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.