From the time he was in third grade until he graduated from high school, Deon Hinton moved every year. His family—based in Fayetteville, Arkansas—would find a new apartment and start over. “We used these rent-to-own services, but we never were able to own,” he explains.
One material possession that survived these many moves was “a massive shoebox.” Inside were photos of Hinton and his mother, tangible anchors of their lives together accumulated over the years. “No matter what situation we were in,” he says, “we always had those photos.”
Hinton first turned the camera (of his Android smartphone) on himself when he was in middle school. “Being young and Black in the South, I was supposed to be tough, but I resonated with absolutely none of that,” he remembers. “I was very soft; I was bullied a lot.” To occupy his time, Hinton would prop his phone on a pile of clothes, taking picture after picture in his bedroom. “I literally thought I was eating the girls up. These photos were me building a life."
A friend gave Hinton her old Nikon D3100 in seventh grade. “It was the most powerful tool I’ve ever held,” he says. The camera gave him confidence—he began shooting football players, teaching them how to pose. The images marked the beginning, for Hinton, of carving out a place for himself as a gay, economically disadvantaged kid in a conservative town “that held all kinds of misconceptions of what it means to be queer and what it means to be an artist."
At 19, Hinton left Fayetteville for New York, which he describes as “the only place [he’s] ever homesick for,” and graduated with a degree in marketing from Berkeley College right as the pandemic hit the city. In the ensuing standstill, Hinton returned to his childhood pastime.
Using only the materials he had available—a camera, a tripod, and himself—he began taking self-portraits. Much like the self-timed Android shoots of his tween years, the result was revelatory for Hinton. “Those photos showed me what I know best about myself,” he recalls, “that I’ve always been able to create with the bare minimum, because it’s all I’ve ever had."
Though Hinton has continued to mine himself as a muse in the years following that epiphany, he has increasingly turned his lens—and his stirringly gentle eye—onto others, shooting for brands including Chanel, Calvin Klein, and Aesop.
Despite the growing demand for his work, Hinton still carves out time for personal projects, declarations of love that honor his past. Last year, while visiting family in Fayetteville, he photographed his forever muse—his brother Amarion, then 11 years old—wearing a homemade cardboard hat in an Arkansas field.
“I looked down at the camera and thought, I’m looking at the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Hinton remembers. “My brother, so carefree, so bright. I know he felt seen in a way that I only dreamed of when I was his age. He’s going to be able to hold onto those photos for the rest of his life."
Want to meet more rising stars? See CULTURED's full list of 2023 Young Photographers here.