Renowned French Photographer Brings History to Life at DBG

Award-winning French photographer Nicolas Henry has traveled around the world to create his latest book, depicting African history – from slavery to freedom. Now he’s completing the final chapter in Detroit at the Downtown Boxing Gym and teaching our students valuable lessons while providing hands-on training in photography and set design.

The international project, Worlds in the Making, will include a series of photographs and exhibitions presenting tales from more than 13 countries and celebrating the diversity of our world’s cultures and ethnicities.

Henry will be in residence at our gym through mid-November building elaborate, larger-than-life sets and taking powerful photographs reenacting milestone moments in history. One recent photo included floor-to-ceiling trees, foliage, and even a horse, made from painted cardboard. Another image included a boat he built in the boxing gym’s garage, which has been temporarily transformed into a studio.

“It’s a story that goes from Africa to America,” Henry explains. “It speaks about segregation in different ways in community history. Also, I am celebrating some of the black heroes who were freedom fighters against slavery. I’m trying to make a story that brings communities together.”

Henry is known for combining community engagement and personal expression with photography, theater techniques, cinema lighting, and handmade prop and set design in his work.

“From a technical standpoint, we are hoping our students learn how to use Photoshop, build a set, and learn how to maneuver different lights to enhance a photograph,” says Katie Anderson, the Downtown Boxing Gym’s academic director. “We’re also hoping they’re inspired by experiencing photography in a new way. Our students who have access to art classes in school generally love their art classes, but very few have had the exposure that Nicolas can provide in terms of showing them all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into just one photograph. For those of our students who do not have access to art classes in school, it has already been really incredible to see how interested and engaged they are in the photography process.”

Henry was born in France and is a graduate of Les Beaux Arts de Paris. He was trained in the cinema industry as a fiction director at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada. He has traveled around the world, exhibiting his work from New York to Japan, Nepal, Nigeria, Korea and Argentina. For his current project, he also took a series of photographs in Chicago and collaborated with nonprofit group The Arts Palette. An exhibition of the Detroit and Chicago photos is being planned for 2019.

“We are also hoping our students will learn a bit about their own history through the Civil Rights and abolitionist themes that are showcased in this project,” Anderson said. “As well as African American heroes they may not have learned about yet, such as Harriet Tubman and Mary Prince.”

Click here to learn more about Nicolas Henry’s work.

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