by Camille Johnson
THE MAN BEHIND THE LENS
Dennis Belton is the multi-talented, creative force behind Belton Media Group -- a Detroit-based media company responsible for the branding of some of your favorite artists and brands including IBGM and Enjoy Detroit. This weekend, we sat down with Dennis to find out more about his career, his inspiration, and his passions.
Dennis' experiences growing up on the west side of Detroit have helped define who he is as a man -- but it was his experience at Southfield High School that flipped his creative switch. There, he was surrounded by budding talent, by the future legends of our generation; people like Earlly Mac, Jay John Henry, and Erika Hayes. As he watched his peers hone their crafts, Dennis also began developing his talents through is radio and audiovisual class. After high school, he continued polishing his radio, video, and photography skills at Specs Howard School of Media and Arts. Once he graduated, he was able to really start making his dreams a reality.
Unable to find a job doing what he loved, and sure that he didn't want to go to the news caster route, Dennis began shooting weddings around the city at age 19. During this time, he also was on the slow grind to build the right relationships and brand for himself. He began his work in the musical world soon after. A friend introduced him to DJ Limelightz, and Dennis began going to the radio station to record him and take shoot him working. As their relationship grew, Dennis created and branded DJ Limelightz; this led to a domino effect, opening a ton of doors for the Belton Media Group head honcho. He went on to create and brand the websites for Oba Rowland and IBGM.
Dennis is most proud of his work with Enjoy Detroit. As an original member of the team, his blood, sweat, and tears have helped build Enjoy Detroit into the powerhouse brand that it is today. The brand's website itself is a testament to Dennis' talent and hard work, while the brand's growing social media footprint (they have over 12,000 Instagram followers!) represents Dennis' commitment to the grind of building a strong following.
STAYING TRUE TO HIMSELF
During our interview, we were touched by Dennis' commitment to positivity.
"People sell out their art to fit in, but I won't compromise my art. I stand for something with my photography. I'm not gonna tell people what to do, or that something's right or wrong; but I won't do certain shoots. I'm willing to miss out on money because I stand by something with my brand. I want all of my work to be something that people can look up to in a positive way.
So many people have sacrificed who they are to keep up an image and end up doing something bad; something that's not even in their heart to do, because they're genuinely good at heart. But they do it just for Instagram, just to keep up with their image. Knowing what they're doing isn't right, just to keep their image alive and not keep what's in their heart alive.
It's okay to do what you love and not compromise who you are. You set a new standard, and when you do that, you make a new cool and people attach themselves to it.
Enjoy Detroit is an example of that. We're trying to do things the right way. None of us are perfect. You get the good with the good, the bad with the bad. But when all of us are rocking Enjoy Detroit, we stand for something. We believe in our brand and we push the right message. It's like being in church; everyone isn't the perfect Christian, but we're all committed to being positive and doing things the right way. "
Though it's not always easy, Dennis' family and following motivate him to maintain his positive spirit.
"I'm a work in progress. It can be a struggle. Sometimes you may feel played, misrepresented, or overlooked, and that can be frustrating. But when people are following you, you have to be selective because they're watching you. You don't want to be a bad influence.
Aside from that, I'm just a reflection of my grandparents and all things they showed and taught me. My grandfather taught me how to treat a woman by the way he treated by grandmother. So now I have to reflect all the things they've taught me. Belton Media Group represents my family. It's our name. I know that anything I do will reflect on all of us, so I can't be out here doing crazy stuff. I'm representing my whole family."
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
While his name being on Belton Media Group is enough to keep Dennis inspired, it is far from his only inspiration. He sees Enjoy Detroit as his baby and credits the work he does for the brand as influencing him to go even harder for Belton Media Group.
"If I'm gonna work 20 hours for someone else's last name, why wouldn't I go 30 hours for my own?"
But more than anything, Dennis is inspired by Detroit and the feeling our city has given to him, his peers, and our community as a whole.
"I'm inspired by the city. All the pain we felt as a city, that inspires me. Capturing it visually and telling the story of the pain that we're all going through. Showing genuinely good people, showing the art. Showing the people here who are really talented. I keep my camera going to show the city, to show that art. They don't show that to us, so If I don't do that -- If I don't show that -- I won't be doing the city justice."
Dennis wants to show our generation and the next generation that Detroit is the place where we can win, where we can be successful.
"i want people to look at my pictures and say 'Dang, that was in Detroit though.' You know, we all go out to LA and New York to make it. But then we all go there, and it's just Detroit all over again because we're all there. And then LA comes here. They come here to shoot the Transformers movie -- we go out there. They come here to shoot 4 Brothers -- but we go out there. They come here to shoot the second Transformers movie, and we're STILL going out there.
The competition in LA is a whole different ball game. Here, our competition is us within ourselves. We fight each other. [In LA] their competition is fighting real competition. They fighting people from all over the world. You can compete at a high level, but what's your real chance of winning there? Whereas we stay here, our chance of winning is just uniting with each other. We all can come together here and win.
We don't know it, but Detroit is New York. My Detroit players -- gators -- all of that. That's DETROIT. All the music gets sampled from Hitsville and that's on the Boulevard, but we go to LA to get our deals. We go everywhere else, but they don't know Michael Jackson made his hits here. He got it from here. He set all that in motion here, and took Detroit on fire. There's so much history here. People don't know Martin Luther King did his 'I Have a Dream' speech here first -- they don't even know it. And that's why I feel like I have to step my game up and do more short documentaries showing that. Showing that was here, because when i was younger i didn't know. No one told me. And the people that did know didn't share that because they didn't want to be seen as lame, or sacrifice their image because it wasn't "cool" to say it. Then they said "oh I thought you knew", but how would we know if you aren't sharing that knowledge?"
KEEPING THE CREATIVITY
Dennis finds inspiration in everything, and he is constantly working to stay creative and evolve his art.
"Each day I hit myself with an hour blitz. No matter how tired I am, I force myself to sit down for that hour and look at different things -- old magazines, classic movies, the things I grew up, clips on youtube. Like the NWA trailer. I watched that and it really inspired me.
I really like looking at old magazines like Ebony and Essence. The magazines that we grew up on. We don't have real magazines anymore, so looking back and seeing what we used to have inspires me in my art."
Though it can be a struggle, he tries not to beat himself up when going through creative ruts.
"I used to rush myself or beat myself up when I wasn't inspired, or when I felt like my work wasn't up to par. There might be times where I wasn't proud of work I did for a client -- they really liked it -- but I just knew it wasn't my best or that I could have pushed myself more. Other people may like the finished product, but I'm creative and my mind works like a creative, so I'll still feel like I have to push myself to be better. Even if I'm winning, I haven't won yet. So there's always more that I can do."
He also finds creative inspiration from his peers.
"I don't believe in competing with other people or being intimidated by other photographers and people in my lane. I love being around other photographers and seeing their work. You have to be able to sit by somebody else's greatness and not be intimidated by it."
But more than anything, his creative foundation and inspiration comes from above.
"I really like the work of Nigel Perry (photographer) and Matt Alonzo (director). Their work is great, so I like to look at it from time to time. But my inspiration really comes from God. Everything that I can do, that I've been able to do, it's through Him."
THE BELTON LEGACY
Dennis wants to continue to grow his talents and business, but his greatest goal is to touch the lives those around him in a positive, lasting way.
"I really want to create so many millionaires, where everyone's family can be set for the future. I want to be successful, so that [my mentee] Mike can be successful and take care of his family. I want people to be slaves to their art, not to their jobs. I want to have movies directed under Belton Media Group so that I can put on the people that are under me. For example, if I'm directing a movie, all the photography associated with it will come from my people, because I want to put everyone on.
I really just want to reinvent the wheel, but use the work legends already put in. All of the legends have created the blueprint and I want to update, refresh it, and make it my own."
Good leadership is essential.
"I don't ever feel like I'll outgrow my team. If I do, that means I did something wrong. That means I'm not a good leader.
I give Dave (founder of Enjoy Detroit) a lot of respect. I did what I was supposed to do for Enjoy Detroit at the beginning, and that relationship is still there. That family relationship is there. I did what I was supposed to do, but he's always like ' no, there's more you can do.' He could have said 'bye, I'm done with y'all' but he still supports. He still puts us on. And he doesn't owe us anything, but he's still committed to the team. That's leadership."
What's are his keys to success?
"You have to be willing to fail in public. People want to be great, but everyone that's achieved greatness has been willing to fail in public. I'm willing to fail -- fashion-wise, with my photography, workwise. Period. You may suck for a while, but be consistent. Be consistent with that grind. You have to stay committed to what you're doing no matter what people say to you or what they think about you.
You also have to keep relationships going. It's a character thing. Doing things for people and not thinking you're owed anything.Not expecting to have hand-outs given to you. Help other people. I want to put people in the position to shoot their shot. When you keep good relationship going and you're happy for other people, it exudes from you. That's success."