It’s 2008, maybe 2009. I can’t remember. Not all that long after I picked up a DSLR for the first time, and around about the time that I started to notice just how much joy making pictures gave me. There are four gods in my life, photographically speaking: David Hobby, Joe McNally, Bert Stephani and Zack Arias. I’ll talk about the first three at other times. Today, I want to talk about Zack.
I don’t remember whether it was the images that captured me first, or whether it was Transform, Zack’s fierce, heartfelt call-to-arms for all those who are scared they don’t know what it means to be a photographer, that somehow they’re not good enough because everyone else is awesome and they’re just struggling day after day, image after image. All I know is that watching Transform changed the way I viewed photography in an instant. To this day, when I’m struggling, I watch that video again. It centres me, resets me somehow, and then I can carry on.
There was something about the way Zack lit images, too. It was as though in his hands light had a character — something that I was starting to get familiar with in my love of Joe McNally’s work, too. Sometimes the light had a simple job to do. Other times, particularly in is Faces and Spaces project, it somehow draws something out of the sitter. In the image below (“The General”), it’s as though the subject is staring back into his past and viewing his life as though on a big screen.
When the Fuji X100 came out a few years back I paid it no attention. As a committed Nikon DSLR shooter I wasn’t interested in a small, fixed-lens mirrorless camera from Fujifilm. And then Zack started talking about it, and I realised I might be missing something. When I saw his street photography, I felt something click in my head, and I decided I had to try it myself. And so my love affair with the X100 series was born.
Zack’s street style is simple — by which I mean “uncomplicated”, not “dumb. His compositions are beautiful, and they serve to show people and situations shorn of distractions. I’m still fighting to find my own way of showing how I see the world, and I hold Zack’s work up as a point to aim for.
The most important things following Zack has taught me are these:
- Be honest in your work.
- Be true to who you are when you shoot; don’t try to be someone you’re not.
- Photography is largely about problem-solving.
- One light often beats many.
- Be cheerful in your work.
- If you have a beard, make it an awesome beard.
I guess in truth there’s a part of me that wants to be Zack Arias when I grow up. Except it turns out that the job is taken and is being done extraordinarily well already, so I can’t. But that’s okay. I can live with doing my own thing and, when the chips are down on set and it’s all getting a bit too much thinking “what would Zack do?.”
All images in this post are copyright of Zack Arias and are used with his permission.