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The People of Detroit: G.R. N'namdi


The theme of this post is business. So let's get some business out of the way, shall we. Amazon.com is awesome. Here's something that's equally awesome: Say you want to buy something on Amazon. Click on the hyperlinks that are just below every The People of Detroit photo. That will take you to Amazon.com. Amazon's Affiliate program will in turn give TPOD a percentage of anything you order during that visit. There is no additional cost to you. As always, your viewership is greatly appreciated. As is your money.


The G.R. N'namdi Gallery in Detroit's Cultural Center is one of my favorite places to view contemporary art. Light flows into the 16,000 square foot facility through skylights set in a 30-foot high ceiling held aloft by exposed wooden beams. The space is populated by works from artists such as Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence. The collection is sophisticated and abstract but not so obtuse as to defy intelligibility.


George N'namdi founded the gallery 30 years ago. He's pictured here in front of Angelbert Metoyer's "Icon Execution."


I visited the gallery a week before making this photo. The gallery had about 14 or 15 people wandering through it. George rounded us up and took us on an impromptu tour.


The tour culminated at the rear of the gallery. George showed us an area that will soon be a restaurant. George also intimated plans for a courtyard that would serve as a pedestrian link to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit one street over. He envisions this courtyard as a place for people to congress and as a social anchor for the broader community.


As he spoke, his passion for using the arts to beautify this part of the world was conveyed in his broad smile and glinting eyes. He immediately impressed me as the kind of person that makes Detroit a place worth calling home. A perfect candidate for the The People of Detroit.


He graciously agreed to be photographed for the project. I returned a week later to do so. After photographing George, I found myself wondering what led him to start a business to begin with.


Starting a business is like skydiving: a lot of people think about it. Then they make a sandwich. Our inaction is understandable. Why would anyone leap from a safe 9-5 life toward the uncharted potential peril of self-employment?


"I felt there was a cultural need for the gallery," George said. "But there wasn't any economic reason. As a matter of fact, I was sure it would fail, but it was still something I felt I had to do."


I felt "I had to do it" about a year ago. After many years on the cubicle farm, ole Noah was finally put out to pasture one last time. I took this as an opportunity to finally pursue The People of Detroit, portrait photography and writing full-time. It was simultaneously liberating and terrifying.


That's why George's account resonates with me. It's reassuring to know that I was not the only newly-minted self-employed person wrought with trepidation. I found it reassuring that at the dawn of his endeavor, it also occurred to George that failure was not only possible, but likely.


You see, the old aphorism about how "failure is not an option" may be persuasive during a high school football game halftime locker room pep talk, but anyone who's lived long enough to not die knows that failure is always an option.


So, considering all this, why does anyone take the self-employment leap? Because they are compelled to do so.


Maybe they are compelled by a need to enrich the cultural landscape of a hardscrabble blue collar city.


Maybe they are compelled by a need to not ever ever again in life have to listen to a soul-sapping, pencil-neck, asshole boss who walks over to their cubicle and tells them to stop whistling at work because whistling at work is unprofessional… which makes the beloved American maxim to "whistle while you work" maliciously misleading, doesn't it.


The reasons for taking that leap vary but the consequence is the same: a chance to fly free.


[View the ongoing project and meet more of: The People of Detroit ]


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Taken on April 16, 2011