Photographer Matthew Brandt traveled to Flint, Michigan, from Los Angeles back in 2016. The 35-year-old was there to take photos of the city for his own interest—and integrate Flint’s lead-contaminated water into his images, quite literally. He used that water to develop his film.
Now, more than two years later, his work is getting a spotlight at the Detroit Institute of Arts “Out of Crate” exhibit. Brandt’s “Bridges Over Flint” series is made up of 24 photographs that depict bridges going over the Flint River, which sparked the city’s lead contamination crisis when officials decided to use it as a drinking water source beginning in 2014.
Brandt recalls driving around the city for a few days, trying to figure out what to capture. The bridges eventually spoke to him. Once he secured the images he needed, he took the film to his hotel room bathroom and got to work using a DIY method—water from the faucet, crushed vitamin C pills, bleach, and some red wine—to develop it.
“I wasn’t approaching it from this scientific level,” Brandt said. “It was sort of using what’s there and then making pictures with it. It was just like, ‘Flint water’s here. I’ma use it and work with it!’”
The photos—which are somewhere between black-and-white and sepia tone— have a haunting feeling. They’re messy, creating the perfect metaphor for the messy situation the city had gotten itself into.
The L.A.-based photographer says this project was “a little more heavy” than he usually goes, but the Flint water crisis was way too pressing for him to ignore. He’s glad the work lives on in the state of Michigan where those most-affected can access it. “I don’t try to impose anything but just let somebody see something,” he said.
The exhibit will be on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit until September 23.