“Detroit is the greatest city in the world,” said Cyrus Tetteh, 30, a Detroit-based photographer who has released a photo book titled Only in Detroit. It’s the message he wants to send to the world, and he hopes it’s what people take the front of his moments chronicled behind the lens.
“This place is very interesting, fascinating, amazing, and it’s a place where you would want to go there, right now.”
That’s his view of what Detroit is right now, seen from his first-hand account of the progress this urban town has endured in years past.
Tetteh grew up in a city of crime and abandonment. He, like so many other Detroiters around his age, has heard countless stories about how good Detroit used to be and how it transformed from a city of Black power and thriving Black businesses to a place in ruin by blight and decay.
“Talking to someone about Detroit has changed so much,” Tetteh explains. “As a teenager going out of town and telling someone I’m from Detroit, (I heard) ‘Oh wow. I heard it’s bad there.” It often left him with no alternate way of explaining the reality and sometimes agreeing with the ugly truth as he saw it.
That all changed in 2017 following his graduation from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, when he obtained a position as a photographer in the City of Detroit’s media services department.
“This allowed me to get a front-row seat to the rapid change and everything new that the city was experiencing,” Tetteh says. It feels like a privilege to have experienced the city from this point of view.”
The images of Detroit look completely different to him now from his own personal lens as a professional photographer.
“I feel like it was finally time for me to share what I’ve been experiencing and to share with the city and to the world.”
That’s when he decided to encapsulate the beauty of the city, as he had been capturing it for years through his work with the city, into an anthology book of photography. In a city known for its rich history, culture, and resilience, his captivating visual journey offers an exclusive glimpse into some of the Motor City’s most iconic moments and celebrated figures from 2017 to 2022.
Tetteh’s book captures the true spirit of Detroit, shares the incredible moments of the culture and what makes it vibrant, and showcases the tenacity and strong will of its people. Only in Detroit challenges the constant years-long stereotypes and misconceptions about the city and shows what truly makes it blossom into its greatness.
“It’s easy for someone from the outside looking in to make blind comments, but Detroit is still a foundational pillar to this country’s past, present, and future successes,” said Tetteh.
“Growing in Detroit all my life, most of the media headlines would depict Detroit with a negative focus, rarely positive – it was always violence (and) poverty, and I’m hoping to change that, recreating the image of our city.”
The 96-page book features a variety of exclusive, never-before-seen photographs, including intimate shots from the funeral of Motown Legend Aretha Franklin, rare glimpses of billionaire Mike Bloomberg during his visit to Detroit, heartwarming moments with Mary Wilson of the Supremes at the Brewster Projects where she grew up, and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ visits to Detroit.
Tetteh’s inspiration for Only in Detroit has been to show Detroiters and outsiders that the city shouldn’t be defined only by negativity but by its resilience, creativity, and moments of triumph.
All photographs in the book were taken within the city limits, showcasing its authenticity and true character.
“There have been so many profound moments that I want people to see,” he says. “There are a lot of unique and genuine moments that are true to the city. I just want to create an awareness around a piece of visual storytelling that represents the Detroit that I want to represent and that I live in.”
On his website, OnlyInDetroit.net, where the book is available for purchase, Tetteh describes the work: “The book, a labor of love, is the antithesis of the once popular ‘ruin porn’ produced by photographers who swooped into the city during Detroit’s darkest days and took photos of areas in deep decline. By contrast, Tetteh’s art is vivid and filled with life. His use of color and composition captures his subjects in the most honest and captivating ways. His is a vision of hope.”