Mark Douglas for Ford Motor Company


Client: Ford Motor Company
Agency: Team Detroit
Art Director: Christine Ward

Project Manager: Heather Levine
Art Producer: Julie Sparrow
Photographer: Noah Stephens
Assistant: Matty Vallevand
Location: The DIA, Detroit, MI

Rivera Court, commission in 1932 by Edsel Ford


Client selects

The Ford Motor Company's "Go Further" initiative celebrates employees and dealers who work to improve their community. In early February 2015 we shot Avis Ford dealership president Mark A. Douglas for this ongoing campaign at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Mark's father – civic activist and philanthropist Walter Douglas – purchased majority ownership of Avis Ford in 1992. Walter turned over operations to Mark in 2006.

Mark continues his father's civic activism as a board member at the Detroit Institute of Arts. As Mark notes in Go Further ad, The DIA gives the region's children a portal to perspective-changing world-renown art. The museum is an unquestionably positive, irreplaceable part of Detroit's cultural heritage.

However, the frightening reality is Detroit almost did lose the DIA. During the city's historic municipal bankruptcy proceedings, it became apparent the city may have to sell part of the DIA's $4.6 billion dollar collection. In addition to losing the most remarkable parts of its collection, this fire sale would have all but guaranteed no one would ever again trust the museum with any remarkable art. The resulting insolvency would have forced the museum to close.

Thankfully, this tragedy was averted. In a fundraising effort that came to be informally known as the "Grand Bargain," private citizens, the state of Michigan, foundations, and corporations including the Ford Motor Company raised more than $800 million. This effort guaranteed the DIA's collection would not be sold to settle Detroit's debt. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven W. Rhodes also approved a plan to transfer ownership of the DIA from the city to a private charitable trust. This tranfer ensures the DIA's collection will never again be at risk should the city fall once more into bankruptcy.

The support of Detroit's philanthropic and business community and the continued support of people like Mark ensures generations of metro Detroiters will have access to transformative world-class art.


Photographer's Notes

Once my bid for this project was accepted, I started to think about how to pull it off. Team Detroit art director Christine Ward was kind enough to forward me a sampling of previous shoots from this ongoing campaign. That gave me a general sense of the campaign's aesthetic: bright, colorful, editorial (with "editorial" meaning photography meant to accompany and illustrate an article).

Though I'd been to the DIA dozens of times, I scouted the location a couple of days before the shoot to work through a couple of ideas. For the exterior shots I knew I wanted to include the DIA's iconic statue of Rodin's "The Thinker." Since the DIA's mantra drives home the idea that the museum exists to serve the people of Detroit, I also wanted to make sure the DIA's facade was clearly in focus. Finally, in keeping with the campaign's bright aesthetic, I ideally wanted to include the sun in the frame. 

After shooting a series of straightforward frames of Mark in front of the DIA with his Ford Explorer in the wings, I mentioned to Christine that I had a pre-visualized idea I wanted to give a try. We moved everyone into position. Since I was shooting in bright sunlight with a relatively small aperture, I knew I'd need a relatively powerful light to properly expose Mark. That light came courtesy of a rented 600 watt-second head and pack.

I showed Christine the image on the back of the camera:

"That's it!," Christine said.

Mark had the right expression. The sun happened to be in just the right place at the right time adding energy to the image and highlighting "The Thinker." Editorial-style shoots can be difficult. There are a lot of variables you can't control. Problems you can't anticipate or prepare for. It's a beautiful feeling when things come to together as planned.

"I agree!"


In April 2010, Noah founded The People of Detroit  as a counterpoint to media fixated on desolation in the storied birthplace of American auto manufacturing. Noah's commercial career began in earnest when in 2011 former Draft FCB executive creative director Hweebeng Poh saw the project on Flickr and hired Noah to shoot an ad campaign for McDonald's Corporation in Shanghai, China. 

TPOD has since earned national and international accolades including a grant from the Knight Foundation (2012) and a list-leading feature in Complex Magazine's "20 Detroit Artist You Should Know" (2014). Noah works full-time as a photographer and writer in his native Detroit.

Visit his portfolio at: http://noahstephens.com 

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