Faced with a tiny local newspaper budget, art director Jeremy “JD” Deputat, 38, decided to pick up a camera. Although he wasn't a photographer at the time, the Detroit native had a natural eye for both composition and subjects. It was this determination that would lead him years later to photograph some of the state's most famous exports, like Eminem, Big Sean, and Kid Rock. While Deputat's beat became musical artists through his personal connections and interests, he also feels an unfaltering pride for his hometown of Detroit and regularly photographs both its unique landscape and inhabitants, posting his favorites on his popular Instagram account. Here, he shares his story and exclusive images from his most recent portrait series.
When did you start taking photos?
I started shooting around 2003 while working as an Art Director at an alt-weekly. We never had the budgets to commission great images, and I was always dealing with sub-par photographs from amateur photographers and then having the task to create covers and editorials from them. I knew I could at least shoot the same quality as I was getting, if not better, and shoot it with the correct negative space needed for print. I ran to Best Buy and bought the dopest $200 point-and-shoot camera I could find. I started shooting more and more and eventually quit my job in 2009 to dedicate all of my time learning the craft.
When I was starting out, I needed to create my book so I started by shooting my friends, who were mostly musicians, which led to a career shooting for some of the biggest artists in the music world. I love shooting portraits because it allows me to interact with some very interesting people that I would normally never have the chance to meet. Everyone collects something; I collect memories. The fame shit doesn’t matter to me. We’re all the same. It just means they achieved enormous amounts of success, and I try to learn as much as I can while working with them.
What was your big break?
When I quit my job in 2009, I came to L.A. and bum-rushed the Interscope offices and let them know I was ready to work. I had a relationship with Dennis Dennehy, who runs publicity there and handles all of the A-list talent. He was the first one to really believe in me and gave me a shot. Once I had my foot in the door, I worked non-stop to prove myself. The rest is history!
Who are your most memorable subjects?
That’s a hard question, as there have been many. My top three would be shooting album packaging for Dr. Dre in Compton, which was exciting considering NWA basically raised me and I’m also a huge fan of West Coast hip hop. I’ll never forget traveling to South Africa with Eminem, playing with lions and elephants and shit. Oh yeah, I lived with Kid Rock for four months and he taught me how to drink whiskey professionally and lock focus while sloppy drunk!
How do you establish trust with your subjects?
They trust me because I respect their privacy, treat them actually like a human, and I’m not all up in their face asking them for shit. I’m just here to do a job, and do it well. It’s hard for some people to be in an environment where everyone is partying and having fun, and you’re concentrating on working hard and getting the job done. Some people can’t handle that environment, I thrive in it.
In your own words, what makes Detroit a beautiful place to photograph? What are you trying to capture about the city?
Detroit is an amazing city, unlike anywhere. I’ve been all over the world many times, and haven’t found anywhere that has a vibe like Detroit. The people here are real, and will call you out immediately when you start fronting. Detroit taught me how to stay authentic and true to who you are. Detroit is better than a Hollywood back-lot — the texture and grit that my city has is something that can’t be recreated. We’ve always been the underdog, and had to work much harder than everyone else to make it out. Everyone wants to be associated with Detroit now because it’s cool, but I’ve repped Detroit my whole life, back when it wasn’t cool at all to be from here.
What makes Detroit look different than any other city?
Detroit looks different than any other city because for many years, it was a ghost town. The residents that could fled to the suburbs and left the city in a post-apocalyptic state. Detroit was a world-class city in the 1950’s, with a population of 2 million. Just a few years back, we had less than 700,000 residents, which is why half of the city was vacant and abandonded. Things are changing now, and it’s a really exciting time to be here.
Do you have any advice for emerging photographers?
Always have your camera with you and work hard. There isn’t a shortcut to success, as with anything. I have proven that if you work hard, stay hungry, learn the business, study the craft and never give up, you will eventually become successful.
What is the greatest lesson you've learned?
Treat people with respect, be honest, work hard, surround yourself with successful people and stay away from negativity.
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