Written by Jade Howell
Ben Heppner once said “Figure out what you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about something, go find it. Because we do not need more unengaged boring people to inhabit this planet.” Heppner would have had a fit of delight if he had run into the passionate Stu Shapiro at Afrika Burns this year.
Wind, hail, sandstorms, black clouds and rain swept through the make-shift village in Tankwa Town in the Karoo desert during the last few days of April. The strange weather and giant Dali-like sculptures planted in the barren desert gave the temporary village, created by special beings, an eerie apocalyptic feel. With his vintage, sand proof, steam-punk goggles, black leather jacket and a complicated meter-high steel contraption strapped to his back, creative photographer, Stu Shapiro traipsed through this setting like a robot-warrior character from a science fiction space film.
Half naked, body painted, umbrella wielding, bicycle riding, creative souls were motioned by curiosity and flocked to him like moths to a flame. He had masterfully enticed his subjects “into” his mobile photography studio and they were delighted to be there. His device, which he aptly named the “Walking fashion Studio Rig”, lured his targets into his energy field and allowed him to shoot the madness which is Afrika Burns in a completely new light. Shapiro, inspired by the creative spirit of the event and two photographer, Soloksy and Schwabel, had this year managed to turn his passion for photographing festival goers into a performance piece itself which amused and amazed others. He said “I become one with Afrika burns.”
Shapiro, who spent weeks before the event designing his contraption actually considered three separate concepts before deciding on his “backpack” mobile studio. The design of the piece was influenced by his two months back packing and photographing South America in December 2011 where weight distribution was always an issue, this and the concept of a baby carrier which can comfortably hold over 10kg of weight on a person’s back. The piece weighed 15kg and carrying it for four days left him with bruises and rash scabs, but his passion for the medium allowed him to persevere and deliver 330 epically orgasmic photographs of the ‘burners’.
The photographs Shapiro shot that weekend are unlike his usual work, which he captures by darting through festival crowds like a sneaky ninja. He usually takes on a very voyeuristic approach to catch the precious miniscule details and moments which emanate the essence of each individual festival. This time he had volunteer subjects pose for him in front of his unique set up, the results being something of beauty which could easily appear in an avant-garde fashion magazine. The images are sleek and crisp with bold bursting colours which contrast magnificently with the blue-grey cloudy backdrop. Shapiro explained “it’s about bringing fashion studio equipment to capture beauty and character while not just being another photographer, another voyeur, but becoming an art installation”.
One should not underestimate the potential of this upcoming photographer/engineer, as this case can be seen as just the beginning of Shapiro’s goal to take photography and the relationship between photographer and his festival subjects to a new level. With a creative photographer like this, who strives to think outside the box, the possibilities are endless.