Local Talk: Interview with Photographer Devon Warren

Tell us how you started in photography. We're you always on this path or was there a serendipitous moment that established the opportunity.

I actually worked in education after college. I left education and opened a recording studio in 2007. Out of necessity, I turned one of the rooms a my studio facility into a photo studio. This is when I began my journey in photography. In 2012, I sold my recording studio business and started my photography business.


Where did you grow up? How did you come to live in NJ?

My parents immigrated from Jamaica in the 60's to New York. I was born in East Orange, NJ in 1974. I moved to Irvington, NJ in the late 70's, and there is where I grew up. 


Did you work with 35MM film at one point in your life? What do you miss (or not miss) about that process?

I started out on a digital camera. I recently started shooting film. I shoot both 35mm and medium format film. There is something very rewarding about the process. It has also made me a better photographer.  With digital photography, you can take thousands of pictures of a subject and pick the best one. With film photography, you only get 8 to 36 shots.  Plus, you can't instantly review what you have shot. You really need to have you skills sharp and have a good understanding of all photography principles. I enjoy working with and restoring cameras that are much older than I am. 


Your work has a particular sense energy. I feel like there is a incredible source of energy laying underneath each image. How do you approach each capture to allow a static image to resonate in such a powerful way?

Photography, for me, is knowing when to press the shutter and capture "that moment".  When I make a portrait of someone, there is a split second when they are being totally honest and stop "posing".  I can see it in their eyes. My images are a way for me to express myself and speak to a wide audience even when I'm not physically present.  


In this age of Instagram and Facebook, there are more images captured and shared than ever before. Also, with digital processing - images no longer have an organic age to them for space and time (without a filter). How do you feel this has affected photography as a discipline? 

I have separated the two. There are people who take pictures and there are photographers. Photography by definition means "drawing/painting with light".  There are many people that can take a picture, but there are far fewer that understand light and how to paint with it.  So, I feel like there are a lot of people that call themselves photographers, that are not. Being able to make Ramen and TV Dinners doesn't make you a chef even if you call yourself one. 


Your photography ranges from athletes to fashion to families - quite a range for anyone in the field. How are you able to balance the various approaches? Is there a particular favorite category?

I didn't want to put myself in a box. We live in a world that loved to label things.  I didn't want to specialize in one type of photography, because that would be putting a limit on myself. Headshots and beauty shots are my favorite because there is a single focus. There are no clothes or scenery to hide behind.


Can you share a particular project that you have struggled through but at the end of it, you learned a valuable lesson from it?

I got hired to do a portfolio shoot for a makeup artist. At this time, I thought my skill level was a 10 and I really was more like a 6. I totally butchered the job and from that point on I began to work on my craft everyday. 365 days a year I am either shooting, editing, learning, or studying photography. 


For the novice photographer, what is one solid piece of advice to take more meaningful photos?

Try to take photographer that speak to you.  Find a subject that moves you inside and shoot that. Your photographs don't have to be technically perfect, but they should alway have some feeling.  I feel like a lot of photographer get too caught up in the technical aspect and lose the art in the process.


What does local (as a concept/ philosophy) mean to you?

Local is "dope".  Local is a place where everyone is welcome and is treaded like a family friend. It is cool how people from all different backgrounds can come to one spot and feel at home. This is definitely a spot where I try to have my order to stay whenever possible. 


Tell us something about photography that only you (or just a few people) know.

The camera doesn't take the photograph, the photographer does.  When I shoot in the studio, I shoot connect to my computer so that everyone can see the pictures as I'm taking them. People say , "These pictures are awesome, you have a really good camera. That must be expensive." The camera is just the tool. It is your paint brush. Some tools makes getting the  job done easier, but they won't make you better at the job. 


What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

The Saba tea is my favorite.