The 313 Archives with Stephen McGee

BY Danielle Zito

In honor of 313 Day, we sat down with Detroit-based
 photographer and filmmaker Stephen McGee
 to see how the city we call home has evolved
 through his lens over the last 18 years. 

18 years, 2 million images, thousands of hours of footage, and a journey he could have never planned for. Today his lens is trained on Detroit—sometimes referred to by its area code “The 313”—but the path to these digits was a long, colorful, and winding road.

Stephen McGee has spent a big part of his life with a camera in his hand. A photojournalist, a filmmaker, and a storyteller, his craft has led him all over the world. Working with non-profit groups in Africa to Southeast Asia and parts of Europe, McGee found inspiration in the impact that storytelling can have on communities.

That work of equipping others with the imagery that helped amplify their important voices left him with a beautiful collection of images from his travels.

He returned home to sunny California with his passion realized. However, McGee began to question his connection to where his current roots were planted.

The next day, Detroit called.

“Movement 2022”, Photo by Stephen McGee
“I wasn’t very seasoned, but I had something
 pulling at me internally to get to the deepest
 level of the human experience” 


With a promising opportunity with the Detroit Free Press, he packed up and headed for the Motor City. “I had never even seen the city, but I just felt compelled to move there. It was the second best decision of my life.” The first? Marrying his wife.

Since his arrival, McGee has tirelessly documented Detroit’s metamorphosis, but focused on its present-day brilliance. He’s done this with a love for the city and its people that only continues to grow deeper.

“The culture of trying to understand this city through content existed well before I arrived in 2005,” he said. “I just joined it.”

McGee saw a different side of Detroit that was often narrowly or even negatively portrayed by mass media. “I noticed that creators were more focused on the city’s buildings. It wasn’t hitting any of the positive, beautiful life I was seeing through the people here,” McGee said.

Jessica Care Moore and Devone Tines at their performance with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. 2023.

During this time in Detroit’s history, most outsiders of the city were influenced solely by what they’ve heard, read, or saw in the media. It’s a concept that still lingers today.

“There’s a popular narrative that Detroit was the best city ever, growing until 1967 and then died—and now is coming back. This narrative glosses over a lot of people who’ve been holding it down on their blocks and in their communities,” he said.

It’s this community of people who inspire him to photograph every day. Although many could view Stephen’s archive of photos and footage as a document of Detroit’s rebirth, he encourages us to see it as an uninterrupted yet evolving storyline.

“The momentum that we see is built on a very strong Black culture here that is the reason Detroit is so beautiful today,” he noted.

The influx of people, finances, and the shift from “The Worst City” to “The Best City” we saw in 2015 was built on the greatness that was already here. It never left; it just wasn’t the story that the national narrative told.


After years of documenting Detroit, McGee has found that there’s way more to The 313 that meets the eye.

“It’s the people who don’t live in the most popular places who offer the greatest sense of hospitality, stewardship, and willingness to teach that I find some of my favorite photographs and stories in,” he adds.

Detroit Rollercade 2023

For Stephen, time has been his greatest teacher. Every year spent in the city has helped him craft a script that only continues to unfold.

McGee has been a part of many key moments of Detroit’s more recent history—from being the wedding photographer for Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson, to walking the Stanley Cup down Woodward Ave with the iconic Detroit Red Wings captain, Steve Yzerman. However, it’s in those lesser-known moments, like being in the Packard Plant as a group of suburbanites worked together to push out a dump truck out of the storied car factory, that gives him glimpses of the city’s full picture.

“They’re all a part of one story,” said McGee.

Finding this story and documenting it plays a crucial part in uplifting Detroit’s evolution.

David Stott 2022


Stephen McGee

Stephen’s archive has been a documentation of growth in more ways than one.

“My life in Detroit has yet to see the full realization of why I’m here, but all I know is that it’s becoming less and less about me,” he laughs.

His work has become more than a passion for craft; it’s become a life lesson about being a part of a community and growing along with it.

“This city has taught me that life is all about serving others with the tools you’ve got at the best of your ability every single day, whether it’s easy or not,” noted McGee.

But this story is far from over.

“There is still so much to unfold through the people with fresh eyes and excitement for the city and those who have been here for a lifetime. The opportunity to challenge common narratives with real stories to widen the outside perspective on Detroit will always be a part of my life,” he concluded.

Hearing Stephen’s dedication and passion in crafting this story reminds us of what being a part of Detroit’s community is all about. On this 313 Day—March 13 (3/13)—we want to share our gratitude for this city and the greatness that existed long before our arrival. The story of Detroit is well underway and it’s an honor to be a part of it, alongside advocates like McGee.

Keep up with Stephen’s photographs and project updates on his Instagram @resurgofilm and @Stephen_McGee.

My daughter Jovi, at age 3, 2015

Get updates on products,
people and places we love.

Follow Us On Social