Monday, August 18, 2008
One Small Seed Feature
One Small Seed has a feature on me in their latest issue. The coolest thing about the feature is the story that my good friend Rebecca Kahn wrote, thank you Rebecca. Read away...
'Warren the Photographer'
We’ve worked together for a while, but I never knew how to spell his surname. So I called him “Warren The Photographer”. Even credited him as such. But there is more to Warren van Rensburg than just that.
There was a time when you can tell a Warren van Rensburg photo from about a mile away. His colours were muted, all the vibrancy was leeched out and what was left was ghost-like, and often very haunting. His vistas were huge – sky, walls, telephone wires and veld were his backdrops of choice, and even when he was shooting something as tiny as plastic toy soldiers, he set them against windowpanes spattered with raindrops that became huge. It’s like he sees everything in macro – the bigger picture captured and made real.
I loved those photos. They made me gasp, and sometimes feel a bit sad, but mostly I marvelled at this young man, this sweet skater from Vereeneging who shot on an old Mamiya RB67 and saw things differently. We started working at round about the same time – his first portrait for the magazine I was working for was the first interview I was doing for them too. The story was dismal, the subject (a weird gamer-kid who had an unhealthy relationship with the Old South Africa) was impossible to speak to and even harder to shoot. We even made Warren re-shoot him. I still feel bad about that. But even though the story was a bit of a bust, I made a new friend that day.
In the car, we bonded over Modest Mouse. In the month to come, we spent hours together, working on stories, getting whiskey-drunk with interviewees, drinking beer after work and talking about music, art, photos, design. His passion was overwhelming. Whether we were talking about the Pogues or shooting live music, his approach was the same – “Rebecca, you don’t understand,” he’d say, smiling “it’s just amazing…” And it was. His photos reflected that enthusiasm - I could see his joy in the portraits he took and the live music shots. And while he may not do it consciously, I think that Warrens photos have a wonderfully African aesthetic. The dusty pavements, dreadlocked musicians and urban landscapes he shoots are unmistakably local. And his colours remind me of the Highveld in winter – seen through the haze of a watery sun. Warren could make a vox pops shoot on campus into something special, and make ordinary people look like they’ d been posing in front of cameras all their lives.
Since then, I’ve seen his photos grow, and change. The trademark moments are still there – the big skies, the moment of quiet in the middle of the chaos, the four musicians wading out to sea like a group of messiahs about to part the waters, or baptise the brethren. But there’s a maturity to his recent work that shows me that although the skater boy might be growing up, he still thinks everything is amazing.
He’s shooting more black and white, which I think only makes his visions clearer – now there is no colour to distract us from the action on the basketball court, or the man waiting in the hospital. An element of theatre has come into his work – women in elaborate ruffled dresses and masks are beginning to feature, and he makes us want to look not just at the clothes but at them too. But the most exciting work are his portraits. He’s always managed to make a portrait into something more special, but in the last couple of months there has been a beauty and poignancy there that is like nothing I have seen before. Oscar Pistorius looks like a Grecian statue – an imperfect body that’s just a container for immense, controlled power. A series of images of friends clowning around in a bar seem like they were taken as if this was the last chance people would ever have to be together. They’re having fun, but it might be for the last time.
Warren and I don’t get to work together as much anymore. We’re adults now, and have to do serious, adult-y stuff. But every now and then we get together for a beer. And it’s amazing.
By Rebecca Kahn