Interview with Jamaican Photographic Artist Devon Olugbenga Shaw

Photographic Artist Devon Olugbenga Shaw is one of new breed of Jamaica photographers in the line of Ray Chen. His style of photography captures the essence of Jamaica and its people. His work has been featured in many exhibits across Jamaica and most recently in the US. Devon started shooting in 1985 after a friend gave him an inexpensive Range Finder camera. From his first roll of film, he photographed The Hon. Olive Lewin along with the Jamaica Folk Singers as they performed at the famous Linstead Market. One of the two frames he shot at this performance earned him his first national merit award in the JCDC competition. One of his most successful photographs is “Exhorteth to Repentance” a scene of a small rural church riverside baptism. This photograph earned him a National Bronze award and second place in the Jamaica Cultural category of the Competition. “Exhorteth to Repentance” along with other pieces of his work were features in the JCDC National exhibition that year. Subsequent to this, Marketing Councilors, an advertising firm purchased a one year use of this photograph. It appeared on the 1990 Blaze Merchant Bank calendar. The soon to be published book, “Moods of Jamaica” by the Moods publishing group(UK) and Marketing Councilors will feature a few of his photographs. Devon’s new company Photographic Art Jamaica came about at the beginning of this year after his wife Sophia, and also his pastor, Dr. Al Miller, encouraged him to take his hobby to the next level. His wife went as far as to buy him a brand new Camera. Devon is presently a member of the Photography club of Jamaica and two pieces of my work were featured in the March 2004 issue of the club’s newsletter.
Recently he granted an interview to discuss his work, new projects and future plans.

XM: Many people don’t know the difference between Photography and Photographic art. How would you explain the difference?
DS: Photography is a discipline; a means of recording images. I believe it becomes Photographic Art when it is used to interpret and express that which we see.

XM: If anyone has seen your work they will know you have a great talent for capturing the essence of the moment in photography. Do you remember the very moment when you realized that you wanted to be a photographer, over any other profession?
DS: I knew I wanted to be a photographer after viewing the prints from my first roll of film. The image ’Linstead Market’ was one of those first prints.

XM: I know you have been travelling recently as your work is being displayed overseas. Has the recent recognition you have been getting in Jamaica and overseas had an effect on your career?
DS: The recent recognition I have getting following the establishment of , has been having a positive effect on my career. The prospects as a result has been encouraging

XM: Are you a self-taught photographer?
DS: Yes I guess you could say I am a self-taught Photographer. I Benefited greatly from a friend and mentor Winston Anderson in the early days. He was doing a correspondence course with a prominent Photography institute. He shared the course material with me, apart from that I read extensively anything that has to do with Photography.

XM: I have heard many photographers say that no formal education is really necessary all one needs is a good idea and sound fundamentals on taking pictures. Do you believe formal training is a necessity?
DS: A good idea and sound fundamentals on picture taking is very important. However, although I am self-taught, I do understand the importance of formal training.

XM: How would you define your photography style?
DS: I am not sure how to define my photography style. What I do know is that I am able to take the mundane things; the things most would pass without noticing and create images that are noticeable.

XM: How did you develop this style and apply it uniquely to your work? Many of your photographic works I have seen have either motion or close up of people. What is the subject you like shooting? What is the inspiration behind of your current Photographs that you display?
DS: I really love photographing people. There is something very special about capturing the expressions, mood, and character of individuals.

XM: What was your first photographic Art piece that you felt was impressive to display to the public? Can you describe this piece? Do you still have this piece?
DS: My fist Photographic Art piece that I felt was good enough to show to the public is ‘Linstead Market’. With this photo , back in the early days, I was able to capture the essence of the Jamaican folk song ‘Linstead Market’; A lamentation of a Market woman who sold nothing all day.

XM: Which do you prefer when shooting close ups of people Black and White or Color?
DS: Not that I think one necessarily better than the other, but presently whenever I shoot close ups of people, I mostly use color.

XM: How has computers influenced the works your produce?
DS: The Computer has influenced my work greatly. Filing and retrieving of my work is much easier. Most of the things I depended on the Photo Labs to do in the past, I am now able to do myself ,using my Computer.

XM: In what ways do you feel the Internet affects photographic art, today or in the future? Do you feel the Internet is more positive or negative or neither in this aspect? Do you have any concerns about copyright infringement online?
DS: The internet is popularizing Photographic Art, and making it more accessible to broader audience apart from the avid Gallery visitor. The internet is more positive with respect to promoting Photographic Art. However, there are some negatives including copyright infringements online. Yes I am concerned about copyright infringement online and as a result I seek to put in place measures to deal with this unfortunate practice.

XM: Are there any Jamaican Photographers you admire?
DS: The Jamaican Photographer I most admire is Mr. Howard Mooyoung. I consider him a true artist.

XM: What about your immediate plans for the future. What are your working on at present??
DS: I am presently working on establishing Photographic Art Jamaica as a top photographic Art Company.

XM: What advice would you give a young photographers just starting and wondering where to begin?
DS: Put your self in the place where you can learn from experienced Photographer, Join a Camera Club, Read all you can on Photography, and practice, practice, practice.

XM: Finally, what advice would you give to an amateur photographer taking pictures in Jamaica who wants to capture the essence of Jamaica and Jamaicans?
DS: Find shooting Opportunities outside your area; travel the Island. You must also fall in love with Jamaica and the people of Jamaica.

XM: Thanks Devon for providing this interview. Is there any thin you would like to say to the audience?