Jake R. Rutherford - Visual Storyteller
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Taking Back Detroit

Detroit seen up close through the eyes of its proud citizens as revitalization efforts bring change to the streets of the Motor City.

Co-shot and co-produced with Spencer Millsap, a video project that accompanied National Geographic Magazine's "Taking Back Detroit" article, published May 2015. It placed third for Best Multimedia Package in The White House News Photographer’s Association’s 2016 Eyes Of History: Multimedia Contest.

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When Spencer Millsap and I were assigned a companion video translation of the developing "Taking Back Detroit" feature story for National Geographic Magazine, we immediately understood we had to let the city speak for itself, literally. Too much Detroit coverage is focused on ‘ruin porn’ and a ‘devastated city’ narrative. We sought out questions like: What is the Motor City saying about itself? How is it trying to rise from the “ashes” despite what outsiders were saying?

Scope: Producer, Videographer

Publication: Taking Back Detroit, National Geographic Magazine • May 2015


Detroit’s well-known hardships have solidified a prevailing image that it conjures is the rise and fall of the early automotive empire; a failed industry and poverty as symbolized by a collapsed building or an empty home. Detroit’s ‘renaissance’, primarily in the art community, is an often overlooked dimension of the motor city.



Our goal was the complete focus on hearing and seeing the variety of voices of Detroit talking about Detroit.

Leveraging leads and stories from my producing of the photography portion of the article, along with contacts developed by the photographer in the field, Millsap and I continued collecting additional interviews and vignettes of Detroit’s residents that added even more visual and content texture to the overall feature story package.



To achieve this multimedia texture, we included a instrumental piece chosen by a cellist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as one portion of the ‘soundtrack’. We then layered a Detroit poet reciting her work as another portion of the soundtrack. The final piece of the soundtrack were interviews and vignettes of Detroiters creating a sense of place and character, meanwhile driving the overarching narrative of the revitalization and renaissance of Detroit that was occurring.

Furthermore, we arranged, conducted and edited interviews in the field and via phone for additional audio clips that would play alongside Wayne Lawrence’s photographs in the digital photography gallery of the story.

Third place for Best Multimedia Package - 2016 Eyes Of History: Multimedia Contest
— The White House News Photographer’s Association