by Camille Johnson
Bree Gant is a talented young photographer from Detroit’s west side. In her 7 years shooting she’s built an amazing portfolio - capturing everything from the Selma 50th Anniversary for Girl Trek to dope Detroit style and fashion for RockCity Lookbook - and completed a residency at 555 Non-profit Gallery & Studios. Most recently, Bree’s photography series Lost&Crowned was shown for a month at Great Lakes Coffee in Midtown Detroit. Last week I got to chop it up with the powerhouse photographer.
IT ALL STARTED ON THE YARD
When we started talking, the first thing we wanted to know was how Bree began her love affair with photography.
"I went to Howard University for business. It was a really good program and I loved it, but I was like 'nope, I’m not doing business.' I ended up majoring in film, which I really loved and still love, but it wasn’t something I could do for a living. When I got chosen to do photography for the school paper my sophomore year, it just came really easy to me -- shooting and photo editing and coordinating visual presentations. Howard was a really different space. It's also where I got into fashion shooting, just street shooting at Howard. And it automatically became fashion shooting because it’s Howard. And everybody wasn’t particularly fashionable – they were just different.
I eventually ended up minoring in photography because my senior year I needed more electives and decided to take all photography classes. My mentors at Howard also picked me up pretty fast when I first started shooting and I really appreciated that too. That’s why I love Howard. So many grown folks just down for you like ‘ oh you look like you’re good at this and wanna do this, come talk to me.’”
CLEAN LINES, OPEN SPACE, & NATURAL LIGHT
"I like cement, but not necessarily ruins. I just like clean lines. And Palmer Park – I always go back to Palmer Park! It’s a clean landscape. It’s open. A lot of people don’t associate large parks with Detroit, but it’s like ‘we have Palmer Park and it’s fucking gorgeous. Come check it out. It’s right in the middle of the city and it’s chill.
I definitely prefer outdoor shooting with natural lighting. I wanna start shooting more studio work though; I want to be able to manipulate the image more. But yea, I love natural lighting. I love location shooting – I love being outside. Even in the winter lol.”
ENJOYING THE CRAZY, UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS
"I have so many favorites, but the first thing that comes to mind is a documentary project with an artist in DC Wilmer Wilson. He’s an amazing sculpture artist, but he did a project titled Henry ‘Box’ Brown: FOREVER, where he was interpreting, honoring, learning, and appreciating the slave who mailed himself to freedom. He was funded by the Arts Commission in DC to do this project where he covered himself in stamps and walked to the post office and asked for himself to be mailed. He did this 3 times and he asked me to partner with him on the book that he wanted to put together for the piece. It was really exciting to see my pictures in a book for the first time. It was hype. Like that’s an insane project. Those were crazy moments that I’ll never forget.
I also have a lot of work that I really enjoyed doing for RockCity Lookbook, the publication I started with Blair."
“I want to get to a technical ability and well-resourced space where I’m trusted by a lot of different platforms to tell stories. I do want to be able (of course) to be published in the New Yorker, but I don’t want to be exclusive to that realm. I really want one of my portraits to make the cover of an art journal or magazine; I also want to shoot magazine covers. I love portraiture.
Aside from portraiture I really want to get into travel documentary and being able to cover stories. I was fortunate enough to get commissioned to go to the Selma 50 Anniversary with Girl Trek. They brought 500 women from around the country to the Anniversary. It was a fun project. I met one of the founders when I was at Howard. She’s a black woman that was like ‘hey, I like what you do. I wanna support you.’ And she’s been coming back to me ever since, which I really appreciate.“
CAPTURING UNNOTICED AMERICAN GEMS
As a Detroiter, Bree realizes how much unnoticed greatness there is in our country and she wants to use her camera to tell those stories.
“I don’t want to ignore this country [in my travel documentary work] because we have a lot of gems here. We have so much great shit going on here just in Detroit. Our city trending made me realize how much of the country people are missing out on, you know? A lot of people didn’t know about Detroit and now people are paying attention to us, but how many other cities are running under the radar doing amazing shit and groundbreaking shit.
[I loved] shooting in New Orleans. I got to cover alternative spring for University housing my freshman and senior year [at Howard]. That was something I was really grateful for. They sent 3 buses down there for free and I got to document as we did volunteer work and Katrina clean up.”
BLACK GIRL MAGIC
When we asked Bree which photographer's inspired her, she rattled off a list of fellow black women photographers (woot woot for black girl magic).
“Lorna Simpson was probably the first photographer whose work really made me think ‘this is a thing. Photography is a thing. It’s not just a flat image. It has depth and meaning and longevity and movement. I love Renee Cox. She came to Howard to speak one time and she was the first black female self-portrait artist in the fine art realm I’d seen. AND she majored in film in undergrad. I was like ‘ahhh!’ Winter Coleman is dope. She was another student at Howard. Her. work. was. sooo clean. I just love her work. Khloe Katz is a photographer here in Detroit. She’s really dope. And China Moore! I love her photography."
ON THE GRIND
Bree is continuously finding new ways to share her passion with others and master her craft.
"I’m excited for the September Issue show for Rock City Look Book with Detroit Design Festival; we’ll be putting our fashion editorial photography in the gallery. We want to put the photos in a different context and show that this quality work is happening here [in Detroit]. That’s what you get in these RCLB magazines. That’s what you get in our work. I also want to release another printed zine and continue putting our history in print.
I also need to do another residency for artist development and find myself the perfect space to create and grow. I wanna go somewhere else. I do wanna have a longer term program in Detroit to come back to though, already setup, so I can keep that momentum going. I’d really like to have a residency related to a community development center. I want one that has workshops geared toward technical and skill development too. Well-rounded art education and artist development, that’s the goal."
BREE'S TOP 8
An avid supporter of everything Black and local, here are Bree's top 8 Detroit things you should be supporting:
3. J Millz | Photo Prints