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Reshaping Flint’s popular image—short film and Q & A with Mark Felix of “Mr. Dan’s Quick Stop”

Mr. Dan’s Quick Stop, a short film by photojournalist Mark Felix, captures the twilight moments of convenience store owner, and Flint, Michigan, native, Dan Holbrook.

Within its short time constraints, the film explores Holbrook’s fate in light of his looming retirement and what that could mean for his store and, ultimately, his community.

Inspired by his lived experience at the Flint Journal, Mark Felix’s work counterposes the popular narrative of a city in crisis. Below, in his Q and A with Entropic Magazine, Felix discusses life as a reporter in Flint and why he made a film about Dan.

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Q How did you end up in Flint?

A At the end of 2015, I had just gotten back stateside from a grant project I was working on in Romania. I was feeling like a failure coming home with a project I wasn’t very satisfied with—and subsequently had spent every last penny to my name trying to make it work. I started bartending and wondering if photography was really meant for me.

Out of the blue, I got a phone call in April of 2016 from Jake May, the lead photographer at the Flint Journal. I had been a finalist for the internship there in college, and he wanted to let me know they opened a new year-long position and that I should re-apply. Three weeks later, I was in Flint. At the time, I never would have guessed I’d be in Flint for the next 3 years.

Q What was it like reporting there?

A I loved it. You really encounter a little bit of everything—some of the biggest characters and most unique personalities. I often found myself chuckling and thinking, Only in Flint.

Folks want to feel you out a bit when you first get there and quite understandably too—Flint suffers from a lot of “parachute journalism” and it makes residents skeptical.

If you aren’t authentic, “Flintstones” can sense it a mile away and will close off to you. But if you’re honest about what you’re doing and why you’re there, folks will receive you with open arms.

Q How did you feel about the reporting about Flint?

A It’s easy to see the big, attention grabbing stories that you know will get “clicks” (the water crisis/crime) and forget that Flint is A LOT more than just that. Out-of-town journalists honestly made it harder for local journalists to work by the incredibly broad strokes they painted about the city—or honestly just by being plain lazy in their reporting and interviewing the same people over, and over, and over again. Maybe they just bought into their own preconceived narratives and were scared of rolling around Flint and really seeing what it’s like to live there. How are you gonna do a story about Flint and not even stay within city limits when you visit?

I often heard residents use the phrase “Real Flint” when talking what they experienced vs. what they saw on the news. The narrative just hits different when you live there. When it’s your tax dollars, your neighbors, your community, it fundamentally shifts how you view issues.

Q How did you meet Dan?

A After the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, I was pretty torn up inside thinking about how easily that could have been one of my friends. The Facebook Live video of Castile just hit me on a new level. I started to walk around town asking black men of all ages how their deaths made them feel. I photographed my neighbor Tim, and he told me I should stop in at Dan’s store where he was working at the time.

I think Dan was both curious and a tad skeptical as to what I was doing when we first met.

Q Why did you decide to make a film about him?

A The first time we met, Dan was playing pinochle with his brother Reece and their friends. He told me I could sit down and hang out if I wanted to—he allowed smoking at the card table in the store and as a pack-a-day smoker at the time that greatly appealed to me. They were always making me laugh, hearing these 70-year-old men trash talk each other or discuss whatever current events were happening.

We started to form this unique friendship where he honestly began to feel like a grandfather figure in my life. I could tell that I was not the only person that felt that way either.

It was pretty evident right off the bat that “Mr. Dan” was one of the pillars that kept that neighborhood together. I saw him front so many people food that they couldn’t afford at the time to help them out—his generosity toward others was unsurpassed.

It was probably 6 to 7 months of me stopping in just to hang out before I floated the idea past Dan to make a video. That’s when he told me he was retiring and the story started to come together.

Q You said, “I want people to think of people like Dan, when they think about Flint.” Why?

A Extreme pressure either forms diamonds or causes things to crumble. The story of Flint to me seems much more about how damn resilient Flintstones are when faced with the worst of circumstances that would break most people. To only talk about problems people faced and not the people themselves who continually pushed through them seemed so hollow. Dan was everything I loved about Flint rolled into one—kindness, wittiness, generosity, authenticity and unwavering loyalty to his city and those less fortunate than him.

I hope one day I can be half the man he was.

This Q & A was edited for clarity, readability and editorial standards.

Mark Felix is a photojournalist based in Houston, TX. Follow him @markdfelix.

Nolan Ryan Trowe is a freelance photographer and writer based in Baltimore, MD.

Bruce Graves is a writer and web developer based in Los Angeles, CA.

Epiphanies of the unexpected—a conversation with photographer Cheney Orr

Photographer Cheney Orr spoke to Entropic Magazine’s Nolan Ryan Trowe and Bruce Graves to discuss an ongoing project, “Bystander,” a collection of cop photos from more than a decade of street photography in New York City. (more…)

What does NYC do on 911’s anniversary?

IT’S BEEN 17 YEARS since 9/11. I walked around ground zero and lower Manhattan all day. It was foggy. The weather, like the people, sulked. You may wonder: What do people do on 9/11 in New York City? Well, here’s a quick glance.
 

The One World Trade Center surrounded by a thick layer of fog.

 

John, a retired firefighter, poses for a portrait.

 

People hanging out at Washington Square Park.

 

A group of construction workers on break.

 

The J-Train at 5:30p.m.

 

A woman selling hats at Zuccotti Park.

 

NYPD officers on Trinity Place.

 

A man playing the bagpipe.

 

Firefighters mingling and drinking beer outside of O’Hara’s Ground Zero Pub.

 

“This face will break your camera, kid!”

 

The Tribute in Light art instillation at 11 o’clock.

Harold Hunter 12 years later–navigating skate culture and sobriety

HAROLD HUNTER was an influential NYC skater. He played a role in the cult movie classic Kids, which depicted life on the Lower East Side in the 90s. In 2006, he died from a cocaine induced heart attack in his LES apartment. (more…)

My cathartic exchange over soldier exploitation

REMEMBER WHEN I ASKED YOU how it felt to punish lower enlisted soldiers by making them do pushups? And you said that you did your best to not make them do pushups because there are better ways to “get what you need from a Soldier.” “I’d like to think I’m less one dimensional than all that,” you said.
 
There are a few NCOs that come to mind, in my short four years, that seemed one-dimensional assholes in their approach to leadership. It didn’t work out too well for them.
 
There certainly was a cultural-Darwinistic quality to how the military functioned, so, with the will of the collective unit, an asshole NCO will be weeded out, eventually: they either fuck up and no one has their backs, or, I guess, there are other ways to “fast-track” a soldier.
 
That’s a good thing, in the context of the military, for people living that life. Asshole NCOs get in the way, in a real way, especially, of course, because their fuckups (being relatively one-dimensional pricks) have consequences in combat. Or, to a lesser degree, their presence makes for a toxic environment that breeds mediocrity and other assholes who may one day be “leaders” themselves. It’s kind of fun, in the moment, to think in a nostalgic way about the nuances of the NCO-soldier dynamic, that paternal, father-figure bullshit.
 
But the reality is neither one of these people, soldier nor NCO, have enough autonomy. Worse, soldiers are exploited by things they’ve been convinced they shouldn’t even bother thinking about. You’re expected to be one-dimensional in the political sense, fall in line, be apolitical. I can’t help but have some respect for people within that dynamic because I’ve known more than enough who I wouldn’t say made a deliberate choice when they joined. The fact that the prefrontal cortex, where such deliberate decisions would have been made, isn’t fully developed in humans till 25 is enough for me. 1 2 I was 19. How old were you? Ironically, there’s enough data to illustrate the unfortunately touchy subject of soldier exploitation that it could be its own discipline of study, meaning one could spend an entire professional career loathing the realities of the very specific issue of soldier exploitation. 3 4 And it may be easy for some to say things like that from some academic institution, or at a stupid fucking TED talk, but you and I were very much alike when we met and became close.
 
Your past definitely led you to having no other choice but to join, same for me, and it wasn’t because we wanted to be NCOs. Remember, “I’d be dead or in jail.”
 
I resent vampire institutions—whichever failed you on your way to joining.
 
If all drugs were legalized and the people who sold them weren’t criminalized, would you still have joined the military? How different would Atlanta be if that were the case? 5 Think of all the fathers who would have been there for their children. Think of all the NCOs, talented, frankly beautiful people such as yourself, who would’ve stayed in their community and would’ve been leaders there, where they belong. The absence of fathers in communities because of dumb archaic views facilitates more absent fathers, and the same logic can be applied to the military culling people from communities that desperately need them.
 
Ice Cube pointed this out in the 90s, on the song “I Wanna Kill Sam.” 6 I don’t expect anyone to look it up, so here’s the intro to that song:
 
 
“The army is the only way out for a young black teenager.
 
We’ll provide you with housing.
 
We’ll provide you with education.
 
We’ll provide you with everything you need to survive in life.
 
We’ll help you to be the best soldier in the U.S. of A.
 
Because we do more before 7 A.M than most niggers do in their whole life time.”
 
 
With D-- on deployment
 
While thinking of the D– I knew, you have in me someone who hopes you actually take the chance, leave the Army, apply the discipline you have on your own terms.
 
I saw your reply about the things you posses because of the money you get from the army: the television and whatever else. With anyone else I might say something like: you’re basically admitting that those are the reasons why you do what you do. I’m not exactly sure what the implications are of a soldier saying that to civilians, but, nonetheless, I don’t believe that’s why you do what you do. I know you’re not so petty.
 
But that’s neither here nor there, I resent that as your talent is exploited in the Army you could be in your former community, doing something that will make an impact (here in America for a change). Perhaps looking out for the raver community you were so proud to be a part of?
 
I mean, look at me. What incentive do I have spending so much time typing this out? You could simply dismiss all of this and continue on.
 
But here’s my situation: I actually believe if enough people like you bounced from the military and applied themselves in the “civilian world” America would be a safer place. Applying the couple hours to hash this out a little more than usual is much more worth my time than spending it in the army so I can feel good around other people who have nice shit.
 
At any rate, I would rather struggle having conversations like these than be stuck on the other side, with my nice things, quietly considering what I’d rather do than be hauled around in a cattle truck to God knows where: Drum, Fallujah, the horn of Africa–just for relatively nice things? Nope.
 
 
Graphics by Alyssa Monet
 

 
 

Getting off the hedonic treadmill–words of wisdom from Terence Mckenna

AT EVERY TURN, there seems some incentive drawing me into dissatisfaction from things I want but cannot have. (more…)

On selfies

I DISTINCTLY REMEMBER the last selfie I took. I had taken my dog for an evening walk along a familiar route, when I came across the corpse of a cat laid beside some trash cans. The sight horrified me not only because of the novelty of a dead domestic animal but because of the callousness with which it was discarded. Immediately after seeing it, I rushed home, and, once safely inside, I sat on the floor and cried. As the tears streamed down my face, I realized I was holding my phone; almost reflexively, I opened my font camera and snapped a picture of my mascara smeared eyes.
 
With the picture saved on my SIM card, I noticed my boyfriend shaking his head in my direction. He clearly disapproved of my decision to take a selfie in that moment. I initially defended myself with the claim that I did not intend on posting the selfie, but this defense did not persuade him so much as raise a prying question in my mind. If I did not take the selfie with the intention of positing it, then why did I take it?
 
It was a weird moment to take a selfie, but I am sure a lot of people can relate to it. People take selfies when they experience powerful emotions. Photographer Emily Knecht even went so far as to take a selfie every time she cried for three years.7 8
 
Unless you have a well-defined philosophical opposition to selfies or cannot afford a proper camera phone, you probably have a few dozen selfies saved on your camera roll. Selfies have become ubiquitous; taking them has become a habitual part of modern life, and selfies on social media warrant an almost compulsory reaction from close friends and voyeuristic creeps. It is safe to say that selfies can be qualified as a phenomenon of modern life.
 
To understand this phenomenon, I think we need to establish a shared understanding of the camera phone, the instrument with which selfies are created. Cell phones with high-quality cameras have only been around for the last half a decade. Their relative novelty is significant because technological advancements are often accompanied by an interesting shift in human behavior. As we become accustomed to the new technology, we outsource a corresponding aspect of human existence into it. Consider the invention of the car, before which it was commonplace for people to walk what many people today would consider obscene distances. Walking was thought of as not just a pastime but a mode of transportation, and people would regularly walk miles in one day. Now that we have cars, we rarely consider walking to nearby locations. We are still perfectly capable of making the trip on foot, but we have psychologically outsourced this ability to cars. In this sense, the capacities of our cars have been integrated into our human capacity, and our abilities have been correspondingly expanded. In other words, we are able to do more because we have outsourced an aspect of our existence into a more capable vehicle.
 
With camera phones, we have an amazing ability. We can chronicle our everyday lives in minute detail, and we can capture ourselves in almost every moment. We can save our memories on our SIM cards. As we did with our capacity to walk long distances when we adapted to cars, we have outsourced our memories into our phones; however, unlike our relationship with cars, our growing relationship with camera phones bears greatly on our sense of identity.
 
An understanding of our past comprises, in part, our sense of self, and, in the 21st century, this understanding is inextricably linked to our ability to use our phones to log not only moments and places from our past but our faces in past moments as well. The effect of past events wears on our faces, and we turn to selfies to visualize those effects. As inherently visual and social beings, this self-visualization becomes vital to our sense of identity. Michel Serres notes the importance of self-visualization in his philosophic text, The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, writing, “Historiated skin carries and displays a particular history…Memory is inscribed there, why look elsewhere for it?” We want to know how we looked during noteworthy moments, and, in discerning this, we chronicle the body part we are biologically programmed to note, our faces. 9
 
Central to our inquiry into our appearance is a curiosity towards and desire to control the way we are perceived by others. We want to understand the vehicle with which we relate to others, and, in the quest for this understanding, we must look at ourselves. Selfies provide us with a readymade window into our relationship with the societies that surround us, and, in the end, say more about our social nature than our individual egos.
 
Also notable is our tendency to post selected selfies on social media. Whereas past generations tailored their life stories to appear successful or happy to others, we now choose our most flattering selfies from noteworthy or lonely moments to share online. While people have always tried to represent their lives in the best possible light, selfies allow for a new kind of social interaction. As a representation of our faces, selfies act as invitations for conversation more so than photos of other subjects. Consider how a photo of a vista will not garner nearly as many comments on social media as a selfie taken against the backdrop of a vista. Selfies that we post online then share a dual purpose of projecting a message of success to others and inviting social interaction, and, in this way, they have replaced the once more commonplace practice of dropping by someone’s house to talk. However, selfies also allow us to involve ourselves more deeply in the social interaction allowed by social media. They humanize online social interaction and bring a personified element to an online presence.
 
Selfies are a human adaptation to an increasingly technological world. They reflect our desire to find and construct a connection both with our own identities and with others. Rather than indicating that our culture has become more egotistical, selfies evince a culture that, as social interaction becomes increasingly digitized, is more desperate than ever to understand itself.
 
 
Featured design by Alyssa Monet
 
 

Cessation as revolutionary—the morbid reality of tobacco-use disparities

I FIND IT FASCINATING that—despite my resolve and the temporal distance between me and my last cigarette—if I think about smoking enough I can still sense a subtle craving beneath the surface of my visceral consciousness. This craving coincides with memories, especially of long-gone relationships, all of which are swift and nostalgic in their transient retrospection.
(more…)

Acts of kindness

AS A DISABLED MAN in NYC, the smallest acts of kindness go a long way to make my life easier. Whether it’s someone giving up their seat for me on a crowded subway, or simply picking up my cane if I drop it on the icy ground, it’s the small things that count the most; it’s those moments of kindness that can make my day.
(more…)

Delirium and solidarity at the 2018 NYC Women’s March (against Trump)

IN CASE YOU’VE FORGOTTEN, demonstrators at 2018’s Women’s March reminded us all that Trump’s inauguration catalyzed last year’s massive marches (more…)

New year, same shit?

THOUGH NEW YEAR’S EVE seems an especially happy time for some–a time when people turn a new leaf and are fortunate enough to self improve–many issues remain heading into 2018: homelessness, climate change, a widening wage gap, a burgeoning police state, and the still-surreal problem of an orange-skinned, Fox and Friends fiend (more…)

Blood, sweat and piss on the streets of NYC

On November 7th, 2017, the NYC marathon made its way through Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This is what it looked like.

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  1. To quote the super awesome neuroendocrinologist Robert M. Sapolsky quoting George W. Bush: “Within the frontal cortex, it’s the PFC that is ‘the decider.'” See page 46 to find this in his book, “Behave.”
  2. Concerning the age claim about this part of the brain, Sapolsky explains that the frontal cortext “does gratification postponement, self-discipline, long-term planning, emotional regulation. It’s the last part of the brain to fully mature—that doesn’t happen until you’re 25 years old…This has a very interesting implication. If this is the last part of the brain to fully develop, by definition, then, it is the part of the brain least constrained by genes and most sculpted by experience.”
  3. After a brief search, an AP story from last year reported on the Army’s failure to meet recruitment numbers because of a “favorable American economy.”
  4. More directly, a 2008 sociology study looked at variables that could answer who joins the military. Having looked at all the standard demographic qualities, “among race, socioeconomic status, and immigration status, socioeconomic status is the only significant predictor of having ever served in the military. Class differences in military enlistment likely reflect differences in the non-military occupational opportunity, structured along class lines. This research shows that the all-volunteer force continues to see overrepresentation of the working and middle classes, with fewer incentives for upper class participation.”
  5. Drug Policy Alliance, drug war statistics
  6. “I Wanna Kill Sam,” Ice Cube, Death Certificate, ℗ 1991 Priority Records
  7. Emily Knecht’s Portfolio
  8. Photographer takes selfies every time she cries for 3 years
  9. The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, Tattoos, 689, Michel Serres, Bloomsbury Revelations, 2016