Photography is a medium Derek Blanks knows well. With his own style, Blanks captures the essence of his subjects with flair and creativity.
“I simply capture what I see or what I want people to see,” says
Blanks. I look at things very differently. I want my pictures to look like art,” he says.
Blanks has taken photographs of many Hollywood celebrities and entertainers. Janelle Monae, Chaka Khan, Usher, Beyonce, Cuba Gooding Jr. and many more. Blanks says he has passion for anyone he puts in front of his camera.
“I love what I do. The relationships that I gain with my clientele is genuine, be it a celebrity or not. So, if Beyonce calls me and asked me to do a project, or if it’s a model client getting her career started and needs headshot images, the intent of taking their images, editing and retouching it is the same. It is important that every person is made to feel like a celebrity,” Blanks says.
Blanks has also done campaigns and cover shoots for brands such as Essence magazine, Sony Music and Cover Girl. He is also an accomplished video director.
Taking his efforts to another level, Blanks created the “Alter-ego” portrait series in 2000.
He says the series took on a life of its own.
“All these celebrities just wanted to be a part of it. So it was iconic celebrities like Chaka Khan. I shot alter-egos of celebrities Cee Lo Green, Fantasia, Kelly Rowland, Michele Williams and Nicki Minaj. The project got its own legs and just went viral. It was everywhere. It would be on tons of blogs right when blogging was so popular. Everybody was picking up the alter ego series.”
Blanks started the series with a look at himself.
“I did a portrait of myself in photography class on a tripod, which they call a double exposure. You expose the image twice on the same piece of paper and you take it in a dark room and you develop it. So, I did a portrait of myself where I was on the left and on the right. Before Photoshop existed and I was like, ‘Oh, I was doing alter egos back in college’.”
Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Blanks studied drawing and visual art at a young age. His parents enrolled him in APAC, an academic and performing arts complex.
“I was introduced to photography, printmaking, sculpture and oil painting classes. I also took piano lessons,” Blanks says. “I always had a love for art and music in general.”
Blanks went on to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, Maryland.
“All the art students there had different color hair and wore clothes that were very extreme, he says.” Being from Mississippi, I dressed pretty conservatively, but I loved the experience of going to MICA and being around different cultures, different forms of art and because of that, I flourished.”
Blanks graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in illustration. He also has done work in graphic design and illustration.
Blanks says he wants to nurture other photographers and upcoming artists.
“I do workshops maybe two to three times a year. I offer them to photographers, inexperience and experience to come learn from me,” Blanks says. My assistants also take the workshops. The purpose of me doing that is I really rely on them on a daily basis to help me with clients and customers and on set. They are the future and now-a-days the technology is so advanced. So, I look at it as a process of giving back to them and I think it's very important for them to learn. I feel like it's the least I can do as far as giving back to them and showing them that their work is appreciated.”
Blanks says the next phase of his career is owning a space where major movies, television shows as well as photography sets can be under one roof.
“I have to push myself as a creative to not get stale and to stay current for it’s important to create art no one has ever envisioned.”