In June, Leni Sinclair sat down with WDET’s Ann Delisi at the Kresge Foundation to talk about her life. From her escape as a teenager from East Germany (with little more than a camera) to her front-row seat at the counter-culture movement in Detroit’s Cass Corridor in the late 60s. Sinclair shares her memories with Ann Delisi in a series of radio segments. In this segment, you can view Leni Sinclair’s photos while she explains the stories and context behind them. Listen to Part 4 by clicking above, and scroll down to see the corresponding photographs.
Detroit photographer and cultural activist Leni Sinclair is the 2016 Kresge Eminent Artist. Sinclair documented the counterculture movement in Detroit from the mid-1960s through the 1970s through vivid and dramatic photography. She may be best known for capturing the raucous rock n’ roll scene of that era, including photographs of the MC5, rock legends Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and jazz icons such as Miles Davis. Focusing her lens on musicians and fellow activists from nightclubs to festivals to street demonstrations, Sinclair captured a pivotal era in American history when art and politics intertwined. Some of her photos – including shots of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and of Nigeria’s rebel music star Fela Kuti – are among the most widely recognized of their subjects.
“I did not have a telephoto lens, so I have a whole proof sheet full of photographs of him, but this is the only one that’s any good.”
“By this time I must have had a telephoto lens because I don’t remember being that close.”
“The place was totally dark … I would never have dared use a flash at a jazz concert.”
“If I have one iconic photo, it’s that one (Fela)… When you to to Lagos, Nigeria, you see the photograph on t-shirts, billboards and posters.”
“These civil rights workers from the south had come to the conference to talk to the students about the struggles to register voters in the South.”
“The day before we had the “Love In” on Belle Isle, and this day was a demonstration on Kennedy Square to protest the marijuana laws. There were a bunch of hippies smoking banana peels.”