Justin O’Keith’s inventive art and fitness photography was inspired by his own devotion to getting healthy
RICH LOPEZ | Contributing Writer
RICH LOPEZ | Contributing Writer
At his East Dallas home, Justin O’Keith sits behind a desk in his cluttered but organized garage studio. He’s expecting a model anytime now, but his imagination is already at work for the shoot. Surrounded by shelves of props that include ventriloquist dolls, furry heads, a Donald Trump mask and pretty much anything else you can think of, O’Keith’s artwork is a mix of photography and painting — with rippling abs and pecs.
Hot guys in photos. Sure. We’ve seen that. But O’Keith has some next-level stuff going on as well.
His straight-up fitness shots are familiar territory: A guy in a double biceps pose; gym shots of men amid workouts or relaxing after getting their pump on. But while familiar, there is something a bit extra about them as well.
“I understand how the body functions,” O’Keith says. “I coach body models a little differently because I understand their body is a temple.”
He gets it for a reason.
After graduating from Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in 2010, he gained “a shit-ton of weight. I knew it was time to make a change,” he says.
His first Zumba class would redirect the trajectory of his life. Starting out meekly in the back row, he caught on quickly.
“Within six months, I was a front row diva. I became one of those. If someone took my spot, I would kill them,” he proudly states.
O’Keith became a certified Zumba and Les Mills Bodypump instructor. He also lost 80 pounds. So when he photographs his models, O’Keith isn’t just a dude with a camera asking guys to disrobe for a picture.
“Health and fitness is something very close to my heart, and when I was in the gym, I got to know athletes there,” he says.”Plus, after teaching classes all those years, I know how the body functions so I can work with them and their body for a great shot.”
In short, O’Keith’s own health has manifested itself into his art.
When he takes his work past the usual fitness and body photography, it’s far more magical. Upon adding his eclectic thrift-store props from his shelves, selecting backdrops and painting his models, the works transcend into something far more fantastical. Scroll through his Instagram (@justinokeithcreative), and you’re bowled over by a provocative mix of shots that are sexy, disturbing, hot, funny all mixed with a bit of what-the-fuck?
His artistic beginnings aren’t complicated, but they are a little unexpected. He practically jumped from his left brain to his right, ultimately ending up in the middle.
Following in his family’s footsteps regarding education, O’Keith’s need to help people led him to become an attorney. After graduation and passing the bar, he worked in Shreveport, Houston and now Dallas. But during school, his creativity was simmering to a boil.
“I loved doing that kind of stuff, so I bought a beginner camera. I was gonna teach myself how to do it,” he says.
Upon his return to Dallas (after leaving a bad relationship), O’Keith decided to instead follow his intuition. He began his adult life as a lawyer but found his voice through the lens.
“I felt like I was finally living in my truth and coming into my path,” he says.
And of all things to confirm that was a Craigslist ad.
No. Not that kind.
“I’m a huge thrifter thanks to my great aunt, and a lot of my work is inspired by her,” he explains. “Studio equipment is expensive, but I found this lady in Haltom City on Craigslist selling two crates of photography equipment for $100. She actually spelled ‘photography’ wrong, so I expanded my search, much like when I’m researching for legal matters.”
As it turned out, the woman’s father was a traveling photographer. Those crates contained strobe lights, umbrellas, tripod and everything else O’Keith needed to start his studio work.
She told him she knew that the right person would find it and told O’Keith to do something with the crates.
“It was my sign from the universe,” he says.
Since then he’s competed at both the state fairs in Louisiana and Texas and won. His work appeared in the fall 2017 shows of Raw Artists and Conception Arts. And he’s vying for a potential campaign with a spirits company.
And while he still works with fit models, he’s discovered a new interest in drag photography. Upon shooting local queen Tylee AF, O’Keith has added that to his 2018 goals.
“I’m where I need to be right now. But I’m really going to hit it hard this new year. I’m still involved with the legal side, looking at a venture in Houston, but until the universe takes me where I need to go, I just want to be me.”
O’Keith checks a lot of boxes on his identity, but he says that all manifests in his work.
“I’m the black, queer, educated guy. I have tattoos, I like guns, I drink,” he says. “‘I’m a Libra, so it’s all about balance. I’m attracted to guys, girls and everything in between just as long as they have a good heart and personality. But I think that balance helps me tell so many stories in my work.”
For more about Justin O’Keith, visit justinokeith.com.