Some of Detroit's Major Miracle Makers
How many people does it take to make a miracle – especially a Detroit miracle?
In Les Ward's definition, it takes about 84. Eighty four dynamic, daring and adventuresome people. The kind of people who believe in what I describe as my mother's motto: Lead, follow or get out of the way.
Ward is what he describes as an advertising photographer. I call him a man with an excellent eye, a persuasive temperament and some good ideas. After all, he talked some of the region's most reclusive and exclusive characters into giving him an hour of their time…and, even more importantly, some of their words.
The result is “MyTown Miracles: Portraits of Possibility,” a book that combines photos of these 84 do-gooers and a paragraph or two from each about why they do what they do for and around Detroit. Who agreed to be in the book? There's car guys like Bob Lutz, Bill Ford Jr., Roger Penske. There's business leaders and politicians like Dave Bing, Matt Cullen, John Hantz and Phil Cooley. There's religious leaders such as Cory J. Chavis and Rev. Faith Fowler. There's art mavens like Graham Beal, Jeff Daniels, David DiChiera, Tyree Guyton. Then there are the grass-roots champions like Grace Lee Boggs, Ismael Ahmed, Larry Mongo.
You don't know some of those names? Better pick up a copy of the book. And a percentage of the money raised through your purchase will go back to help COTS (the Coalition On Temporary Shelter). Nice, huh?
Some background: Les Ward came up with the book idea when he was in a coaching class on self-expression and leadership for Landmark Education. Everyone in the class had to do a “community project.” He decided to use his skills as a shutterbug to make a difference.
At first, he wanted to find 20 “unstoppable” Detroit leaders. He would snap a few pix, hang them in a gallery and be done with it. He had some contacts, so Ward figured he could get a celebrity or two. Two years later...It took months to get Bill Ford Jr., for example. Other times, he got lucky. With Bob Lutz, Ward was promised 20 minutes and ended up watching the veteran car guy hold court for triple that. It never hurts that the photo of Lutz is simply stunning, making him like James Bond, hanging out in his airplane hanger in front of a Stingray.
“People made calls, and one thing led to another,” Ward said.
Then, the economy tanked. Suddenly, these power brokers weren't so accessible anymore. The car guys? They were in Washington D.C. doing these Congressional hearings or something. You know. But Ward kept plugging away. He got a great spot to show off his work during the Auto Show at Cobo Center. Then he got some nice press from The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press. The number of people he photographed jumped from 20 to 68 to 84.
Ward made it even better – he asked every one of his subjects to write up how they felt about their work and their city. No media hype, no canned copy. This had to be genuine and from the heart. He even sent back work when Ward felt it wasn't sincere enough. And those unstoppable people actually stopped what they were doing and got serious. “It's not about a press release. It's about them,” Ward said.
Thanks to this book – and others, like “Lost Detroit” and “Reimagining Detroit” – the city has given some recognition to its great champions and received some good press. I'm happy to highlight these and any other books that tell our story in a way that helps, not hinders. These are people who truly could live anywhere, Ward notes. And they all chose to live in and around Detroit.
I leave you with one more Ward quote. I think it's pretty fitting:
“I've almost moved to LA a couple of times. I'm an automotive and lifestyle photographer, and that might be a better fit for me,” Ward said. “But I've lived here my whole life. I've traveled all around the country and I've always liked being here. … It's not a book necessarily about Detroit. It's about the transformation all urban areas all over the world must make. It's 84 conversations about being in action now.”
First edition copies may be purchased by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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