Jenny Risher’s project documenting Detroit’s hip-hop scene grew out of her 2012 book of portraits of notable Detroiters, Heart Soul Detroit. During a shoot for the book with Eminem, Risher was intrigued by his descriptions of open mic competitions and rap battles at The Hip Hop Shop, a clothing boutique located at the time on 7-Mile Road. The two kept in touch after the shoot, and Risher decided to make Detroit hip hop the focus of her next project. More than 80 her images are featured in a new show at the Detroit Institute of Arts, “D-Cyphered: Portraits by Jenny Risher,” on view until February 18, 2018.
While sometimes not as widely known as the scenes in other cities, Detroit’s hip hop culture has strong roots and a passionate following. As the museum writes, “Detroit’s hip-hop history is deeply shaped by the various elements of Motown and Detroit techno.” Risher’s project grew as performers she photographed recommended more subjects and vouched for her skills and intentions. The series eventually included some of the biggest names in Detroit hip hop, such as Big Sean, Danny Brown, Dej Loaf, and Tee Grizzley, among others. Collaborating with her subjects to pick locations that had special meaning was one way that Risher attempted to make sure the images were not formulaic. As she told a recent interviewer, “I felt it was really important to make people feel like it was really their picture too.”