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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brian DeMint: Deliberate Dissonance

A big fish in a small pond, Brian DeMint takes an unconventional approach to fashion photography in Small Town, USA

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"I'm heavily influenced by the Fauves [French for the wild beasts], Abstract Expressionism and New American Surrealism," he explains. "My initial imagery was influenced by my admiration for a group of painters referred to as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and additionally by the dark and cerebral cinema of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski. As the work evolved, I began to study fashion designers, particularly John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, as well as the famous fashion shooters Miles Aldridge, Paolo Reversi, Sarah Moon and others. Now, the work is propelled by all of these influences, plus my study of art history and whatever weirdness seems to be floating around in my head. I've been very fortunate in that the work has steadily gained in popularity, which is both flattering and sometimes baffling because it's not my intention to create artwork that fits into any sort of category that's universally accepted.

"It's achieving the desired results," adds DeMint. "I'm most definitely not the 'me against the world' type. It's not my intention to be radical or different for the sake of being rebellious against the norm. However, I don't sell my artwork by the square foot either, so I do have the leeway of being unconventional. I'm steadfast in my commitment to producing artwork that I personally find visually compelling, and if a client likes it as well, then I get a bonus. I've turned down everything from doing band covers to beauty editorials for national magazines because their boundaries left no room for creativity. As long as I make enough money to keep the studio open, I'm happy."

The Tornado

On May 22, as one of the 175,000 residents of Joplin, Missouri, photographer Brian DeMint's life was turned upside down by the most devastating American tornado in more than 60 years.

"The tornado has been a life-changing event for everyone living here," DeMint says. "It's impossible to drive through the middle of town and not be moved to tears. The heartbreak continues as we still have people dying from wounds or infections, and others have received horrific physical scarring. And surely we all have been emotionally battered."

DeMint was fortunate that his relatives and home were spared, though some of his models weren't so lucky.

"Our family and home miraculously came through unscathed," he says, "as houses a block away were utterly destroyed. However, we did have two Eyeworks models directly affected by the tornado. One lost her home, vehicle and all the family's possessions. Most things that survived the tornado were ruined by the rain that continued all that night and the next day. The other model not only lost all her possessions and her vehicle, but also suffered physical damage with fractured vertebrae and other injuries around her heart and lungs. Thankfully, she's expected to make a full recovery."

Along with the dramatic impact the tornado had on the photographer's models, and the subtler impact it had on DeMint's ability to continue shooting and editing his projects, the events led to a bit of an ethical dilemma for many photographers. DeMint drew a simple line that he has stuck to.

"I personally vowed not to take any images," he says, "and I will not. What I have seen will unfortunately be forever in my memory. However, the city was an incredulous sight, and so many people were snapping pictures. Then signs started to appear in yards reading things like, 'Put down your damn camera and help!' Thus, the ethical debate can begin."

Look for Brian DeMint as the keynote speaker at the Missouri Professional Photographers Association workshops in September and as a mentor at After Dark Education in Charlotte, N.C. and Tucson, Ariz., this fall. You can see more of DeMint's work on his website, www.eyeworksphotography.com.


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