You might not know Derek Blanks, but you know his work. You’ve seen his photos in numerous magazines. His work lies at the intersection fine art and high drama presenting his celebrity clients in their best light. His latest project the “Alter Ego” series has changed the way we think of the art of photography. The concept of the series puts the complexity of the human persona on display, taking his celebrity subjects and splitting them into two separate entities in a sort of high concept Clark Kent meets Superman experiment. The Atlanta-based photog is also a talented painter and graphic designer but photography is his favorite medium because “[i]t’s just the time spent that makes me favor photography and I can capture a spontaneous moment that can tell the story that relates to the subject rather than a controlled painting which is more structured than what I usually do.”
“I think the most important thing that I do to get the shot is make the celebrity feel comfortable and let down their guard and reveal a portion of themselves in front of the camera.”
Compared to surrealist photographer David Lachapelle, Blanks takes his use of lighting, composition, and concept very seriously, making sure that all “the bells and whistles are lined up” before each shoot. And while the concept is usually set before the shoot begins, Derek likes to “take it up another notch from the original concept that’s given to me and take it from there.” But it takes more than skill and preparation to get that perfect shot, it also takes a willing subject and even though he regularly works with celebrity clientele, they may not always be comfortable in front of the camera. As the consummate professional, Blanks takes it all in stride. “I think the most important thing that I do to get the shot is make the celebrity feel comfortable and let down their guard and reveal a portion of themselves in front of the camera.”
This was especially true on the photo shoot for Bebe and Cece Winans. “The first thing Bebe said when he walked through the door was “I’m not going to like this.” But by the end of the shoot, he couldn’t believe that he was at a shoot for twelve hours and enjoyed every minute of it.” And with his extensive list of celebrity shoots including Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson and Boris Kudjoe, it’s obvious that Blanks has a way around the camera and his clients. But he’s still amazed that his famous clientele know his name and are clamoring to be his next subject. “I’m really surprised that they [celebrities] know who I am. Because of modern technology, because of internet access and blogging it really has made my name almost a household name. It’s not the level where I want my career to be, but it’s a great jump start thus far.”
Making use of his prodigious “jump start” Derek is looking to take things to the next level and diversify. “I just want to be known as an excellent photographer of all nationalities and races.” He’s also looking to expand his empire beyond photography looking toward directing films and videos. But he’ll always be devoted to the camera. “I would love to land some major advertising campaigns for companies like Loreal and Ralph Lauren. I want to take my photography to new spectrums that I haven’t been before.” The culmination of which would be a book that displays all his work marking his evolution as an artist.
When asked about his own alter ego and how people perceive him, Blanks was very candid. Many times during the initial meeting clients tend to assume he’s the stereotypical Hollywood type – arrogant and inaccessible. “I guess my alter ego, which a lot of people don’t know, would be a down to earth, regular guy that’s approachable and easy to talk to and friendly.” In fact in his spare time, Derek uses his talents to enrich his community providing illustration to the African American children’s book “Up the Learning Tree.” But no matter how you slice it, Blanks on the rise. With the success of the “Alter Ego” series and his unyielding dedication to art and excellence, Blanks will go from being a semi-household name to a full blown one.