Demetrius Douglas framed up the 1919 Root Beer stand, camera raised to one eye, the other squeezed shut. His finger pressed the button, shutter clicking and flash popping.
A white plastic square slid out as Douglas lowered the camera again. He pulled the piece of film free and shook it between two fingers, as OutKast says to do. He continued weaving his way through the hordes of people enjoying the first day of the Minnesota State Fair, scanning the scene to scope out his next shot.
When he looked down later at the now-clear picture, he laughed.
“I did not know they were there,” Douglas said, pointing to two of his Gophers football teammates standing in the center of the frame, making goofy faces.
Douglas is often losing himself in his photography. The sophomore receiver has become the team’s resident cameraman, known for toting around his equipment — or wielding his iPhone — whenever he’s not playing football to preserve snapshots of his life.
“It’s like it’s a break from everything,” Douglas said. “It’s something I can just go do and take my mind off things. And I don’t have to worry about what people think of my photos because they’re for me.”
Spotting Douglas in his photographer life, it’s hard to envision him all geared up on the football field. His style is more hipster, complete with thick-framed glasses. Even his Instagram has only trace evidence of his other life as one of the Gophers’ rising receivers and top punt returners.
What his social media does have a lot of: aesthetic. All of his posts have the same white border — much like the Polaroids he took on that Aug. 22 morning at the fair — some scribbled with little doodles or words. His captions are all lowercase, just a short phrase and a date.
Douglas made that choice partly to be unique, partly just because he liked the look. His teammates say he’s achieved both.
“I love his Instagram. Like, it’s completely original,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “His stuff, it’s like, sometimes I don’t understand it, but it’s cool. You know what I mean?”
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim and fellow receiver Chris Autman-Bell are two of Douglas’ biggest fans. Ibrahim is a frequent commenter on Douglas’ page, usually along the lines of how amazing Douglas is.
Ibrahim said he admires Douglas’ process, how he comes up with ideas for photos and writes or draws them in a notebook before actually taking the shot. He called what Douglas does “art.”
“He’ll bring his camera out, ‘Hey, take this picture right here. I want you to be this low. I want you to take it from this angle,’ ” Ibrahim said. “So it’s pretty cool, just watching him.”
Douglas’ dad, former Gophers and NFL receiver Omar Douglas, said his son has always been artistic, even at crafting an end table in shop class. Douglas also took gymnastics and dance when his little sisters did.
“He challenges conventional thinking, and he’s not afraid to do so,” Omar Douglas said. “And I think it’s OK to be wired a little bit differently and think a little bit differently. I think he has a passion for life and experiencing and testing and pushing boundaries.”
Demetrius Douglas grew up in Minnesota and went to Wayzata High School for one year before the family moved to Portland, Ore. That creative environment served as an incubator where he started dabbling in photos, mostly using apps on his phone for heavy edits. He took the pastime more seriously in college.
He received a digital single-lens reflex camera one Christmas and a film camera for a birthday. He took his first photography class a few semesters ago and is considering minoring in it to go along with his communications studies degree. But Douglas still considers himself a “super beginner.”
One of his photography classes took up five hours on Fridays and taught the sometimes-frustrating task of developing his own black-and-white film. But taking photos is an outlet more than an obligation. Douglas said emotional, physical and mental struggles can all find release in art.
And his hobby also helps him in his game, like in his punt return touchdown at Wisconsin last season.
“It keeps my mind going and creative,” he said. “… I just have so many ideas for when I want to try a new move, I want to try a new release, work on my route this way. Like, it just keeps you open-minded to try new things. And you also don’t get too hard on yourself when it doesn’t work out. Because I’ve had a lot of pictures or drawings or whatever that didn’t work out. It’s just on to the next one.”
Back at the fair, Douglas alternates between sneaking up on unsuspecting teammates — usually in the process of eating something decidedly off the nutrition plan — to capture them in the moment and having those same teammates then hassle him for posed shots. But their requests always come with profuse praise for “Meech,” Douglas’ nickname.
On one of his first shots of the morning, Douglas sprung onto an empty bench, standing tall above the crowds with the camera obscuring his face. His white T-shirt, same as the rest of the Gophers’ players, was the only clue he spent most of his time catching footballs instead of candids.
“It’s a passion that I have,” Douglas said. “I like going out and taking photos. I like editing them. Everything that comes with it.
“You need one. One fun thing. One thing you’re super passionate about.”