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Behind The Lens

in July 2012 - Creative Lounge

From a very early age it seemed that Stu Shapiro’s path was chosen for him. Based on his very early interest in machines and gadgets of all types, it seemed Stu was destined to be an engineer.

He began as a pre-schooler playing with radio controlled cars and it wasn’t long before he was taking them apart, finding out how they worked and then rebuilding and reconfiguring them into all manner of robots.

It could be said Stu was into the whole Transformers thing long before anyone else.

In Standard Six (Grade 8), he made his own Hovercraft with which he won the Young Scientist Award. In Standard Eight (Grade 10), motivated by his favourite movie up till that time, Terminator, he made a fully functional robotic arm.

When he reached his teens he pretty much had his home completely wired-up and automated to carry out mundane tasks on their own with the use of motion sensors or with the flick of a switch of a rejigged remote control.

Stu was fascinated by the Life Sciences and Physics because he always wondered and wanted to know how the Universe worked.

When he left school, he went to Technikon and studied Engineering. It didn’t take long for him to realise that what was taught as engineering and the practical, experimental innovation that he so loved were two very different things so he changed his course and earned a degree in 3D Animation.

Armed with his degree he went to the United Kingdom where he was fortunate to be employed by one of the world’s top 3D Animation companies, Axis Animation, which is the genius behind Xbox and Playstation.

He learned a lot with Axis, not only technically with regard to such things as lighting and composition but conceptually too. Stu conceptualised that the technical similarities between 3D animation and two dimensional photography could be used to exploit and enhance their differences.

“This really helped me when I got into photography because instead of looking at lighting and composition in a two-dimensional way,” explains Stu, “when I take photographs I work as I would in 3D
which gives my photographs a fuller, deeper feel. It’s also true that in 3D you’re using very real full characters in games or movies and I believed it would be possible to bring out photographic subjects in the same way.”

So Stu returned to South Africa, borrowed a camera to experiment with his ideas and fell in love with the art and science of it.

“I love the capturing of a moment in time,” he says, “of bringing all the elements together and freezing them in that one perfect moment that fully expresses what was happening and the emotions being expressed and felt at the time.”

Due to his background in animation, Stu grew rapidly as a photographer and was soon making a living out of it by taking portraits and studio shoots for clients. Portraiture however, was only one photographic discipline and Stu continued to explore others.

It was while attending one of the many festival gatherings becoming more and more popular in South Africa that Stu realised there were only a few photographers recording or documenting festivals from a photographic perspective.

So Stu appointed himself and began to photograph festivals, using it as a learning platform for photography and soon was being hired officially to do so. The problem was that the lighting was more often than not less than adequate for effective photography.

Being the creative engineering genius he is, inspired by overseas photographers and photography concepts, Stu invented and built a portable, wearable lighting framework complete with strobes and
power source that he could carry around at festivals and events ensuring all his subjects were perfectly lit.

“The problem with photographing people in public like that,” says Stu, “is that the photographer is always an outsider, when I shoot at events, corporate events or public festivals, I try to engage my subjects on similar level so that I am not being voyeuristic. So the interaction is more mutual and the photographs more natural and honest – and very well lit!”


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