A New Perspective with Detroit Artist James Gates

James Gates is no stranger to Detroit. In fact, he spends most of his time here, capturing familiar sights from different perspectives


He entered the GMRENCEN’s Your Photo Here contest, a contest where local photographers submitted their best shots of the GMRENCEN for the chance to have the photo featured inside the building. It’s where we were first introduced to his work. You can view Gates’ photo on Level 2 in Tower 200. In August 2019, he took over the GMRENCEN Instagram account showcasing Detroit through his lenses.


What motivates you to shoot?

I started photography for the stress relief. I work in IT, and after a particularly grueling day I like to walk around with my camera to clear my head. During the day, people are just going and going constantly. With photography, I can take my time to get the effect I want to get. It requires patience and I like that.


What’s a typical photography outing like?

I always start and end at the GM Wintergarden, right on Atwater. From there I take a long walk along the Riverfront. It’s my favorite place in Detroit. I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to shoot, but I feel more relaxed when I come back.


How long have you been photographing?

I got into photography in the fall of 2014, and 2015 was a learning year, practicing long exposure and other types of shots. It started out inconsistent, but then I got hooked.


What was it like winning the GMRENCEN’s Your Photo Here Contest and being featured in the building?

It’s still such an honor. I had only been into photography for about a year and a half when I took that shot. My friend loved it so much and encouraged me share it. A little while later, the Your Photo Here Contest began, so I submitted my shot. It was a strange coincidence.


That photo is one of the first ones I took, and it’s still there.



What have you learned since then?

I feel it’s important for me to keep up with the times and continue learning new camera settings. I’m just constantly learning from other Detroit photographers.


Always look for a unique angle because you don’t want to be like everybody else.


Do you ever change up your style?

I’m always learning new ways to do things, but I tend to stick to one type at a time. I choose a technique and work on mastering it before jumping to the next thing. Right now, I’m trying to work filters into my photography. I’ll be at that for a while.


What challenges do you face with your photography?

One challenge that affects me is that I’m legally blind. This doesn’t really hinder my work, but it can be frustrating. Sometimes when I’m reviewing my work after a photoshoot, I’ll notice blemishes in my shots that I couldn’t see out in the field. Although this isn’t a huge issue with architectural photography, it would make portrait and other photography more difficult.



What did you want people to take away from your Instagram takeover?

I was born and raised in Detroit, so I have 30 plus years of good memories here, especially of the GMRENCEN. I want people to know I love Detroit and I hope that shows in my photos.



What did you want to convey with your GMRENCEN August takeover?

I wanted to share some of the photos I’ve taken on my walks, with a focus on the GMRENCEN and the Riverfront. It captured the authentic Detroit, complete with Cullen Plaza tulips, Milliken State Park Lighthouse and city sunsets.


James Gates lives in Detroit and is a legally blind photographer. See his work on his Instagram at @james.m.gates or check out his online portfolio at jgatesphotography.com.