“I’ve always had an obsession with imagery since I was a kid.” Trevor Dernai grew up always interested in the arts and media. He knew his life would head in that direction. So when the time came for college, he decided to pursue graphic design – and on the list of requirements for his graphic design degree…was a photography class. “From the first class I was hooked,” he said.
It wasn’t long after that first class that Trevor changed his degree to photography and has been pursuing that career ever since. “Once I honed in that photography work was my goal, I quickly became addicted to studying and practicing my craft,” Trevor said.
Spending most of his life in Farmington, MI, Trevor has a strong family history with ties to Detroit. His grandfather was a member in popular Motown group The Shades of Blue (you’ve probably heard their hit “Oh How Happy”), and his grandmother worked for the famous Detroit Michigan Central Station. His parents also owned a local grocery store in southwest Detroit.
It’s not hard to guess then, why a majority of his work is centered on Detroit. He’s known around town as the Detroit photographer who takes sweepingly gorgeous photos of the Detroit cityscape, capturing the culture and people of Detroit. His photography documents music, portraits, fashion, live events, and street life – and not only here in Detroit, but in other parts of the world as well. His vibrant photos have caught the attention of many other talented artists and have helped blossom his career in the photography world.
“I love the sheer scale of Detroit, and the range of what you can experience in the city limits is phenomenal. We have the grit and grime, the glamorous, the art, and the up and coming every city hopes to have, but we do things our way,” Trevor tell us about his love for Detroit. “The local art scene in Detroit is very competitive, but it brings out the best in everyone. With the scene being so small, we are all constantly being pushed to do bigger and better, fueling the creative flow in the city.”
Trevor has certainly created his own style and flair with his work – setting him apart from other photographers in the area. There’s life evident in his work, and each shot paints a story; whether it’s a portrait, cityscape or live event, you can’t help but feel an emotion with each one.
He mentioned that a lot of his initial success, believe it or not, came from his Instagram account (which until last year, was known as “Lfty” – this is why you might hear people refer to him as the Detroit “Lfty” photographer). Today he uses his full name, Trevor Dernai. He’s worked with Adidas Footwear, Eminem, and a number of other notable Detroit artists…and has no plans to stop.
“What I love most is the ability to create and document imagery that has an impact on someone. I love the ability to constantly progress and work out of my comfort zone, to never be in a stagnant position.” This is what has sold Trevor to photography, and with someone this talented and passionate, we knew we needed to snag an interview with him.
Luckily, he was game…check out CBS 62’s exclusive Detroit Proud interview with Trevor Dernai below!
Tell us about yourself, Trevor!
Well, I’m 24 years old and for most of my life, I was raised in Farmington, MI. Most people from that city will agree there isn’t much for the young to do but spend time with friends and entertain yourself.
Has photography become your full-time gig?
Yes, photography and media is my full-time gig these days. It’s been about two years now that I’ve relied exclusively on freelance work. I’ve done many things and have been lucky to be involved with great projects this early in my career, from directing, photographing, assisting, and location scouting. I’ve had the pleasure of my work being licensed by Adidas Footwear as well as Eminem for his European stage display, to assisting on projects with some of Detroit’s great artists.
Tell us about your work…what type of equipment do you use?
I’d say 99% percent of my work is done within Detroit’s city limits and that is something I am proud to say. Believe it or not, I have Instagram to thank for my career. I’m currently using Canon DSLR camera equipment as well as my new little Fujifilm X100s. I was first noticed for photographing Detroit street photography, and that has led to so much more. I cannot talk about the beginning of my professional career without naming the photographers who have helped me get to where I am today.
Jeremy Deputat was the first person to give me a chance in the scene, and for that, I could never thank him enough. Working with JD has taken me to places and gigs I would have never imagined I’d see. Joshua Hanford has also become a close friend of mine and I’m happy to say he has helped me meet and grow more than anyone else. Commercial photography is what I am focusing my career on. I love working on big sets and extravagant lighting setups, but there are also the unexpected jobs with nothing but sunlight where everything falls into place which can be so rewarding.
Do you have a favorite photo that you’ve taken? Why is it your favorite?
It’s very difficult to pick favorite photos, as each set has so many different meanings to me. One that I can say is the Detroit skyline from the top of Detroit’s abandoned Book Tower. In my opinion, it is by far the best view of downtown, and the work that went into taking that image brings it really close to home for me.
Another image – although it is not from Detroit – is something I documented while traveling abroad in England. It’s an image I created of a broken compass laying atop a pebble beach while I spent time on the Isle of Weight. To me, this image represents that life can take you in any direction. Whether it’s the right way, the easy way, or just plain difficult, never turn away from something which has the potential to be your life’s greatest adventure.
Where and how do you find inspiration?
Inspiration for me is difficult to explain. It’s hard to say that I am influenced in anything directly, as I normally just work with the flow of a project and work with the obstacles I am given. I can say that street photography and urban culture play a heavy role in my style.
Has your photography taken you to any cool places – or have you met any cool people?
The number of cool places photography has taken me is too many to count. I’ve explored the Chrysler assembly plant, Michigan Central Station, and been on the rooftops of many Detroit skyscrapers. Photography has also given me the chance to meet people and artists I never thought would be possible. In the last two years, I’ve had the chance to meet Eminem, Royce da 5’9″, Danny Brown, GRiZ, Rick Williams of Burn Rubber, photographers Joe Gall / Jenny Risher / Matt Lavere, and countless other musicians and artists from all over Detroit.
What are your future goals with your photography?
For me, I just want to be happy and doing something that I love to do with the people I love to have around me. I have been known to bring and incorporate friends of mine wherever I can. I know how lucky I am to be where I am today and one of my favorite things is being able to share that with my loved ones. Everywhere this road may take me, I hope to bring you all along for the ride.