Brian DeMint: Deliberate Dissonance

It’s suppertime when Brian DeMint returns from his 12-hour swing shift at a rural Missouri power plant—unless, of course, he’s working the overnight. He usually grabs a slice of pizza and kisses his wife, but then he gets to work again. Unlike most folks in Joplin who work two jobs, DeMint doesn’t moonlight as a fast-food worker or a security guard. His other job is fashion photographer.

Calling DeMint’s photographic pursuits a "job" isn’t quite right. It’s his passion—the creative outlet that has been the focus of his existence since 2004. Calling him a fashion photographer doesn’t seem quite right either, but no term fits better. He’s occupying a creative space that isn’t particularly well defined, and that’s fine with him.

You see, fashion photographers tend to be commercial photographers working on assignment for magazines or ad agencies or fashion designers in exchange for money—often big money. DeMint, though, considers himself an artist. In fact, he has zero desire to turn his burning passion into a mere job lest it taint his artistic vision. So he works less at growing his business than he does refining his creativity and his photographic output.

"I don’t consider myself a commercial photographer," he says. "I turn down nearly all assignments unless I’m given complete creative control. I loathe parameters and prefer my unconscious mind to take me where it likes—before conformity, logic or marketing kick in. I rarely, if ever, preplan a shoot. For me, the modus operandi is that the model shows up, and I get ideas on the fly and we shoot them. The ideas are influenced by all the visuals floating around in my brain at that moment.

"I’m a business-to-personal photographer hired by models and would-be models," DeMint adds. "Magazines occasionally pick up sets, and that’s very beneficial. But accepting commissioned assignments, for me, is equivalent to putting on a straitjacket."

Don’t mistake DeMint’s photography for some glorified hobby. Creating images is the primary focus of his life. He pours as much heart, soul and sweat into his images as the biggest New York photographers—though he does it for much less money, for much smaller clients, in a much smaller town and maybe for much purer reasons.

"I would be more apt to call it an obsession," DeMint says. "All my spare time is engaged with something associated with fashion photography: shooting, editing, studying, experimenting. Even when I watch movies, I pay so much attention to the makeup, the attire and the cinematography that I’m often clueless about what’s happening in the movie. It’s not something that I’m looking to get rich from, even though we could definitely use the money. My biggest fear is turning into a ‘glamour shots’ type of scenario. Putting people through, like, an assembly line is a nauseating thought to me."

DeMint is so focused on the end result—the perfect image of a beautiful woman in a wild outfit with great makeup and a vibrant, sculptural and textural quality—that he has all but completely ignored what most photographers would consider the essentials of equipment and technique. Certainly no other fashion photographer ever profiled in these pages—or likely in any other—can lay claim to as minimal a setup as DeMint favors. He recently traded in his Canon Digital Rebel for a Nikon D90 with a kit lens. "An 18-55mm, I think," he says. That’s all he needs. Well, that and the chicken warmers.

DeMint is so focused on the end result—the perfect image of a beautiful woman in a wild outfit with great makeup and a vibrant, sculptural and textural quality—that he has all but completely ignored what most photographers would consider the essentials of equipment and technique. Certainly no other fashion photographer ever profiled in these pages—or likely in any other—can lay claim to as minimal a setup as DeMint favors.

"You know," DeMint adds, "those $7 silver dish-reflector lights with the clamps? I get mine at Wal-Mart because they have a 10-foot cord instead of a 6-foot cord. They run about 20 cents more, but I feel a guy has to splurge sometimes to get the equipment he needs. I use those with 100-watt soft-white bulbs and a stick to duct-tape them to when I have to move back a bit. They’re used in some chicken houses to generate heat, I understand. So, if you want to get some great arty shots of chickens sometime, it’s all set up.

"I would be more apt to call it an obsession," DeMint says. "All my spare time is engaged with something associated with fashion photography: shooting, editing, studying, experimenting. Even when I watch movies, I pay so much attention to the makeup, the attire and the cinematography that I’m often clueless about what’s happening in the movie. It’s not something that I’m looking to get rich from, even though we could definitely use the money. My biggest fear is turning into a ‘glamour shots’ type of scenario. Putting people through, like, an assembly line is a nauseating thought to me."

"Usually, my setup is one light for portraits," he says, "two if I need a hair light, two or three lights for three-quarter body shots, and I rarely do full-length shots. For beauty sets, the setup is usually two: a backlight or fill light and the key light. I always hold the key light in my hand, so I can put the emphasis exactly where I want it. Plus, the model can pose as quick as she wants, and I can adjust the light to match so I don’t miss a shot. These lighting setups give me a dramatic and baroque artistic feel versus the other lighting forms I’ve tried.


Brian DeMint is an equipment minimalist. Using a lower-end DSLR and simple lighting gear, he creates photographs layered with complexity of color, shape, form and texture. It’s interesting that his minimalist approach on the equipment side extends to his choice of formats. Says DeMint, "I never shoot in RAW, never plan to. I’ve experimented with it and personally dislike it because it just adds to the image size and processing time. That’s just a personal choice, so readers, please don’t send me your arguments why I’m a dolt for not using RAW or for using a PC instead of a Mac. Yes, it’s true! I use a PC."

"I’ve tried strobes and many forms of other gear," DeMint continues, "however, the hot lights let me see exactly where the illumination is hitting without doing tests. I’m ready to shoot immediately for each set. I have no lighting adjustments, except I might bend a reflector to make it more of a spotlight for a jewelry shot or something. Plus, I prefer the painterly feel it gives to the images."

Having very few lighting adjustments also means that the photographer can be present while the model is being made up. This is crucial for DeMint’s process, as the entire look of the shoot—from wardrobe to makeup to hair to posing and retouching—are all spur-of-the-moment decisions. Since each piece of the puzzle is weighted equally, DeMint needs to be involved in the preshoot processes, too.

"I like seeing if my direction is working," he s
ays. "If not, I can have my wife—my primary makeup artist and hairstylist, and an excellent craftsman—alter it before we waste time on mistakes in my styling ideas. It also gives me a chance to coach the model about the theme and come up with adjectives to think about when posing: angular, haughty, sultry, etc. Lastly, and this is big—the studio is completely non-intimidating, and it has a more intimate and creative painter-studio aesthetic to it versus the sterile setup I so often see. When the models feel at ease, it’s a much more conducive setting for them to get into character. Posing, for me, is more like acting.

"For me, being a photographer often means I’m also a set designer, flower arranger, fashion consultant, jewelry maker," DeMint says. "My philosophy is if I don’t have it, we try to make it. We’re well versed in making useable objects from absolute garbage."

DeMint’s hands-on approach is nowhere more evident than in the image of a model, Vera, as an ice princess. He constructed jewelry and accessories out of store-bought items he then pieced together. While he often paints backgrounds, in this case he used leftover snow flocking to create the backdrop on plywood.


DeMint uses wild color combinations and juxtapositions in his work: "Color is a driving force behind the work. The base or key color is usually the model’s outfit, and all my decisions on makeup, jewelry, accessories, backdrops and props are based off that key color. Of course, those decisions are also influenced by the other elements of design, texture, shape, line, etcetera. In the studio, I never shoot with gels, and as for in-camera adjustments, I may offset the white balance to get a golden or bluish hue to start with."

"I bought a $5 pack of gem-cut plastic doodads," he says, "and constructed a necklace with a hot-glue gun, and that headpiece with a plastic trash bag, hot glue and the gems. We used feathers from a boa, torn in half, for the eyelashes. Then we shot it various ways with the theme being regal—thus, the head back. In Photoshop, I added some icy-looking textures and some fake snow with brushes. The result was boring, so I grabbed a stock image of a red wall and layered it on top of the stack using the ‘soft light’ layer method. It’s not boring now! I’m not sure what we’ve got, but to me it’s visually dynamic."

That this visual dynamo relies on Photoshop to add crucial finishing elements to his images is no surprise. DeMint loves working with layers and overlays to add texture and a tactile quality to his images, but aside from that, he says he doesn’t do too much beyond color and contrast adjustments.

"I learned Photoshop by experimenting and doing tutorials online," he says. "I make very heavy use of color adjustments—hue, balance, saturation—using adjustment layers with layer masks. Photoshop is a big part of the work because it allows me to experiment with things that would take hours to try in a physical manner or which would otherwise be impossible. This is the digital age, why restrict yourself? I’m not concerned with reality for the most part. Fashion and beauty photography is that area between reality and illusion. For me, the original image is like a sketch one performs before moving on to the finished painting. It’s the product, not the process."

Technicians get bogged down with process. Artists worry only about tools as a means to an end. DeMint definitely is the latter. Once a painter, all he has ever photographed is fashion and beauty, and that’s all he has ever wanted to do. What he may lack in technical expertise or high-end equipment, he more than makes up for in creative vision and a robust knowledge of art. And, of course, there’s his exceptional capability. The proof is in the product.

"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 incredulo
us 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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