There was never much of a choice when it came to a career path for Warren Akerman. Photography was so deeply set in his blood that picking up the camera was as natural as taking one’s first steps. Coming from a family with a rich background in photography, his was to be a most incredible education, one backed by generations of photographers with plenty of real knowledge to share.
One of his earliest memories of the field comes from watching his grandfather develop film in his dark room. He first picked up a camera when he was about 5 or 6 but his professional career would take off when he did his first shoot.
Developments in photography have come a long way since then, and Warren has seen the industry change. Now, after decades in the industry, his portfolio is one of the most intense, emotional and raw catalogues you will ever see.
“What we do is f&*king important”
He catches himself saying that out loud when I ask him about his passion and why after all these years, photography still drives him. He asks me not to print it, but I do it anyway, because it tells me that unlike his contemporaries, his dedication to the art of photography goes well beyond putting people in their best light.
Life is not pretty, and yet most photographers choose to avoid the grit, the dirty images of real people experiencing real emotion. For many of us, photography is about capturing the happiest moments of our lives, but what about capturing the darkness as a reminder of the struggles?
One of Warren’s most intense shoots came when a friend asked him to immortalise his depression through a series of photographs. The shoot was draining for both, but it served a purpose: healing.
As we discuss the portraits of depression he is showing me, his words come back to me, “What we do is f&*king important”. Could there be a more visceral way to remind yourself of the hardships as proof that you survived?
Warren thrives under pressure. It brings out the best in him. When a client approaches him, looking for a way to capture a specific emotion, he enjoys the challenge. But his real passion lies with live band photography.
“Getting up close to bands, seeing them interact with their fans, capturing the raw emotion of them and their fans, doing so while you have no control over the subject, the lighting or the crowd, pushing your equipment and yourself to the utter max. Knowing that if you miss THAT shot, it’s gone forever. You cannot stop everyone and ask to do it again.” – Warren Akerman
He describes his style as low key, or to use the right term, Rembrandt lighting. He explains that with this style, the focus of the main light is on the subject, rather than the background.
When it comes to band photography, his preference for Rembrandt lighting is put to the test, as he has to rely on the stage lighting to help achieve the effect. And then there are the smoke machines to contend with. With the stage environment, he has to wait for the lighting to pass over the subject, and catch the angle at which the smoke is not too thick.
While Warren heads up FSTOP Studios, which specialises in all types of photography, he doesn’t see his profession as a business. He realises the importance of what he does, telling me that a good photographer will make you feel good about yourself when you see yourself reflected in the image. A great photo can grow confidence and make you see something in yourself you might not have noticed before.
“A photographer is capturing important moments, we’re stopping time forever.”
He founded his company back in 2011, after seeing that there was something missing in the field. After getting in contact with fellow freelancers, he created a network of artists, covering a variety of areas. If work cropped up that Warren could not do, he’d find a freelancer in the network who had the skills. He went from being a lone wolf character to realising the potential and opportunity that came with working within a trusted network.
Today, FSTOP has over 2500 artists in the network, based throughout South Africa. They keep each other encouraged during this harsh economic climate.
After so many years in the industry, it is his clients who keep him going. A job well done and a happy client is one of the best parts of the job. A beautiful portfolio that leads to a modelling contract or becoming an aspiring photographer’s role model, are all reminders that there is more to this profession than meets the eye.
Get in touch with FSTOP Studios by visiting the website or follow the photographic journey on the Facebook page.