Eastern Market: one of the finest cultural centers in Detroit where local vendors can gather to display their craft with artists and agriculturalists coming in waves, changing steadily with the seasons. I had the opportunity to visit the market last week and caught sight of a table covered in photos. Being a photographer myself, I couldn’t resist the chance to admire another’s skill.

Baskets holding enlarged photographs sat on the right; portfolios were spread along the center and far to the left stood the photographer, watching quietly as market­goers approached the table to flip through photo books before moving on.

In the collection of images, there was something more impressive than the vibrant colors of the street photography or the soft shadowing in the black and white portraits. There’s a sense of humanity in each of the shots, of real life captured in the moment.

According to the artist behind these pictures, it’s the sincere realism of a shot that makes a photo’s composition perfect.

Marco Mancinelli Photo by Monica Sabella
Marco Mancinelli
Photo by Monica Sabella

“I always strive for authenticity,” said Marco Mancinelli. “No composing or ‘setting up’ in portraits. I try to keep it as natural possible without affecting the shot by putting my own ideas into it.”

As a four­time winner of the Detroit Photographer of the Year award, among more prestigious awards, with images that have been featured in both national magazines and major newspapers, as well as being honored by Kodak and Fuji with Gallery and Masterpiece awards, it’s not hard to take his word for it.

Mancinelli’s attachment to photography has been a lifelong pursuit of passion. He received his first camera, a Pentax Spotmatic, as a teen and gained his first education in photography from his father who worked for the Detroit Fire Department documenting fires.

“I grew up with [photography]. My father was my greatest mentor,” Mancinelli said. Around the age of 18, he decided to take his love of photography to the next level, studying at the Center of Creative Studies, Macomb Community College and Wayne State University.

He went on taking small jobs at first through the police and fire departments and took portraits on commission.

“It was one way to make money. At the time, I liked it. I developed a new style. I was one of the first to photograph weddings in a photojournalist, documentary style,” Mancinelli said. “I also began using a 35mm instead of bringing the heavier, more cumbersome equipment traditionally used for wedding and portrait photography.”

Still, after a lifetime of photography around the world and among people of all cultures, Mancinelli says there’s nothing more essential to success than a passion for the work and the importance of authenticity.

Prior to his retirement, Mancinelli brought his documenting skills to his hometown, telling the story of Metro Detroit and the people who live here.

Photo by Marco Mancinelli

Through his work, he received a sense of satisfaction because he was getting real people in Detroit. Mancinelli’s main objective behind his photo story was to counteract the constant barrage of negative press revolving around Detroit.

“More or less saying, ‘Here are people in Detroit. Look at them. Here’s Joe working at Wayne State. Here’s our Woodward bus driver.’”

The honesty in his work translates into every photograph — the saxophone player on the corner, a flutist in Eastern Market, our local newscasters. These are personalities we see every day out on the streets and every one of them has a story to share.

One of Mancinelli’s favorite moments photographing Detroit happened when he came across a man standing in Grand Circus Park, studying for a bar exam. His son sat on the embankment nearby playing with sticks.

In 2005, Mancinelli fulfilled a lifelong dream when his photo story documenting life for a pair of Pennsylvanian twins, one born completely healthy, the other born blind, was published in Life Magazine. He had reached out to a number of schools for the blind and two responded positively.

“It was a school in Pittsburgh who reached out and told me, ‘We have a story you might be interested in,’” Mancinelli said.

“It was a human interest story and heartwarming. Using the medium of photography to tell the story of one who lacked the very thing photography was based on.”

Mother Teresa; Photo by Marco Mancinelli
Mother Teresa; Photo by Marco Mancinelli

In the past, Mancinelli has photographed known personalities such as Mother Teresa, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Andrea Bocelli, the Clintons and Luciano Pavarotti, among many others. However, to Mancinelli, the most significant use of his gift was in support of nonprofit organizations, in particular those geared toward assisting children.

Mancinelli states that one of the most memorable of his charitable photoshoots was in Guatemala where he documented an all­girls elementary school, founded by a group of townswomen for impoverished girls.

“Besides the girls’ school in Guatemala, there were two orphanages in India. One was all­boys and the other all­girls. It was very exciting and touching. The children came from very poor backgrounds. Traveling to see orphanages, how well taken care of the children were, how respectful the children were towards me… it was very touching,” Mancinelli said.

Though it didn’t always pay the bills, Mancinelli said it was something for aspiring photojournalists to consider.

“I would say find an entity you are interested in — one close to your heart. Through your work you can raise awareness through pictures for their website. Use the device you use to make a living to give back, your equipment and skill for a charitable cause.”

Mancinelli did this in more ways than one. Through his work he has raised awareness for nonprofits and communities around the world right back to his roots in Detroit. He is an advocate for change and improvement if ever there was one. If you happen to visit Eastern Market sometime, see if Mancinelli is there and take a look at his photos. I promise you won’t be disappointed.