Internationally Acclaimed Artist Completes Human Atlas Photography Project Featuring Detroiters

An internationally acclaimed artist has selected Detroit as the subject of his next work, adding to an exhibition project that already has a presence in Brazil and Germany.
photographs from “i.Detroit – A Human Atlas of an American City"
“i.Detroit – A Human Atlas of an American City,” a photography and sound project by British artist Marcus Lyon, has launched online. A book launch will take place Thursday, Oct. 15. // Image courtesy of Marcus Lyon

An internationally acclaimed artist has selected Detroit as the subject of his next work, adding to an exhibition project that already has a presence in Brazil and Germany.

British artist Marcus Lyon is continuing his Human Atlas project in the Motor City. The Detroit division will be called “i.Detroit – A Human Atlas of an American City.” The project is available online here and will be available in book form.

i.Detroit is a research-based exploration of 100 individuals from the city of Detroit that includes Rochelle Riley, journalist, author, and director of arts and culture for the city of Detroit; Chris Lambert, founder and CEO of Life Remodeled; and Pamela Good, founder and CEO of Beyond Basics, a nonprofit literacy organization that works in the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The project was built on a six-month nomination process through which Detroiters nominated people from their own communities who represent service to society and are making significant contributions to Detroit, the region, and beyond.

The initiative is funded by the Kresge Foundation in Troy and supported by The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

“The project maps these remarkable individuals through photographic portraits, app-based image-activated oral histories, and ancestral DNA to create a deeper understanding of the city,” says Lyon, founder of the Human Atlas initiative. “Human Atlas projects endeavor to hold a mirror up to society and encourage audiences to question their own roles and responsibilities to their communities, cities, and fellow human beings.”

Rhonda Walker will host a virtual book launch event from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15. It will feature a Q&A session with Lyon and a panel discussion. Registration for the free event is available here.

“Marcus and I had a chance meeting at a conference in England,” says Mark Davidoff, executive producer of i.Detroit and CEO of The Fisher Group. “As Marcus described his work with Human Atlases, my immediate reaction was Detroit would be ideal for his next project. Now, fast forward three years, and the results tell a host of remarkable stories of i.Detroiters who are ‘moving the needle’ in the city. Most importantly, Marcus ‘gets’ Detroit and its achievers. He is a genius who has left his handprint on the heart of the city.”

Lyon and his team set up a studio in Detroit for six months meeting, interviewing, and photographing 100 i.Detroiters. He also worked with colleagues at Family Tree DNA in Houston, Texas to plot ancestral DNA of all 100 nominees and build a detailed map of their generational migration to Detroit.

“The purpose of a Human Atlas is really simple,” Lyon says. “It is to inspire a new generation to co-author their lives, not in the shadow of those who came before them, but in honor of them. Within the limitation of 100 Detroiters, we’ve tried to be as elegant as possible in reaching out and finding as many people who represent the city and the dynamic groups who are doing change here. With the i.Detroit project, we have the ability to explore leaders, unsung heroes and the change agents of this extraordinary city who are authoring dynamic and innovative ways of creating more hopeful futures.”

Along with the genetic mapping, Lyon has worked with design studio Sutherl& to design the project identity, book, and exhibition; Rethink Audio to build the soundscapes that will activate with the bespoke app built by Calvium; and the Laundry Room to develop image finishing on the 100 works of art that accompany the data.

“To know Detroit, you need look no further than its people – the artists and scientists and auto workers and teachers and political leaders and activists and athletes who love this city fiercely and protect it mightily,” says Riley. “Each of us says regularly, ‘I am Detroit, proud to be Detroit, and you better believe it.’”

Lyon’s work and publications are held in private and international collections including the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Arts Council of Great Britain. As a portrait artist, he has photographed a range of public figures including Queen Elizabeth II and four British prime ministers.