Flint is a place

Zackary Canepari

2012 - Ongoing

Michigan, United States

This is a story about Flint, Michigan, both as it’s perceived and experienced. Flint no longer needs an introduction after this past year and it probably hasn’t needed one for the past 30 years. The city has long been the the poster child for the American dream gone wrong. Between Michael Moore and the Water Crisis, everyone knows what to expect when they hear the name “Flint”. Economic, political and social dysfunction. In a perfect world, these photos would be conveying some other reality, they would show you another story. But these ideas about Flint are accurate. Flint is a place of struggle. It’s true and everybody knows it. And that’s what this body of work is all about.

I’m interested in how ridiculous and terrible what has happened to this city is. There's something surreal and unbelievable about a place of 100,000 people snarled in this much drama and the photos here are meant to convey what it feels like on the ground. The visceral reality. The dirty shoes. To be in the dirty shoes of Flint means you’re not on the ground. It means you’re standing up. Resilient and proud. There is a lot in Flint that people don’t get to see. My goal in this project is not to show people someplace that they don't know. My goal is to put them in a place that they think they do know.

Some of it is intimate and character-driven. Briana and her son Fatdaddy (his real name is Bradford but no one calls him that). Sabrina and her granddaughter Hazel. Peanut, Frost, DJ and Balasko. Some of it is about the context in which they live. The handgun hidden next to the pancake mix. The body under the yellow tarp found on a morning walk. The billboards reminding people that boiling water does not remove lead. Some of it is about theater. The ex-mayor eating a coney dog after he lost the election. The High School welcoming President Obama. The Police officer testing a gas mask as he prepares for civil unrest that ultimately never comes.

What happens in Flint happens in many other urban American cities. But in Flint, it happens all at once. It’s what make Flint so important in the national conversation. It’s like a testing zone for American mismanagement. Eventually, something will have to change. Flint can’t go on like this. Better seems really far fetched. Worse seems almost unimaginable. Crazy as it seems people will be there no matter what. Cause they’re proud. Or cause they’re stuck. Flint is a failed place. With a lot of character. That’s the part of the story that I want to focus on. Somewhere between those two facts is reality.

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  • The Northwestern High School dance team performs during half time of the first football game of the season. As the population of Flint declines so does school enrollment. It’s gotten to the point that the city is considering consolidating all the remaining students into one high school.

  • A photo lays on the ground in an abandoned house in Flint, Michigan. Flint has the infrastructure to house about 180,000 people but the population has fallen to under 100,000 leaving many empty properties. Often these houses have personal items left behind by the last families that lived there.

  • A Flint Police Officer gets fitted for a gas mask. Because of the Water Crisis the FPD has been preparing for civil unrest but with their low employment numbers and tiny budget, they are extremely unprepared.

  • A Public Service Announcement plays on local television in a family home providing information about the Water Crisis. One of the big issues with the water crisis is how to get accurate information about what is safe and what isn't.

  • Fatdaddy looks out the window of his grandmother's house in Flint. The windows are plastic because the house next door was burnt down during Halloween and the heat destroyed the windows on their house.

  • Found photos from Vacant homes in Flint.

  • Locals participate in an environmental rally and a sermon at the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, celebrity Russell Simmons and a number of national Pastors. There have been a number of high profile celebrities coming to Flint since the Water Crisis became national news.

  • Police cadets train for civil unrest at the Mott Police Academy. It is only a 4 month academy and a handful of these cadets will be joining the Flint Police Department right after graduation

  • One year old Hazel Eilber is given a bath by her grandmother Sabrina. Sabrina only baths Hazel in bottled water because she fears that even touching the tap water could make her sick. Out of habit, Sabrina did use the tap water recently and half way through the bath panicked and yanked Hazel out while pouring bottled water over her to rinse the tap water away.

  • Police lights from a nearby homicide investigation illuminate a vacant home in North Flint Michigan.

  • Claressa Shields, 20, says goodbye to her boyfriend Adrell Holmes in his family home in Flint, Michigan. The Olympic Gold Medalist is moving away from her hometown for Colorado for the first time in her life, leaving behind her friends and family.

  • A gun is hidden in the kitchen cabinet in Flint. Guns are part of the landscape in Flint. A pistol left on the table, a bulge in someone’s waistband or a handful of bullets left on the carpet. People are just used to them.

  • Portraits of Flint Police Officers. The FPD is one of the poorest and understaffed departments in the country and for a city commonly known as the Murder Capital of America, they are dealing with incredibly difficult circumstances.

  • Flint, Michigan from a dirty plane window.

  • With the victim already at the hospital, all the remains from this November 2015 shooting is a pool of blood.

  • Officer Bridget Balasko holds a small child while her father is being searched and questioned. The suspect on the left claimed to have just lost his job and didn't have anywhere to go so he was just hanging in his car with his daughter until the child's mother got off of work.

  • Boxer Ardreal "Bossman" Holmes trains at Gallo Boxing Gym in Lansing, Michigan. Holmes is the boyfriend of Olympic Gold Medal Boxer Claressa "T-Rex" Shields and is also training to compete for his spot in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. But he's not the talent that Shields is and isn't good enough to make a career for himself outside of Flint. So when she leaves, he stays.

  • Portraits from Northwestern High School Prom. May 2016.

  • Briana Shields (in the back), 18, holds her little boy Fatdaddy (real name Bradford) in her bedroom in The Villa, a housing complex in North Flint. Briana's cousin Coco and Coco's little girl Lani are also pictured. Briana and Fatdaddy only lived there for about 6 months before they had to move back in with Briana's mom. At the time this photo was taken, Fatdaddy's father was in prison.

  • Officer Robert Frost arrests a woman on drugs on the North Side of Flint. Frost has been an officer with the FPD for 12 years but has been laid off three times and might get laid off again as the FPD faces another budget cut later on in the summer of 2016.