Detroit Free Press Spotlights My Town Miracles Book Effort

Photographer Les Ward used Landmark's Self Expression and Leadership Program to create 'My Town Miracles', a photography exhibit focusing on inspirational leaders who live in Detroit. The exhibit was featured previously here at Landmark Education News. Now Ward is seeking to turn the exhibit into a book. Ward was interviewed about the project and his life by the Detroit Free Press. 

Detroiters are MyTown miracles

by Desiree Cooper

Seems like we've all got something to whine about these days. But West Bloomfield photographer Les Ward refuses to join the chorus.

"I don't want my whining to be out in the universe," said Ward, 57, who has survived cancer, divorce and business woes. "I've had my chance to be cynical, and it wasn't working."

So Ward thought that maybe he could focus better on his own possibilities by helping Detroiters see the possibilities in themselves.

Ward's idea? Take portraits of Detroiters "who could be living anywhere, but who are committed to making this a better place," he said.

He's collecting the photos in a book — "MyTown Miracles: Portraits of Possibility." Ward said he hopes to have one portrait for every week of the year.

Ideas and obstacles

Ward first saw the power of his idea in January at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.

"I wanted the international press to see something good about Detroit," he said. "I exhibited 22 portraits of people who were making a difference here."

Those portraits included notables such as Damon Keith, a senior judge on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co.

The exhibit was so well-received that Ward decided to take more pictures of inspirational Detroiters. His book is to include community activist Grace Lee Boggs and Jennifer Litomisky, executive director of Ronald McDonald House of Detroit.

Ward has no idea — yet — how he'll fund the book or get it published. But he's no stranger to overcoming obstacles. In April 2000, he was treated for advanced melanoma.

"I told the doctor that I had dodged a bullet," Ward said. "The doctor said, 'Are you kidding? You dodged a cannon.' "

Ward was a successful automotive photographer working out of a 7,000-square-foot Southfield studio, but the declining auto industry forced him to reinvent himself. He had started to develop new clients when, in October 2006, he and his high school sweetheart divorced. They had been married 18 years during most of which, she had been his business manager.

"The ink wasn't dry on the divorce papers when she went to the emergency room," he said. "Turns out, she had pancreatic cancer. She died in March of 2007."

Focus on the possible

Alone to raise the couple's teenage daughter, Ward gave up his big studio and started working from home. Then, in January 2008, a second melanoma was removed. A third was discovered that May. Another surgery revealed that, miraculously, it hadn't spread past his lymph nodes.

Ward sees a parallel between his own life challenges and the wave of challenges that face Detroit. He said he hopes the book will help Detroiters to stop focusing on their troubles and focus upon what's possible.

"The book will be a series of portraits of people who are bigger than their circumstances," Ward said. "That's how transformation happens."

I hope he's saved a page in the book for a portrait of himself.

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