On August 16, 2018, Detroit went into mourning along with the rest of the world when the city lost one of its treasured figures–Aretha Franklin. But for Cyrus Tetteh, the days following the Queen of Soul’s death were full of hustle and bustle.
As the city of Detroit’s photographer, Tetteh was responsible for capturing Franklin’s week-long send-off, including her viewing at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and a tribute at her childhood sanctuary New Bethel Baptist Church. Tetteh, 30, was also there to photograph Franklin’s funeral at Greater Grace Temple, with a host of musicians and political and religious figures in attendance such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jennifer Hudson and Stevie Wonder.
“It was one of those moments that I wanted to share with everybody because the city’s presence is international,” he said. “The whole world was watching what was happening on Seven Mile and that was a crazy moment in Detroit history; history period.”
As Tetteh enters his seventh year with the city, he has visited almost every neighborhood. In the process, he has witnessed some of the city’s biggest moments, like Franklin’s funeral. That moment and more are chronicled in Tetteh’s first photo book “Only in Detroit.”
The 96-page hardcover book came out last month and features snapshots of the city from 2017 to last year. Photos include late Supremes member Mary Wilson at the Brewster Projects where she grew up and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during visits to Detroit.
“Apparently, he’s a car guy,” Tetteh said about Biden’s appearance at the North American International Auto Show. “It was crazy to be able to have photos of the sitting president and vice president. It’s a special privilege for sure.”
Tetteh held an exhibit of his photos from “Only in Detroit” at The Carr Center in September as part of Design Core Detroit’s Month of Design. Copies of the book are available on his website, supercyrusb.com.
“I just felt like it was time,” Tetteh said regarding the book. “I have seen so much in the past six years and documented some really big moments. I wanted to share the perspective on the city that I’ve been able to gain with everybody else, so this is the time to do it.”
Capturing Detroit in a different perspective
Tetteh’s passion for photography wasn’t a path he envisioned for himself as a child. Rather, it’s an interest he took on later while studying English at the University of Michigan. Around 2012, Tetteh was operating his own clothing line, Cool Club Clothing, and needed pictures for his website. Photography eventually developed into a hobby for Tetteh, as he began taking graduation photos for friends and prom pictures for his cousin.
After college, he continued to hone his skills while working as a service intern at Quicken Loans. That’s when his friend Amber Lewis, the city’s then-social media manager, saw his work online. She helped Tetteh secure a few assignments when the city’s full-time photographer couldn’t make it, including photos with rapper Big Sean receiving the key to the city. Soon after, Tetteh was hired to be a photographer for the city’s The Neighborhoods website, working alongside Detroit’s former Chief Storyteller Aaron Foley. Foley provides the forward for “Only in Detroit.”
“That was my first professional job,” Tetteh said. “I just went from hobbyist to straight into the professional, but I always worked hard at it. In 2017, I landed the job with the city of Detroit and it’s been a ride ever since.”
As Tetteh discovered new neighborhoods and saw how the city was changing, especially downtown, he realized that people still viewed Detroit in a negative light. Living in a “dangerous” neighborhood was far from Tetteh’s experience as a life-long Detroiter. He grew up on Yorkshire Road and East Warren Avenue in East English Village.
Other moments the photographer has captured over the years include Big Sean’s girlfriend and singer Jhene Aiko when she was pregnant with their child Noah Hasani, Serena Williams at the 2022 Forbes Under 30 Summit and NBA player Draymond Green playing chess at Campus Martius.
Some of Tia Nichols’ favorite photos are the ones Tetteh took of Franklin’s send-off celebration. She said he not only captured the event itself, but the hometown fans who witnessed the singer’s career journey. The Carr Center Gallery Manager and Curator said she began talking to Tetteh in May when he came up with the idea to have an exhibit paired with the release of “Only in Detroit.” Nichols said she was impressed by Tetteh’s pieces and artist statement.
“His artist statement really spoke to me because he grew up in Detroit,” she said. “I was really empowered by his vision to demonstrate that Detroit is so much more than what the narrative is being put out there. I thought that was important and relevant and very necessary for the times that we’re in, and I just thought it was exciting to see an artist looking to give props to the city that raised them.”
And one of Tetteh’s favorite events to photograph is a Detroit tradition–America’s Thanksgiving Parade downtown.
“I love shooting the parade,” he said. “It’s a great tradition that I’ve loved ever since I was a little boy.”
Tetteh said he hopes Detroit book purchasers feel pride for their hometown and that it will convince people from outside the area to visit.
“I just want to celebrate this city and help control the narrative on how people look at our city and how we should feel about our city,” he said.
Added Nichols: “Cyrus is a great human being and very hardworking and I hope that people are able to follow his work and see where the next steps of the journey takes him.”