Work / Photography

Bolade Banjo photographs the perseverance of Detroit’s student athletes

For photographer Bolade Banjo, creating or documenting a narrative through a lens has always been at the forefront of his practice. “Since a child, I have always been interested in visual storytelling, the joy you felt when engulfed with imagery and how much one could learn while experiencing something new,” he tells It’s Nice That.

London-born Bolade, a graduate of The Brit School, whose interests lie “in various marginalised social groups”. While in London, the photographer created a documentary short, SE, for which he won the BDC best documentary award in 2012. Five years later, the photographer is applying this interest on the other side of the world, living in New York, and in his new book The think Brighter than you Shine, based in Detroit.

The book developed in the photographer’s “pursuit of the truth,” he explains. “I didn’t want to fall victim to ‘he said, she said’ talk about a city that many people hold dear, so I decided to go and find out for myself.” Visiting Detroit over an eight month period, Bolade learned more about the stories he had heard of the Michigan city. “From the riots and how it affected the city, the motor industry that acted as the back bone for America at one point, to the bankruptcy scandal with Dave Bing. All things that are common stories told about Detroit, but I knew there was something else there, due to the creative and musical history of the city.”

In meeting “musicians, teachers, artists, young people and even senior citizens,” Bolade gained a truthful insight to the inner workings of Detroit. The first in a series, They think Brighter than you Shine displays how “perseverance can be channelled into creativity and excelling in an individual’s pursuit of happiness,” says Bolade. A meeting with the principal of Western International High School, Angel M. Garcia, and musicians John Fm and Nolan Young, helped the photographer to witness this characteristic of perseverance even more so, “a theme that not only pushed people to become better, but also united a city in an ongoing narrative”.

Angel’s particular work with the high school has allowed Western to become one of the highest ranked schools in the city, and in particular its athletic students excel and feature heavily in Bolade’s publication. “What drew me to shoot these young men was the pride and ownership I saw in them… Young men from a variety of backgrounds, coming together in some sort of brotherhood to work together for an advancement despite the odds against them.”

The photographer additionally noticed that this perseverance was a common entity between sports and music. As a result, the publication comes with an accompanying 25-minute soundtrack by musician, John FM, providing a soundscape of the city. They think Brighter than you Shine is available this weekend at the New York Book Fair at MoMA PS1 at the Printed Matter stand.


Bolade Banjo: They think Brighter than you Shine


Bolade Banjo: They think Brighter than you Shine


Bolade Banjo: They think Brighter than you Shine


Bolade Banjo: They think Brighter than you Shine


Bolade Banjo: They think Brighter than you Shine


Bolade Banjo: They think Brighter than you Shine