Refocusing the perception of a community through photography

The question of how to engage audiences with news, especially local news, looms large in journalist’s minds these days. Great photography is a start, but it’s not enough to show technically adept, graphically compelling images. People latch onto stories, and for a photographer to craft a story, they have to understand who or what they’re photographing.

For Flint Beat, photographer Michael Indriolo, that understanding comes from experiencing how his own community has often been represented in the local and national media.

“So many things are special and beautiful about Flint. I’m from the Cleveland area so I’m used to crime-focused reporting: representing a vibrant, complex city as just a tally of murders and drug busts,” Indriolo said. “Flint has the same problem – really coverage of midwestern cities as a whole. But I still had to educate myself about Flint specifically and the ways in which it’s been historically represented.”

Joi Small gives Angela Austin a piggyback ride during a block party on the north side of Flint, Michigan on Saturday, August 13, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)

Beyond Michael’s photography, documentary video and writing that appears on Flint Beat’s website, he also started Flint in Focus, a photography-focused newsletter with a narrower goal:

“I wanted to use the newsletter to try and convey immersively what it’s like to live in the Flint community,” Indriolo said. “ Like we’re going to block parties, city council meetings, schools, cookouts, and synthesizing it into one cohesive narrative.”

The first issue of Flint in Focus is structured around urban farming in Flint, but weaves together themes of personal grief, healthcare and nutrition, food apartheid and is anchored with a sequence of Indriolo’s richly vibrant imagery. The color is uniformly intense, with deep shadows creating a palpable mood that you are being invited to see something ordinarily hidden just beneath the surface.

Flint musician Mama Sol emphasizes the importance of caring for the youth after calling up her son Wasir James and his friends Kevin Tiggs Jr., Damarcus Burke Jr., Shawk Holbrook and Isaiah Smith during her performance in downtown Flint, Michigan on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)

To get such an intimate portrait of his adopted city’s pulse, Indriolo said, “I spend as little time as possible in my apartment, and am always trying to be out talking to people. Whether it’s just hanging out on the street, sitting on a bench, you know, just talking to people, and showing up to backyard barbecues.”

The newsletter approach functions well because of Michael’s ideological approach to photography – he doesn’t separate his work into discrete assignments. Rather he views his work in Flint as building one continuous body of work informed by how the legacy of monolithic and violent political systems impacts communities. Indriolo also describes a sense of togetherness that pervades Flint wherever he goes, and said he tries to give a reader that sense when they look at Flint Beat.

“Flint’s community knows how to take care of their own because of the stuff that they’ve had to go through,” Indriolo said. “I hate to use the word resilient, but the sense of community that develops as a result of hardship is something that I think is really special.”

Subscribe to Flint Beat’s free Photo Newsletter, Flint in Focus, here:

Devontae Williams and Jahiem Upchurch pose for a portrait during a Juneenth festival in downtown Flint, Michigan on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
Scrap Nitti revs his bike as he and dozens more riders hit the road for a ride out through Flint, Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
Shanika McBride holds the hand of her son Janareon Jones as he gets ready to go to prom in Flint, Michigan on Saturday, May 13, 2023. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
Tianto Russell and his son Erion Chalter compete in the Howard’s Helping Hands basketball tournament at Windiate Park on the south side of Flint, Michigan on Sunday, June 19, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
A parishoner of Joy Tabernacle Church talks about her pastor, R. Sherman McCathern, during his 70th birthday party on the north side of Flint, Michigan on Friday, Jan 5, 2024. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
Roby Lee dances during the Flint Pride after party he organized in an open lot in Flint’s Carriage Town neighborhood on Saturday, June 25, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
DJ Washington, Dream Washington, Kayden Washington, Tristan Nucian, Brandon Hill, Justin Nettles, Khari Harden and Kamora Harden watch fireworks in downtown Flint, Michigan on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
Crystal Cooper addresses media and concerned residents regarding the deaths her sons Zy’Aire Lamar Mitchell, who passed away following a fire in their home, during a press conference across the street from Fire Station #6 in Flint, Michigan on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. The boys deaths have sparked outrage after two Flint firefighters falsely issued an all-clear indicating the home was unoccupied when they arrived to the scene of the fire. Both boys were later found alive in the home and taken to a hospital, where they passed away days later. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
Malachi Wilson and Ji’Miilan Thrower play cops and robbers across the street from the former Evergeen Regency apartment complex on the east side of Flint, Michigan on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2023. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
University of Michigan-Flint police officer Nickoy Edwards gets ready to head out to patrol downtown Flint, Michigan on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
A woman bites down on a slice of pizza during a food giveaway at The Loft in downtown Flint, Michigan on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)
Darnell Campbell poses for a portrait in Berston Field House during a public viewing of the late Bryant “BB” Nolden, a beloved community leader who served as the field house’s executive director and as a Genesee County Commissioner, in Flint, Michigan on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Photo by Michael Indriolo/Flint Beat)