Welcome to Photo Finds, a feature where we point you to some of the best photography around the web.
This week’s Photo Finds is a very specific one. We’re not just going to talk about a specific photographer; we’re going to talk about a specific photographer shooting a specific genre.
A lot of you have already heard of photographer and teacher Zack Arias before. We’ve certainly mentioned him on our blog repeatedly, and his lighting workshop on creativeLIVE ranks as one of our top lighting resources to date. He’s also easily one of the most eloquent and honest photographers I know of.
That same honesty and eloquence has, of late, manifested itself in a style of photography that’s pretty different from the portraiture that brought Zack his initial acclaim. Yet, despite its difference, there’s something uniquely Zack about it, and that’s why I’m talking about it today.
Recently, Zack was named one of the top 50 street photographers around today by Complex magazine. And, despite being someone who’s been following his street photography since he starting blogging about shooting film back in April of last year, it took me a moment to digest that.
That’s because I hadn’t really thought of Zack as a street photographer. Yet it’s his images of street scenes in New York, Atlanta, Dubai, and Bombay that are among my favorites right now. I have always equated Zack with his studio work, and my mental image of him is forever linked to white seamless backgrounds with gorgeously crafted light in a studio. Avedon, I once mused, would shoot like Zack if he’d been into urban hip-hop culture.
So when Complex magazine called him a “street photographer,” there was this moment of jarring dissonance. Which was followed quickly by total agreement.
When you write or talk about street photography, it’s easy to get mired in deep discussions and disagreements about the nature and style of the genre. From photographers to styles to even mediums, there’s no shortage of friction points that people – photographers and consumers of photography alike – will choose to engage in conflict over.
To me, however, there is a simple test for what “good” street photography is.
Do you like it?
That’s pretty-much it. If you like it, the discussion ends there. And I totally love Zack’s street work.
To me, Zack’s street imagery distills the scene down to its most essential and interesting parts. His De_Vice series, which was picked up by CNN, is my favorite by far.
On paper, it hits all the right points. The images are centered around a theme, they have a common “style,” and they are well-executed.
But it’s not till you actually go through them that you really understand just how cool these images are.
The image above is one of my top three Arias favorites. One day, if he ever sells them, I’m going to buy a print and hang it on my wall, along with the image below. Heck, I might just turn these two into a diptych.
What I love about this series, and Zack’s work in general, is that his interest in the subject matter shines through with clear intensity. Stephen Shore and William Eggleston’s work sometimes leaves me feeling empty on the inside, like I’ve just sat through a seven-course meal where each course was a single bite of something very haute cuisine.
Zack’s work, on the other hand, is soul food. It’s dense, filling, rich. It’s what I often go back and look at when I’m feeling a bit “done” with photography. It’s comforting, in an odd sort of way.
It’s also very clean and honest. There are many ways to embed deeper meaning and significance in an image. The way Zack does it is by having each of his images tell a story.
Some photographers’ work is a reflection of themselves. Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of those image makers; to me, his work is colored (metaphorically) by his vision and his personal biases. His iconic image, “Behind the Gare St. Lazare,” is very uniquely Bresson; it has a very recognizable style that you see in other images, like “The Allée du Prado.” Both are uniquely Bresson, and reflect his particular sensibilities.
Zack’s work, on the other hand, is more transparent. If Bresson’s work reflects his own sense of style, Zack’s images seem to leave much of the standard photographer’s bias behind. When I look at Zack’s work, I don’t spend much time thinking about the style of the image. Rather, I’m drawn into the image, appreciating it for its content.
And that, to me, is great street photography. When the photographer provides me with a window, not to his own personality, but to his subject, that’s when I know I’m looking at great work.
That’s it for this edition of Photo Finds. As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below.
All images Courtesy and Copyright © Zack Arias.