photographer bolade banjo captures a different side to detroit

"They think Brighter than you Shine" is a visual journey of a city whose world-changing creativity is often ignored.

by Bojana Kozarevic
03 October 2017, 2:13pm

This article was originally published by i-D UK.

Photographer Bolade Banjo's new book They think Brighter than you Shine, is a visual journey of the captivating city of Detroit. It shows the city's people, its communities, and the perseverance of humanity during a time of what feels like consuming hardships.

As a photographer, London-born Bolade's emotive lens is a calligraphy of expression. The personal curiosity never wavers — and with a book that is all about the idea of tenacity, the young artist in turn also displays his own unique journey.

"The creativity that comes out of Detroit despite, or rather, because of its difficult history, especially musically, has had such an enduring global influence," says Bolade. "What really stood out to me are the people of the city, who've stayed through the hard times and found creative ways to live and work despite being denied resources and support through its "urban decline." They are inspiring and welcoming and full of life."

What was the impetus for doing this book?
It came out of curiosity and an eagerness to travel and see things for myself. I wanted to see more of America. Going to Detroit wasn't really about going somewhere new but going somewhere that felt familiar while it was new at the same time. I have a lot of love and admiration for both places so I made a point to return to Detroit anytime I was back in the States. I wanted to continue exploring that connection I felt with the city.

Where did the title for the book come from?
There are people that project a false sense of reality and make those around them feel some way about their place in the world, and that's false shining! Shining that is all for show. Then on the flip, you have people who have actually lived the experiences that shape their ideas, who have gone through hardship and not allowed it to make them feel lesser, who think beyond what they are told to think. Their challenges have pushed them to be better and know themselves more, and that was a lot of the people I met in Detroit.

What, for you, is perseverance?
It's something that has taken some time to understand and put into practice, but for me, it means never giving up regardless of the obstacles that stand in your way. It means you keep going and trying with an understanding that some changes take more than one generation to realize. It's taking the long view and realizing your opportunity came from the perseverance of the people who came before you, and that the perseverance you practice now is not just for you but for the people who will come after you.

What's special about Detroit?
Everything that people find special about America. It's like a microcosm of America where you're going to find Southern, Midwestern, Western, rural, urban, young, old influences all represented in a single city. Also, the creativity that comes out of it despite or rather because of its difficult history, especially musically, it's had such an enduring global influence. Like our own present-day dance culture in London — that's heavily influenced by Detroit. But from my visits there, what's really stood out to me are the people of the city, who've stayed through the hard times and found creative ways to live and work despite being denied resources and support through its "urban decline." They are inspiring, and welcoming and full of life. They made me feel at home.

Why did you choose the collaborators you did for the music?
I met John FM through my mate Joey2Lanes and we hit it off, spending a lot of time exploring the city, listening to music, and talking. He's got a wild amount of knowledge of the city with a lot of thoughtful perspectives that shaped the story I wanted to tell with my photographs, a story about perseverance and creativity and self-possession.
The soundtrack he made is so versatile and a cocktail of what I feel is a new Detroit sound, and I like the way it works alongside the images in a way you don't expect. You feel something different each time you go through the book with a different part of the soundtrack playing. It's nuts, he smacked it!

What's your best memory of Detroit?
There have been a few but my top two might have to be finding out that I was living on the same road as Grace Lee Boggs, who was one of the reasons why I decided to work on a series about Detroit. And driving home from a party with a bunch of people, listening to "Jasmine" by Jai Paul and debating whether or not he would put more music out or whether he even needs to because Jasmine is so perfect.

What do you see when you photograph?
To see someone's particular beauty or "them-ness," to see something in someone you don't see anywhere else and capture it with a photograph. It's a feeling I can't really compare to anything else. And then thinking about the people who are the audience and representation. The same elements of yourself you might feel like you have to hide or change due to social pressures, you might feel proud of seeing it represented as a strength by someone in a book, fashion image, film, or music video. That diversity of representation is important to me, seeing and showing all the different ways we can be inspiring and give each other confidence.

They think Brighter than you Shine is available to buy here.

bolade banjo