautiful and do portray some aspects of Flint, as a whole this is a very bias pictorial of a city. Flint has had its troubles no doubt and still has troubles (as do most cities), however it stories like this that keep pushing a community down. I give credit to the New York
    Times – in the past several years they’ve published two stories on Flint, positive ones. One on the renovations in Carriage Town of the beautiul historical homes and buildings. The other about the wonderful
    Urban Gardens on the north side and the great founder of these gardens and role model, Jackie King. Where are your photos of these? Or all the other downtown renovations? Photos of the young artistic community members enjoying the quirky establishments downtown? The Flint Farmers market? The gorgeous cultural center? UofM Flint? If you love to city, like you say, you would have give a fair view, and one that might add positive impressions and not just support the negative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/juliemoore13 Julie Moore

    I’d like to take these guys on a tour of Flint & show them what Flint really is about. They obviously used a very biased view of Flint that the media has embedded in people’s heads. Flint is a very beautiful & cultured city that has a tremendous amount to offer. This is a snapshot of what the media focuses on. Show the snapshot of why Flintstones are still here proud & strong using positive events to support our culture.

  • https://www.facebook.com/SchmidtPK Paula K Schmidt

    Did you commenters even read the article??

    “The original plan was to have me photograph the good parts of Flint while Brett photographed the bad. I think it’s evolved a lot since then, with each of us capturing both good and bad but also moving beyond that to weaving a more complex narrative that isn’t about absolutes.”

  • Horrible

    The negativity in all these photos, I’m appauled. A beautiful mural, racial acceptance, and smiling church goers. And the worst of it is the people in dire times, who still find a way to show love to animals and children.

    They really need to show more of the parts of Flint that are built on greed and corruption, that crap all over the rest of Flint. The places that the money gets spent on. The one’s that get the tax loopholes so funding can be cut to less “pretty” things, like law enforcement or the fire department.

    I mean, who wants to see reality anyway. Fantasy, castles, rainbows and unicorns…that’s Flint. Shame on you for showing that even in the “Most Dangerous City,” people there still have humanity. Shame on you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/juliemoore13 Julie Moore

    A photo is worth a thousand words. They don’t show anything positive in these photos. This is a snippet of Flint focusing on the negative.

  • Imogen Dylan

    It is sad to see how dire some people’s lives are in Flint, and yes, there are some much nicer and more positive parts of Flint to photograph. I understand all the previous comments, both condemning and supporting this photo project – condemning it for the showing the hard truths and supporting it for showing the hard truths (and the inherent beauty therein).

    Many people have left Flint – and bemoan its troubles – but those of us still here need to stop the finger pointing, put the sarcasm on hold and each come up with three positive things about Flint of which to be proud. And then we need to identify three action steps we, as individuals, can take to address ANY of the problems we see in our community. And THEN we need to take action ourselves. Sniping at one another or lamenting times gone by just leave us chasing our tails. Be the change you want to see in the world – and you’ll be too busy to point fingers or be critical of others.

    A footnote to “Horrible:” It is no surprise that people in desperate straights can, and do, show love, but let’s be honest, those pit bull puppies are slated for the dog fights that occur illegally all around Flint. If we’re going to be honest about graft and corruption and tax loopholes lets be honest about the photographic evidence in front of us.

  • http://Www.facebook.com/Photographsbydennis Dennis Gilmore

    I returned to Flint in March 2013 and shot a series called Black & White Through the City of Flint. And reached over 100,000 viewers on Facebook for the album. I put the good and the bad in there and Flint has some good aspects left. This is a who you know business and odd that out of towers come in when we have our own residents doing it too. I am in the process of getting a book published of the series of over 200 photographs. Please take a look on Facebook at Photographsbydennis in the B&W Through Flint Album.

  • http://newbeginningsfair.net Christopher Z. Paris

    I am appalled. These photos are NOT what the heart of Flint are all about. True, we do have urban blight and crime. Is there an North American city that does not?

    What amazes me the most is the hype which is created by these types of articles. What is the photographer’s and journalist’s REAL intentions here? Do you REALLY think that posting this is helping the people of the community? Or are you simply out for profiting from them? “The Most Dangerous City in the U.S.” must really need to be exploited in order to be helped eh?

    Where are photos of the Whiting Auditorium, The Flint Children’s Museum, The Longway Planetarium, Sloan Museum, The Flint Cultural Center, UM Flint, the nice downtown businesses and/or the Genesee Valley Center? I suppose when you are desperate for material to cause rhetoric, which in turn creates hysteria, then you need to put emphasis on the factors which are synonymous with and support such a mindset.

    Yes, thank you to “New York-based photographers Juan Madrid and Brett Carlsen and their two different takes on a city presently known as the most dangerous in the U.S.” Thank you both so much for your “unbiased” portrait of our city. Myself along with all of the business owners and other citizens here in this city are very grateful for the extra work you have made for us in rebuilding this community. So many of us try so hard to give back to this hamlet located in Mid-Michigan and we so appreciate your panic manifesting photos and depiction of it.

  • AMM

    I was born and raised in Flint, though am now in Minneapolis after 8 years in Chicago.

    Like many here I think this project is currently a little one sided and focused on the struggles of Flint. I return to Flint once or twice a year for holidays or weddings. Every time I’m home I’m surprised by how much good is being done in Flint even with all the bad. The Flint I know has a thriving Arts & Music scene, more college students than East Lansing, and the proudest and most sincere people you will ever meet.

    I’m also surprised by what is going on Downtown. I lived in a semi-legal loft on Saginaw St. for years, up until about 9 years ago. Back then there were very few businesses even open, and even fewer open past 5 or on the weekends. Now when I go home, I’m able to enjoy new bars, restaurants, a yoga studio, metaphysical store and pastry shop. More importantly, it has new, clean, and legal housing and dorms.

    Not all of Flint has changed for the better and it’s struggles with crime and poverty are nothing neither new nor shrinking, but their is a greater story to Flint, and I’d like to see more of that shown in the future.

  • Homey the Clown

    Nice. Flint has much more to offer than the ‘ghetto life’ that is portrayed in these photographs. This does nothing more than glamorize the type of people/lifestyles pictured.

  • Jennifer

    Photos, like art are subjective. There is beauty and positivity in these photos, you just have to look. I grew up outside of Flint and then lived downtown off of Grand Traverse and the Lyon Street. What has been captured in these pictures is the reality that goes unnoticed. Yes the campus and cultural areas are beautiful and positive, but one does not have to look very far to see those things. Thank you for sharing a different side of art in the vision of Flint.

  • Jan Russell

    I moved to Flint in 1971 when life was good for a huge middle class, snow mobiles, cottages, cars, a good life. It was also a place with a wonderful cultural center, Flint Institute of Arts, and a great community school system. Much of that remains but is forgotten amid the photos and crime statistics….schools in desperate shape….it’s a sad day and an example of times gone bad for a one company town that let itself get too dependent…

  • Mandy

    Yup, that looks like Flint, alright…

    People always want to rise up and defend this city anytime someone shows its bad side – especially if it is an “outsider”. Never mind that over 30% of all residences have been abandoned, the population has been cut in half over the last 40 years and around 40% of the people remaining are below the poverty level… we have a library!!

    What makes Flint different – what makes us stand out – is how far we’ve fallen. Most towns have a cultural area and schools, some historical renovations and yes, even a farmer’s market. Basically what most of you seem to be saying is that we have some normal stuff here, too. Great, but that isn’t what people find interesting about Flint. Those people looking in at our city, they don’t see the the new building at UM or restaurants downtown. They see miles upon miles of abandoned properties, hookers trolling Dort, and garbage piled in every gutter. They hear the gunshots at night and sirens all hours of the day. The difference is we are used to it. We see the trash, but focus on the better things so we don’t completely give up and take up a collection to wipe out the whole damned place. Survival mechanism?

    As Horrible noted… not all of the photos were negative. Hell, not even the majority, but I guess that depends on how you look at things. I see a man who turned his life around, a colorful mural, friends who don’t care about the color of each other’s skin, a joy-filled church, a funky green car that someone seems very proud of, a loving father with his son, and a dude with his obviously loved and cared for dogs. Even the punching bag… why is this bad? Because someone has to reach their fitness goals in a less than pretty way?

    Lastly, folks – this isn’t the entire portfolio. I’m guessing the writer and photographers chose these photos for their ability to pull in readers. There is a pretty good range of topics here. Maybe hold off your criticism until you see the rest?

  • bIZZY

    The whole town an People look so WAR TORN…. what a shame !!!!!! p.s YOU`VE DONE A GREAT JOB !!!

  • DanielleMW

    I would really like to read about the back stories of the people and places shown in these pictures. The photography is beautiful, though.

  • Evan

    Looks like most of you need to go back to grade school for reading comprehension. In the last paragraph:

    “The original plan was to have me photograph the good parts of Flint while Brett photographed the bad. I think it’s evolved a lot since then, with each of us capturing both good and bad but also moving beyond that to weaving a more complex narrative that isn’t about absolutes.”

    What’s ironic is that if these two were to take photos of just the “good side” of Flint, there would be people asking for representation for the grit and grime. The photos featured in this article are not representative of the entire project’s feel, just what the writer chose to place within the article.

    Personally, I’m excited about this project, and would love to see the narrative that these guys wind up telling through their photos.