CLOSE UP: Emma Beckett – Conversations with Detroit


We met Emma through a talk and portfolio review at the University of Northampton, and were impressed with her passion for her work. Her latest project Conversations with Detroit presents a complex and fascinating view of the city, highlighting the rich cultural and creative scene, and painting an intimate portrait of its vibrant, artistic and passionate inhabitants. Emma has taken Conversations with Detroit on tour as an exhibition, and is now hoping to create a book from the project.

Emma is a freelance travel and editorial photographer working on self-led assignments, commissions and editorial stories. She has photographed in Morocco, Amsterdam, Paris, Milwaukee, New York, Detroit, all across the UK and in Ireland. She makes intimate and creative portraits that reflect the story of her subjects, with images that are painstakingly crafted from conception, through lighting, shooting and post production.

Here Emma chats freely about her passion and connection with Detroit, the journeys she has taken, and the ones she hopes to go on.



Conversations with Detroit is more than a body of work documenting Detroit city, it is a multi-stranded collaboration.

The exhibition of this body of work that toured this year is the culmination of a year's research and investigation into Detroit city, Michigan, that began with curiosity about the controversy surrounding Detroit's bankruptcy in 2013, and the tendency of the film industry to portray Detroit in a negative light. The proliferation of negative media that Detroit attracts made it the perfect subject to explore, knowing that there is often beauty in chaos.

After months of analysis of the rich culture of art in Detroit, I was inspired to begin interacting with Detroit artists, and engage in conversations about what Detroit city is to them. The degradation and abandonment in the city, although haunting, provides a rich environment for artists to be inspired and display a fiery passion for their city and the difficulties they face. This show was also my celebration of the people who inspired me and the creative vision that runs through the veins of the city.



Vito Valdez showed me the city as a place where artists try to bridge the gap between gangs with creativity and public art work. Sabrina showed me the city as a place where it is necessary to have campaigns like #blacklivesmatter and a city that was home to many artists using their skills to be a group voice standing against the unfairness and the discrimination. Joe showed me that the city was a place where many artists who wanted an anonymous voice used the walls of the derelict buildings as their canvas, to shout their messages to others who shared the space, giving voice to artists who are more anarchic in nature. Brittany and Riet showed me a city where communities are using the canvas of the landscape to demonstrate the unique and hugely successful ways in which we can implement city spaces for self sustainability. This has inspired and motivated me to take the momentum of what I learned through Detroit's re-greening movement and apply it in my next project, Two Wolves, which will be a photographic enquiry into alternative choices that people make in their lifestyles.

Detroit in all her guises gave me a different framework to define myself as an artist. I am a fine art, socio-documentary photographer, who creates narratives reflecting my organic approach to subjects that interest me and pull at my curiosity. I see my art as a medium for bringing these discussions to pass through my audience.



Detroit is simultaneously the scariest place and most creatively inspiring place I have ever set foot in. I believe completely that the city is indeed rising up again and will go to new heights. The hipster community is growing every month as is the number of artists who either head to the city or accidentally pause long enough find themselves moving there to be a part of the creative community.

I now also work in 360 imaging, VR tours and video and would love to secure funding to go back to Detroit, to continue my work and work with the same artists again after a year of friendship. If I find funding I will go back to the places that I shot in my work and shoot interactive 360 VR images. Everyone who engaged in the work left with a new understanding of Detroit, and with social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube now allowing 360 content to be uploaded and utilised there are new levels that we can take the interaction to. VR imaging allows viewers to engage at a much deeper level with environments that they may never step foot in.

I want to find the right publishers to take on this project. I have an idea of how the book will feel but am completely open to collaborating with a publisher on every element of the book's design and birth. My dream is for this work to be published in a book. Detroit is an emerging city right now and it feels important to document it, showing the world that Detroit is a city full of inspiration and promise. If I can find a publisher to work with Dana McMahon, established writer in America, would be perfect to write for this project.


All images © Emma Beckett

You can see more work by Emma Beckett in her Shutter Hub portfolio, here.


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